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How to make docu-style visually interesting?


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#1 Daan Werdefroy

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Posted 10 January 2010 - 02:39 PM

I'm doing a short in a few weeks, it will be mix of fiction and documentary: non-prof actors playing themselves, real locations, extras not knowing they're in a film, ...
Ten (by Abbas Kiarostami) and the work of Ulrich Seidl are a big inspiration.

So we will be shooting this digital, obviously, and as little light-manipulation as possible (very dogma 95) The thing is, I still want to give this a sort of look. Problem is that the cameras available at my school are a to clean for me. So I would like to know how I can make clean, digital things more visually attracting.

Examples could:
- Use of DOF-adapter (but I should be able to do those typical docu zooms, so I don't know of this is possible)
- The film "Julien Donkey-Boy" was shot on handheld digital video, the film was transferred to 16mm stock before being blown up to 35mm film for the final print.

Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance

Edit: I forgot to mention the possible cameras:
Panasonic AG-DVX 100
Sony PD 150
Sony DVCAM
P2
XDcam

Edited by Daan Werdefroy, 10 January 2010 - 02:42 PM.

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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 11 January 2010 - 12:27 AM

I'm a big fan of the XDCam, and have used it on normal and staged docos. What's most important, to make it visually interesting, is being careful in what angles you choose and using the light you're given to your best advantage.
I would avoid DoF adapters, it'll be a bit of a pain keeping focus with it if people are moving (it can be done, hell I did a whole doco on 35mm @ a T2 often, but you need a great 1AC to do it).
Here's some examples of the "staged doco"

6.jpg
12.jpg
1.jpg

In all of these, we were shooting basically 360 with very little blocking, so we had to pick which angles to shoot at what time to best get the lighting we needed (in the case of the Kitchen INT) and then re-globe the house with photofloods to help us out. Same goes for the dinner-table, shooting when the sun in away from us, and closing the blinds. For the hocky-rink, it's a staged interview, and again, had to use lights which best matched with the REAL GAME happening behind us (thank god for subtitles).

When you're talking about EXT locations, keep it interesting in your framing, compositions, and what light you want to utilize-- and keep it consistent. Use framing/lighting to heighten the story. ND grads will be very useful in EXTs when you're wide with some sky, or even a building too bright to one side etc. I'd also perhaps think about some diffusion filters when you have specular highlights if you want them to bloom a bit.

Also, make sure you budget for a proper color correction which can really help out in situations where you can't control things the way you want/need to.

If you want to go Dogma-95 style, just throw a light on the camera. Nothing wrong with grunging it up; though personally I'd wait till after-the fact so I can pick the grunge (in color correction).
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#3 Daan Werdefroy

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Posted 11 January 2010 - 06:59 AM

In all of these, we were shooting basically 360 with very little blocking, so we had to pick which angles to shoot at what time to best get the lighting we needed (in the case of the Kitchen INT) and then re-globe the house with photofloods to help us out. Same goes for the dinner-table, shooting when the sun in away from us, and closing the blinds. For the hocky-rink, it's a staged interview, and again, had to use lights which best matched with the REAL GAME happening behind us (thank god for subtitles).

I don't really understand the expressions I've marked, since English is not my native language.
You're saying you've used lights (very few) which matched those of the location and the pretty much controlled whatever was there to the most greatest possible extent?

When you're talking about EXT locations, keep it interesting in your framing, compositions, and what light you want to utilize-- and keep it consistent. Use framing/lighting to heighten the story. ND grads will be very useful in EXTs when you're wide with some sky, or even a building too bright to one side etc. I'd also perhaps think about some diffusion filters when you have specular highlights if you want them to bloom a bit.

Also, make sure you budget for a proper color correction which can really help out in situations where you can't control things the way you want/need to.

Nice tips, thanks!

If you want to go Dogma-95 style, just throw a light on the camera. Nothing wrong with grunging it up; though personally I'd wait till after-the fact so I can pick the grunge (in color correction).

Again, not familiar with the term, but I'm guessing using a camera-light and do the color in post?
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 11 January 2010 - 11:07 AM

"Shooting 360" means being able to film in any angle at any time; or better put shooting where you will see ALL angles in a particular location. Normally this means you have to hang lights over-head, which is pretty easy on a studio, though when you're working on location often proves problematic.

"grunging it up," that's a bit more "slang," I suppose, but basically means making it look dirty/grtitty/noisy/or otherwise lo-fi (lower quality). What I meant in that sentence is rather than shooting it in such a way that you're locked into a degraded (gritty/dirty) look in camera, shoot it so that you have the most information on the medium as you can so as to later on better control how it looks.

While I'm a big proponent of getting a look "in camera," it is also important, to make sure you have enough information to grade/color correct later on for matching etc. I like trying to get 1/2 of the look in camera and then using the more precise tools of the D.I. (digital intermediate) or the skills of a colorist during the Telecine process to really finalize the look, much as the still photographer will make "prints" in photoshop etc.


It's also a little bit about luck. For example, these two shots from a Doco in Senegal, which is a gorgeous place to shoot to begin with, came about just because we happened to be in this school right as the sun started to stream in through the windows and came in just right to give perfect illumination. Then it was just about asking the students to stand up and move a few inches into it (and of course setting exposure to your best ability)

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