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3 Rules for the aspiring Cinematograph


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#1 Randy J Tomlinson

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 03:55 AM

There are tons of ‘Rules’ for filmmakers.  We like to boil the art form down to a few simple steps, and I’ll admit that it’s fun to make these lists.  There’s the ‘180-degree Rule’, the ‘Rule of Thirds’ for composition, and even Roger Corman had a list of rules for directors, like ‘Prioritize your shots’ and ‘Wear Comfortable Shoes’.

 

I’ve got a couple of my own sets of ‘Rules’ i'd like to share.

 

1.  Frame in Depth

shoot a person along a wall, not into a wall.  Shooting a person standing in front of a wall is usually flat and boring, but if you move the camera 90 degrees and shoot down the wall, you’ll see more depth.  This adds production value and offers more interesting lighting options.

 

 

2.  Backlight

— Try and work a backlight in on the talent as much as you can.   Backlights create separation between the subject and the background, and can dramatically improve the look of the lighting.  They take more work on the part of the lighting crew and they’re not always appropriate, but I often tell people this is where I like to start lighting a scene.  Some people like to start with the key light or the background lighting, but I often like to first see the backlight and take it from there.  Of course, it could be a really large, strong backlight that I want to start with, perhaps through a window or other motivated source.

 

strong_backlight.jpg

 

3.  Keep the Camera Moving

– Dolly, slider, handheld, crane, Steadicam.  Whatever it takes. 

Static cameras tend to be flat and two-dimensional.

 


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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 05:57 AM

I probably lack the experience to really be dishing out the advice, but if I might add something: three point lighting is standard because it works. Especially if you make the key really soft and wrap it around the subject from a really extreme angle, 90 degrees to the camera. Then fill  lots of stops under key, and control the backlight so the hair doesn't clip (video camera operators forget this all the time) it starts looking like a movie very readily.

 

Backlight may be opposed or in conjunction with the key, as we see here from several masterworks of the genre:

 

Kapow! Pearl Harbor.

 

kate_beckinsale_ben_affleck_pearl_harbor

 

Zing! Transformers:

 

20090530130105428.jpg

 

Boom! Bad Boys:

 

Will-Smith-Gabrielle-Union.jpg

 

Michael Bay forever.

 

P


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#3 Mark Dunn

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 07:15 AM

 

3.  Keep the Camera Moving

– Dolly, slider, handheld, crane, Steadicam.  Whatever it takes. 

Static cameras tend to be flat and two-dimensional.

 

An unmotivated moving camera is a literal pain in the neck.

I'm not sure anyone alive today could move a camera like Stanley Kubrick. When his moved, it was to show you something.

These days you see moves which do nothing but get value out of the dolly rental.


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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 07:43 AM

I don't think so.

 

Moving the camera, in almost any sense, imparts parallax information. This allows humans to interpret the 3D layout of the scene from the 2D image, and in my view it does that in a much more effective, less problematic way than stereoscopic 3D techniques.

 

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#5 Travis Gray

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 08:02 AM

Please don't move the camera just for the sake of keeping it moving. Unmotivated camera movements are so obnoxious.


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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 11:30 AM

The rules are fine but there are so many exceptions to the rules -- all those rules touch on the same issue, creating a feeling of three dimensions in a two-dimensional format. Even backlight helps with that by creating texture and separation.

 

But there is no rule that a film image always has to create a three dimensional feeling.  Sometimes flatness is graphic and interesting.  Sometimes a static camera is more powerful than a moving one.  Sometimes backlight is unmotivated and illogical.

 

In these frames, there was an attempt at a flatter perspective to make the image more graphic, like a flat painting:

 

paintinglike2.jpg

 

 

paintinglike4.jpg

 

paintinglike7.jpg

 

And Gordon Willis sometimes shot people against flat walls:

paperchase1s.jpg

 

Gordon Willis often employed certain two-dimensional effects -- silhouettes, for example, or static cameras, or using flat planes of color in the frame.

 

But for a beginner, those rules aren't a bad start because it will help them understand the process of creating depth in a two-dimensional process.


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#7 Simon Wyss

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 12:06 PM

My three personal rules are: hand crank your movie; expose on black-and-white nitrate stock; use a Bell & Howell 2709.

 

Somehow I always wondered why the good old cinema is on the wane.


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#8 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 02:59 PM

There are literally tens of thousands of examples of scenes that work extremely well by flattening out the image, or thinking of film as a two dimensional plane, or breaking the rule of thirds. The reason these rules are completely pointless is because the story and script determine the style, and not the other way around.

 

I've seen some wonderful movies that make extensive use of a static camera. Hong Sang Soo directed a beautiful film called The Power of Kangwon Province, where the camera never moves a single time! And yet he gives the illusion of the camera moving, and creates enormous movement within the frame.

 

These rules don't hold up because the counterexamples are too numerous to count. There's this overwhelming desire to simplify every part of the filmmaking process into rules and regulations. To create the rules for success. From Save the Cat, to photographic rules of composition. It's not that it's bad to know the rule of thirds. But it's bad to think of it as a "rule" that can't be broken. Or even to think unquestioningly that it will make your movie better. What will make your movie better depends on what your movie is about, and what kind of feeling you want to create. Sometimes a backlight is perfect. Other times it isn't.


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#9 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 04:43 PM

........ There's this overwhelming desire to simplify every part of the filmmaking process into rules and regulations. .....

 

The debate about rules for cinematography just came up on the BMCuser forum.  It began with someone complaining about an overwhelming tendency for people to want to break or ignore rules,  or to be ignorant of them.  A highlight for me was the offering by Mr Tuning Fork (as I named him),  post #43

http://www.bmcuser.c...lmmaking/page5V

For those too busy,  or who normally have others do their reading for them,  this taster.......

Mr Tuning Fork (static)
"...Noone should be able to tell anyone else that the dreams they have whilst sleeping are somehow less potent or worthy because a particular view, image or narrative broke any particular "rule". ..... We would do well to remember that film has evolved as a technological solution for bringing our dreams and ideas into the open...."

Gregg MacPherson  (me)
"....It may seem that rules are broken, but it may just be evidence that someone is in play (playfully exploring) functional principals within more expanded boundaries. ..."

I think Mr Tuning Fork would enjoy Nicholas' style vs story topic.   I must remember to invite him.


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#10 Alan Rencher

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 05:03 PM

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