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Differences between similar movie "looks"


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#1 Lena Khan

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Posted 24 March 2014 - 03:06 PM

Hi,

 

I'm one of those directors in awe at all that my DPs do for you. In an effort to try to communicate my vision to my DP better, I've been trying to learn more about cinematography.

 

I have a film set in the 70s, that I was contemplating some references photos for. As I was researching, I started thinking that perhaps the fact that many of them were set in the 70s or from the time period (though there is a vast difference in looks in the time period so not sure why people say "that 70s look") may have made them seem similar to me. I DEFINITELY didnt just pick all the 70s movies...but really felt these ones were the ones that captured my film.

 

I have some of the stills posted here:

http://www.pinterest...phy-references/

 

There are stills from films like Boogie Nights and Almost Famous (which is closest to the look I want) but some from Five Easy Pieces/American Hustle as well. My question to all you talented DPs on this forum -- DO these stills have a similar look, or do you actually see very important differences between a lot of the films and photographs? What are some of the differences you see? For instance, if I showed these to the DP I hire, will he think "wow these references photos are all over the place." I'm hoping I can learn.

 

For example: I always thought the film might have the look of several Stephen Shore photographs...but then later a DP friend told me that  MILK used those photographs as inspiration...and I feel MILK is quite far from the look I'm going for. 

 

I guess my questions are asking -- what are the key differences you see in some of the photographs that I marked, and what are the differences in what it takes to achieve those looks?

 

Would appreciate any help as I struggle to learn what you all do! I attached a few of the photos here, too.

 

 

 

 

Best,

 

Lena

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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 March 2014 - 05:25 PM

I think you're over thinking and over-worrying. Still reference images are all well and good; but you want to talk a bit about what it is specifically you liked about this or that photo. Is it the lighting style you like or the color palate? Is the the amount of film grain visible (or not?) The contrast ? The feeling of ______ or _____ you take from the image and why.

 

Looking at all of those images the colors are very similar (this would be something to speak with the production designer as well as makeup and wardrobe)  and they overall have a softer lighting style, with the exception of shot #2 which has some harder rims on it.

 

All of them have mildly unflattering lighting as well-- especially inasmuch as you aren't getting eye lights and glistens in people-- some of it is rather toppy light where the eyes turn into dark shadows (not super dark shadows, but darker shadows none the less). Perhaps you like this kind of mystery and disconnect?

 

The reference are just that, a starting off point. How you talk to a DoP about them will inform what you're going for, but it's a nice starting point. You can say, something like, I really like the way all of these films seem to be naturalistic in approach, the color scheme is great, and I like they they aren't as slick and polished as say a Micheal Bay film. I want to capture a mystery and nostalgia about the time (nostalgia comes from the association of warmer colors with the old, you can thank Gordon Willis for that). I like how they are using focus to separate out the characters from their surroundings, but also using well placed lights to help create 3-dimensionality which again I think sucks the viewer in more to the frame--- things like that-- if that works for you.

 

If it doesn't, the really good DoPs will generally be able to figure out what you want and need, through talking, through watching how you work. Don't forget, our job is to our director. We will do all we can to give the director what they want and need for their picture (keeping in mind the needs of the actors and the editor as well, and the AD so they don't murder us).
 

Just because another film may have used the same references as you and come out at a different result only proves there is no singular way of looking at a picture. What they took out of a reference, and their realities on the ground, will be alien to your own. Rejoice, it means you're not copying, it means your forming your own voice, which is rare, and wonderful these days .


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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 March 2014 - 05:30 PM

P.s. if this is for Tiger Hunter, I think it would be equally as interesting to play up the whole faux nature of the 70s-- how we you know, look back on it as this hyper real disco generation. (also sounds like a really fun little project!)


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#4 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 24 March 2014 - 06:34 PM

Hi,
 
I'm one of those directors in awe at all that my DPs do for you. In an effort to try to communicate my vision to my DP better, I've been trying to learn more
 
I have some of the stills posted here:
http://www.pinterest...phy-references/
 
There are stills from films like Boogie Nights and Almost Famous (which is closest to the look I want) but some from Five Easy Pieces/American Hustle as well. My question to all you talented DPs on this forum -- DO these stills have a similar look,
 
For example: I always thought the film might have the look of several Stephen Shore photographs...but then later a DP friend told me that  MILK used those photographs as inspiration...and I feel MILK is quite far from the look I'm going for. 
 
 
Lena


Hi Lena,

First off I'd like to commend the fact that you're trying to reach out to Cinematographers and expand your visual vocabulary. You should also be commended for gathering so many visual references - that's a fantastic place to start a dialogue with a DP. Now what you need to do is accept that whatever Cinematographer you hire, he or she is going to take those references and reinterpret them through their own tastes and experiences, and with the specifics of your script and locations in mind, so your movie won't look exactly like the reference images you've chosen, but it will have that flavour. That's a good thing.
Every DP is going to take something different from the reference images, just like every actor will give a different reading of the same line. That's also a good thing.
All your images are heavily styled to feel like the 70's but that's more to do with the choice of costumes, locations and hair style, and less to do with the cinematography. You could make the case that the skin tones are a little warm or that there's a softer contrast to the images and that the colors aren't as saturated as a modern film, but I think really what's catching your eye right now is the costume/hair/locations - that's what says 70s to most people.
See if you can condense your images to a half dozen whose mood best describes what you'd like the audience to feel when watching your film and show those to the DP's you're interviewing and use that as a start point - they don't have to have 70s costumes in the images, and they don't have to be color, the just need to have a quality that you like. It's also useful to show us images from the 70s you don't like - helps tune in to your tastes. And then the scary part is you need to trust one of us to try and get inside your head and reinterpret that. My version of a 70s movie might be very different then another DP's but that's not to say mine would be any more/less valid, just different. Find someone who's body of work you like, give them some guidance as to your tastes, and then take a leap of faith.
Best of luck with it!
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#5 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 09:18 AM

It's also refreshing when a film is set in the past but doesn't have to look retro.  A good example is Dazed and Confused.  Did you ever doubt it was the 70's because the cinematography was non-obtrusive and employed current methods and style.  No.  It was the story and characters that kept you interested.  A movie like Lovelace by comparison was a bit offputting.  At least to me because of the heavyhanded style of it with the grapefruit sized grain and washed out color.  It felt really forced.   So I just thought I'd present the other side of the argument to keep a story set in the past, current in it's look so that it's less distracting.


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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 11:20 AM

I don't think that the first two shots look much like each other at all.


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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 12:25 PM

#1 and #2 are similar in wardrobe, but differ in the warmer -v- cooler, which is interesting since to tend to go with warmer colors and tones when shooting in the past, as in #1, but in #2 you have it set in the time period hence no need for a nostalgia filter.


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#8 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 12:29 PM

Agreed.  While the American Hustle image is a bit higher res than the Five Easy Pieces image, they also reflect nearly 40 years of technological change in motion pictures.


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#9 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 12:32 PM

Sorry...my comment was in response to Phil's (for some reason I can't quote in the IE browser.)


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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 12:34 PM

No worries Bill, I'm sure we all followed along roughly.


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#11 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 25 March 2014 - 12:56 PM

LOL...yeah, ya' think? :P


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