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Posts Tagged ‘cinematography’

StudioBinder dropped a video today (Learning to Light) with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (1917, Blade Runner 2049) that is outstanding. They’ve been cranking out great videos for years, so if you’re not familiar with them check out their YouTube channel (which to date has over 250 videos).

Below are three StudioBinder videos featuring Deakins.

P.S. And Roger Deakins also has a podcast now called Team Deakins. Maybe start with the episode featuring writer/director Joel Coen.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Christopher Lockhart’s two hour interview with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie— that was originally shown on the private Facebook group The Inside Pitch— is now on YouTube.

Here are two filmmaking lessons from the Mission: Impossible writer/director McQuarrie (the second which he said took him 25 years to articulate):

LESSON 1

“I didn’t understand lens on my first film, and I never had one discussion about lens on the film. I do not I do not know a single shot  in my first film—what lens it was shot on. I can guess it now because I’ve developed an eye for what lens are. Once you’ve determined who the audience is, the next most important conversation to have is about what is the lens? On my first film I never discussed the lens once. On Mission: Impossible Fallout, I had 3,000 setups in that movie. I had more setups than two Harry Potter movies combined. There was not one setup on that movie where the first conversation we had didn’t have the lens. We talked about the lens every single time. And what you need to think of when you think of lens. You can look up focal length. You can look up the rule of thirds. You can look up lighting. You can read all that stuff—all those books are so tedious and so boring, and I don’t understand them. And they’re really, really hard. Here’s what you need to do: when you look at a lens, look at the number on the focal length on the lens. Whether it’s an 18mm lens right up to, say, a 150 mm lens. The number on the lens signifies the amount of intimacy that that lens provides. And the more intimacy you want to put into the scene, or a line or a moment, the higher that number goes. And the more you want to stand back from the action the lower the number goes. . . understanding that principle when I was 20-years-old would have gotten me where I am a lot fast.”

LESSON 2:

“The other thing I want you to do is I want all of you to go out and take photographs. And I want you to do it with you phone. And what I want you to do when you’re taking the photograph is I want you to think about three things and only three things; lens, light, and location. And when you take a photograph and look at it and go ‘Why don’t I like this photograph?’ It is because one of three things, or all three of those things, are not in sync. And remember that you can almost always alter one of those three things. You can either change the light, you can change the location, or you can change the lens. On most iPhones now you can sort of pretend to change a lens. What we don’t understand when we’re first starting out, and what most people don’t tell us, they don’t make us aware of those things. They don’t make us aware of light. And so what happens is we look at the picture and we can’t understand why when we’re taking the picture that it doesn’t look like what our eye sees.. . . . So what you want to do is stop looking at the world through your eyes, and start looking at the world through the lens. If you don’t tell the lens what you want to see exactly, the lens will show you what it sees approximately  . . .  The first lesson in photography is just an awareness of those three things: lens, light, and location.”

Here’s an example of that from a photo I took last week with my iPhone. (Straight out of the camera with zero post production.)
Lens: I used the 2x (telephoto) on my iPhone 7 Plus to compress the tree in the foreground and the sunrise in the background.
Light: I knew the sunrise was at 6:41 so I had to be in position in my kayak before then. I also knew that the small sensor on the iPhone doesn’t actually handle the blinding sun well so I wanted to capture the sun just before it breaks the horizon. And because the camera want to expose for the tree in the foreground instead of the bright background, I had to use the slider to bring the exposure down. This would silhouette the tree which was the effect I wanted.
Location: Since I started kayaking four months ago I was familiar with the best places to shoot the sunrise. This cypress tree is my favorite location because I knew where I could position myself to get the best composition of the rising sun and the tree with Spanish moss to make it visually interesting. I was fortunate to get the clouds as they add extra visual interest. Perhaps the trickiest part was positioning myself on a kayak to be at the right place just before the sun shined through. There was less than 30 seconds to get the shot I wanted to get where the lens, light, and location came though.  The only thing that would have made it better was if I would of had Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) kayaking in the frame between the tree and the horizon. If Tom ever wants to make the two and a half hour trip from Clearwater to Orlando I’m up for a reshoot. (Seaplanes can land on the lake.) I’d even break out my Nikon for that.

IMG_5767

Light, Lens, Location

Related posts:
I did go to film school so I’m not bored by all the technical aspects of cinematography. Here are some posts I’ve written about the subject over the years:
Wide, Normal, and Telephoto Lens Explained & Other Cinematography Resources 
The Five C’s of Cinematography
Cinematography for Directors
Cinematic Storytelling
Master Shots 
Film Directing Shot by Shot
Film Directing, Cinematic Motion
Oscar Winning Cinematography ( 1927-2016)
Cinematography (Overview)
Cinematographer Allen Daviau (1942—2020)
Cinematography Cheats #1 (Jerry Maguire)
‘It’s all about emotions’ Cinematographer Jamusz Kamunski
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)

Scott W. Smith 

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Don’t get scared away by the privacy settings on the below video, just click the “Watch on Vimeo” button and you‘ll be rewarded with a terrific DIY video where ASC cinematographer Lawrence Sher (Joker, The Hangover) walks you through how he recreates a shot from E.T. by using only things in his house and an iPhone. This is one way to use you quarantine time in creative ways. (Heck, this would be a good way to do a whole college class.)

Shot Craft — Staying Creative in Quarantine from American Cinematographer on Vimeo.

You can check out a matching article on the American Cinematography blog written by Jay Holben. Sher also created a website called Shotdeck that is full of movie images that can  serve as inspiration for your own ideas.  And you can follow Sher on Instagram (@lawrencesherdp) where he shares his recreations of famous movie scenes.

Sher_2797

Related posts:

The Best Film School 
10 Low-Budget Filmmaking Quotes 
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 1 Day
Shooting a Feature Film Over Dinner
Shooting a Feature Film in a Coffin

Scott W. Smith

 

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“In 1968, Allen [Daviau] and I started our careers side by side with the short film AMBLIN’. Allen was a wonderful artist, but his warmth and humanity were as powerful as his lens. He was a singular talent and a beautiful human being.”
—Steven Spielberg

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 1.52.26 PM

Cinematographer Allen Daviau died last week from complications due to COVID-19. He was nominated for five Academy Awards in Best Cinematography for his work on Bugsy, Avalon, Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple and E.T. the Extra-Terrestial. (All incredibly done in a ten year run.)

He was part of the visual team that created one of the most iconic shots in movie history—Henry Thomas and E.T. magically riding in the air on a bicycle, silhouetted by the moon.

It’s hard to watch that scene on YouTube in 2020 knowing what a powerful moment that was when the movie hit theaters in 1982. I was in film school at the time and did not have cable TV or a VHS machine. (The majority did not back then.) So I went to a packed theater and had a shared mystical movie experience.

The sole Oscar-nomination for E.T. was for Melissa Mathison’s script. A script and that gave the film its mystical, spiritual aspect. This is how she described the interior of the space ship, ” We are in a greenhouse—a Gothic cathedral of a structure.” Much as been written about the death and resurrection of E.T. as well as his healing powers.

From the script I have, the “moon shot” isn’t even on the page. It just says:

EXT. SKY —NIGHT

The bicycle glides five feet over the tall grass and circles the landing site. 

                                                  ELLIOTT
                             Not so high! Not so high!

E.T. feels Elliott’s joy, and in the excitement of his own triumph, E.T. allows the ride to continue. The bicycle rises to the treetops. Elliot rides the bicycle, pedaling as hard as he can, steering through the treetops. He screams, laughing. 

Nothing about an iconic silhouetted “moon shot.”

Here’s what the “moon shot” looks like brought to life.

I’m not sure what role Daviau had in that shot. Oscar winner and effects cameraman Mike McAlister scouted for a week to find the right location and spent two night shooting it in Nicasio, California. All for a shot not originally in the script, but one that Spielberg obviously thought was necessary.

And Daviau was the director of photography on the film so one way or another that shot was his responsibility.  I was fortunate to hear Daviau speak when I was in film school, and while I don’t remember anything about that talk, he left images that I’ll never forget.

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 2.38.05 PM

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 4.33.59 AM

The Color Purple

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 4.52.01 AM

Bugsy

P.S. A little more tucked inside Daviau  credits is the lesser remembered by the masses Fearless (1993). Written by Radael Yglesias and directed by Peter Weir, it is well worth your time to revisit the story of a man (Jeff Bridges) surviving a plane crash. (And another film that has a trail of writings about the spiritual aspects of that movie, including this one from the almways informative site Cinephilia & Beyond; Peter Weir’s ‘Fearless’ as a Soulful Slice of Life That Gently Examines the Human Condition.)

Related ASC article: The Cinematography of E.T.

 

Scott W. Smith

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“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness” 
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“Hello darkness, my old friend…”
—Simon & Garfunkel
The Sounds of Silence (written by Paul Simon and sung by Simon & Garfunkel)

The last two movies I happened to see in theaters were Joker and The Lighthouse. Thankfully, I didn’t see them on the same night. If I had of seen Joker and The Lighthouse back-to-back on the same day I would have gone home and immediately signed up for the newly launched Disney+  and planned to exclusively stream Disney films for the next year.

A Joker/The Lighthouse double feature would have had me rewatching Taxi Driver just for a ray of light. (I find nihilism as a worldview depressing, but I can handle it in two hour movie chunks.) The truth is both Joker and The Lighthouse are highly crafted films that will find favor at Oscar time. I expect actors Joaquin Phoenix and Willem Dafoe, directors Todd Phillips and Robert Eggers, along with the writing and production design teams to get Oscar-nominations.

But I think The Lighthouse black and white cinematography of Jarin Blaschke is the single most remarkable element of not only those two films, but of any film I’ve seen this year. And I should mention that both Robert Pattinson’s character in The Lighthouse and the Joker himself belong in what I call “The End of the Rope Club.”

“I would never write about someone who was not at the end of his rope.”
—Stanley Elkin

Here’s a little glimpse into how Joker and The Lighthouse were made.

P.S. As of this writing, the screenplay for The Lighthouse is available from A/24 at their “For Your Consideration” page (as well as the screenplays for The Farewell and Waves).

Scott W. Smith 

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In keeping with Sydney Lumet’s quote that “moviemaking works very much like an orchestra” today’s post is a video that looks a little more into cinematography. Beyond having an appreciation for those that help translate screenplays into visual images, this video will help you think cinematically.

With an army of film schools grads, others workshops trained,  and perhaps even more self-taught all over the world—with their own cameras—teaming up with one of them is a great way to get your  words turned into short films, websiodes, and features.

Everyone aspires to do better work so keep an eye out for a cinematographer who has honed his or her craft working on award-winning corporate videos and commercials but would love to team up with someone like you to mix up their reel and help them move into more narrative work.

P.S. And for good measure here’s look at a few more lights and shadows by cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Related post:
10 Cinematography Tips by Roger Deakins

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s an overview of cinematography by RocketJump’s Creative Director Mike Symonds:

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I used to call what we do when we light for movies ‘poetic realism.’ A scene should look real, but it should also have poetry. When we light something in a movie, we sometimes want it to look better than life. Sometimes we want to exaggerate a little bit to get the point across. We might make early-morning sunshine coming through a window extremely light, even sparkling. On its own, the eye probably wouldn’t see that light that way, but perhaps we want the audience to not just see the brightness, but also feel it. When you light to tell a story, you don’t want to simply duplicate what the eye would see in that situation, you also want to create a feeling. We all see a  lot of detail in shadows, but when cinematographers light a dark scene, we often let the shadows go completely black. Would all the detail the eye sees be more interesting than exaggerating the feeling of darkness?…It’s almost imperative that you overdo some things a little bit in order for the audiences to perceive what they’re seeing as real. And that’s okay, because audiences are used to seeing things that way in movies! Moonlight is a perfect example — it never looks in a movie the way it does in reality. Real moonlight is very subtle, but in movies it usually ends up looking somewhat blue. And the real moon doesn’t reflect the amount of light that artificial moonlight has in movies. Sometimes you have to use a sort of impressionistic technique to get the point across, and if you do that well, audiences are very willing to accept ‘movie reality.’”
Oscar-winning Vilmos Zsigmond Director of Photography (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
ASC Interview with Jon Siberg

Let me add that one of the real cinematography cheats of the moonlight spilling into homes—especially when people are sleeping—is not the color or the illumination, it’s that the curtains are usually open in movies and television programs. I’ve walked and driven  through many neighborhoods in my life and I’d guess that 95% of the curtains/blinds are closed at night. And in real life the only reasons you’d leave your curtains open in your bedroom when you sleep is if you want to wake up at sunrise and/or to a beautiful view.

And since in my last post I said that Janusz Kaminski was born in Poland, I should mention Zsigmond was born in Szeged, Hungary.

Related Posts:
Cinematography Cheats #1
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)
How to Get Started Working in Production (2.0) Where I found a quote about Zsigmond after he immigrated to the United States first found work in Los Angeles as a technician in a film lab and also as a home portrait photographer.
Start Small…But Start Somewhere

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—15 posts.

 

Scott W. Smith

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Cinematographers are a bunch a liars and cheaters. Screenwriters, too. In a good way, of course. It’s all part of the job.  Just doing their part in creating a world of make believe.

For instance, Jerry Maguire didn’t really exist. Sure there were composites of real people he was based on, but he was a fictional character out of the cranium of writer/director Cameron Crowe.

Look at the screenshot below of Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) and what do you see? Can you see how cinematographer Janusz Kaminski lied and cheated to help bring that character to life?

JerryMaguireLamps

“If there’s a lamp most of the time the light would come from that lamp. It doesn’t mean that I would actually use that lamp to illuminate that scene because it’s just not sufficient enough to give [enough] illumination, but I would motivate the light sources by [using] existing lighting sources on the set. And, of course, if the drama of the existing light was not sufficient for the story I will totally abandon the practice of being realistic and just be dramatic with the light. I would just go for  go with non-realistic light sources to make the movie more interesting in terms of the storytelling.”
Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
(Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List—and Jerry Maguire)
Interview 

So in that well-known Jerry Maguire mission statement scene Kaminski does various things to make the scene visually interesting. He turns all the lamp lights on (even turn one on its side on the ground) in one shot, but in another place he turns all the lights off and allows what supposed to be exterior light (streetlights?) to stream in with rain pouring off the windows creating patterns on the walls, and in another place he uses an open small refrigerator to help illumine the scene. All to make it visually interesting and to meet the writer/directors expectations of a character having an epiphany .

JerryMRainFrig

Here’s how the much of scene played out:

Related Post:
Jerry Maguire’s Mission Statement
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—17 posts.

Scott W. Smith

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