Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The first thing to know about filming a movie: Move The Camera!

One of the first things that I learned about making films was that most Indie productions looked the same.  I tried to figure this out for a long time until I came across the fact that they are all using static camera angle.  In the film lingo world a tripod shot is sometimes called a "pedestal" shot.  That's where the camera is put on a tripod or something similar and it stays there.  Yes, we have the ability to pan left and right, up and down but that is still very... well, uninteresting.  There are times that it is necessary to make sure the camera is not moving but, in my opinion, that isn't something to be done all the time.  In fact, there is even a feature in the editing software that adds camera shake.  That right there should tell all of us that movement of the camera is essential.  What other reason could there be to add a preset to a program that makes perfect footage shake?

There are several ways to make a camera angle live.  No, that's not the correct term for it but maybe it should be.  One way (and one of my favorites) is to shoot with a Jib.  A jib brings heavy motion into the frame and when used correctly, can make ordinary footage look like a Hollywood production.  A jib usually is used to move the camera vertically from a high angle to a medium or low angle.  If you have ever watched an episode of "The X Files" you have seen the product of using a jib.  I think they did it in every episode at least once if not every other angle.  To use it correctly you generally need something in the foreground to show the motion of the subject that is further away.  The faster motion of the foreground piece generally gives the viewer a sense of depth.  The cost of a Jib can be a couple hundred dollars to thousands to purchase outright.  

Kessler Crane Phillip Bloom Slider

Another great way to keep the camera moving is the use of a slider.  This allows for the camera to move left to right (or right to left) with precision and without any shake.  You basically take the same thought process that you use for the Jib and turn it around making the subject the foreground object.  You will get a nice little motion going on in the background that keeps the eye happy while adding an artistic look to your shot when using a shallow focus (this means the background is out of focus).  Most medium priced TV commercials utilize this to make the production feel even that much more expensive.    

Zacuto Shoulder rig
One of my go to camera angles is accomplished using a shoulder rig.  Swaying side to side and keeping your subject in a certain portion of the frame is a great way to emulate a slider.  I also use the shoulder rig for a little more than that.  You see, with a shoulder rig you can get yourself in crazy positions that make the angle just right.  Plus, the rig isn't just made for your shoulder.  Many times I have watched a film where the DP (director of photography) seemed to forget that you can put that rig on your knew, carry it like a bag, put it on the ground or anywhere else that is even remotely stable. Even the shake from the rig can give you that extra umph you need to make the shot less Sterile.  

Ultimately, what I am saying is Keep That Camera Moving!  Especially if it's an indie production.  Camera movement can be used to cover up bad acting, script slumps and poor sets.  Always keep an eye out for that crazy angle that is rarely seen because it is so hard to get.  Don't be afraid to shoot from the floor or from a tall ladder even.  It will be worth it in the end.

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