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Understanding the Cinematography of Janusz Kaminski

We’ve blogged in the past about understanding the techniques of some the best cinematographers working today. Now I want to turn the spotlight on arguably one of the most prolific cameramen in modern cinema; Janusz Kaminski.

Since first working together on Schindler’s List, Kaminski and Steven Spielberg have developed a loyal partnership and an immediately recognisable visual style.

The primary characteristic of his work is he doesn’t use light to represent reality but to create an atmosphere, very similar to a painter.

This superb video essay from wolfcrow breaks down the different visual styles and preferences of Kaminiski; from his use of strong backlights to his love of lens diffusion.

You could call this look film noir with soft light.

There are many detractors to this visually bold style, and many filmmakers and cinematographers alike prefer a more naturalistic look but to quote the video “the audience doesn’t care”, and I totally agree.

Anyway, enjoy the video and I hope you can learn something about this unique style.

How to Block a Shot like a Master Director

When it comes to directing, the fine art of blocking and composition is a skill set that separates a good filmmaker from a great filmmaker.

Blocking is cinematic choreography. Simply, it’s the precise movement of an actor in relation to the camera.

Think about it – who decides where and how actors will move during a scene and when and how they will deliver each line of dialogue. Answer: The Director. And how the director answers these questions will significantly shape a movie.

Most aspiring (and even some seasoned) filmmakers overlook the power of good blocking and they do so at their own expense – as well as that of the audience.

This superb video essay from Dan Fox delves into this much overlooked and under appreciated directing skill, and how the clever staging of actors and camera movement can enhance a cinematic moment and reel your audience in.

If you’re a budding filmmaker that wants to direct think carefully about every scene in your film. Think about different ways to direct, ways that don’t just involve a shot/reverse shot formula.

Seek inspiration from the films you love and don’t simply point the camera at ‘talking heads’. But above all – don’t be boring. Remember you’re telling a story and your direction is how you weave that story. If you’re asking people to spend their time and money – you better entertain them!

Watch. Enjoy and learn.

How Hitchcock Blocks a Scene

Here’s a fantastic video breakdown by the one and only Nerdwriter on YouTube. He talks you through an early scene from the film Vertigo and discusses how Alfred Hitchcock says so much – not through dialogue but through the positioning of the actors.

I’ve embedded the video below, as you watch it ask yourself how you might block the scene, are you you’re pushing yourself beyond the mechanics of visual storytelling (wides, mids, close ups etc)? Good blocking of both actors and cameras is something we don’t see very often these days and it’s a great shame. Not only is it an incredibly valuable storytelling tool, but it requires consideration, understanding and mastery to implement successfully. Surely, at the end of it all, that’s what we’re all striving for.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, who are your other favourite directors for their blocking? Spielberg is our number 1. 

P.s. If you’re not currently subscribed to The Nerdwriter I’d highly recommend it; check him out for all things art, culture, politics and movies. Always an interesting watch!

Secrets Behind the Cinematography of The Revenant

I’ve recently discovered this in-depth video breakdown by the Cinematography Database for The Revenant shot by now three-time Academy Award winning director of photography and master of the craft, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki.

Header-Logo-220x80This video is part of a much larger body of work by DoP and all-round awesome guy, Matt Workman.

Matt’s passion is clear to see, his knowledge base vast and his attention to detail is inspiring. And what he has created and is continuing to build is an incredibly thorough and informative “resource for modern cinematographers”.

Seriously, I am blown away by the depth of knowledge shared in this video and if you are at all interested in studying and learning from the masters, you should just sit and watch this video over and over.

Exterior Night Lighting

COSMOS Banner Exterior Night LightingCOSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 22:
EXTERIOR NIGHT LIGHTING


“Life is full of shadows.” — Chris Weaver, our Dad.

The whole of COSMOS is set across a single night, and about thirty percent of that story takes place outside. This blog is a rundown of our approach to lighting those night exteriors scenes.

We’ve tried to cover a lot of info about our lighting approach, including kit, technique and inspiration. As always, our aim with this production blog is to be as informative and thorough as is possible, hopefully without boring you.

Before we get started, below is a video of COSMOS B-rolls for the night exteriors to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how we’re making this film. As with all indie films our resources are limited, but that’s not always a bad thing. We will discuss the lights and techniques being used in this video further on in this article.


 

Why is Film Lighting Important?

Photography is the combination of two Greek words:

  • Photo, derived from phos – meaning light
  • Graphy, derived from graphos – meaning written

Photography literally means written in light making a Photographer a light-writerAnd the art of photography for the cinema is known as Cinematography.

I can’t think of a more beautiful reminder of the importance of light in the filmmaking process; without light there can be no recorded image. Cinematographer John Alton is famed, aside from his legendary anthology of films, for his phrasing “Painting with Light”. And that is what we, as filmmakers, must strive to do – our paint is light, our brush a camera, our canvas a cinema screen. Read the full post »

Character Costumes

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 21:
CHARACTER COSTUMES


“What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what
they are not. “ — Edith Head

Costume Design, as the name suggests, is the creation of costume or clothing for a character in film, tv or theatre. The development of this overall appearance contributes heavily to the believability of the world and its population in a particular story.

Costume styles vary significantly depending on gender, nationality, geography, class, period, economics, religion, season and even character backstory. Historical dramas obviously rely heavily on believable and accurate character costume. Science fiction obviously accesses artistic license to the same effect.

Costume design is so impactful on the filmmaking process, that sometimes iconic movie characters are inseparable from their iconic costume. A leather jacket and fedora can only belong to one man… and if adventure had a name… it must be Indiana Jones! 

But remaining faithful to the old movie maxim, why tell, when you can show…? here is a collection of insightful vignette videos all about the costume design process and its value to the production, the actors and the audience. Enjoy.

Read the full post »

How to Get Better at Anything: The Power of Inspiration & Action

TFA fan art 1

Hi all, hope you’re well. We’ve been in the thick of it recently, filming the first 14 night shoots for COSMOS in September and have plenty of content to come in regards to the film’s progress and tutorials. We can’t wait to get it out for you and hope it’ll prove useful for your filmmaking adventures!

For now though, here’s something slightly different. I wanted to briefly talk about the value of inspiration and the power of action; and how both of these are forces to be reckoned with when it comes to filmmaking (and any creative outlet really) and what benefits you gain from both.

Is there something that you want to get better at, advance your knowledge and understanding of? Something you want to truly master or even take the first steps towards learning? Is there also something that is holding you back, that voice in your head saying: “I’d love to do that but…” or “I’ve always wanted to try that but…”. It’s a common problem, people have that spark of excitement but struggle to nurture it into a roaring flame and instead put it off for another day or reside themselves to the fact that they’ve got other more important things to be doing. So what can we do to give us that extra drive, that push we need to get started?

Read the full post »

Camera Tests

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 20:
CAMERA TESTS


“The most powerful weapon in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is the camera.” — Paul Watson

The purpose of camera tests are to put a camera system through it’s paces to expose (if you pardon the film pun!) its strengths and weaknesses, thus creating a library of footage that will serve as a reference for your production.

The principal of camera testing obviously originates with testing different film stocks – but like each film emulsion, each digital sensor is different. With so many new digital cameras available on the market it’s difficult to know the pros and cons of each… and whether your preferred camera fits your preferred shooting style. You don’t want to just pick a camera and then hope it’ll work nicely in low light if you’re shooting night scenes. Or hope that it’ll be great at handling highlights if you’re filming in the midday sun.

Obviously most indie filmmakers don’t have the luxury of choosing from a range of cameras (or film stocks!), but it’s still vital that you test the camera you’re planning to use for your shoot – familiarising yourself with its optimum operating settings allows you to showcase the camera’s strengths while hiding its weaknesses — and in turn making your cinematography appear more considered and crafted.

Here’s a really cool video from KODAK that features an elaborate camera test designed to showcase improvements in the VISION3 Color Neg Film 5219/7219. Clearly you don’t have to go to such lengths but it’s a great template to help you design your own camera tests.

Read the full post »

Cast Rehearsals

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 19:
CAST REHEARSALS


“All the real work is done in the rehearsal period” — Donald Pleasence

Whichever way you want to look at it, filmmaking is an expensive game – there’s either a money cost or a time cost. And ideally, you want to spend as little of both as possible!

If you have money you can buy time and get things done quickly. If you don’t have money, it’s going to cost you more time to get the job done. And one of the best ways to make the most of your shooting time is to have some constructive rehearsals sessions under your belt, for your benefit as well as your cast’s.

This video features some of the greatest actors of our time and although the topic of rehearsals isn’t directly discussed, it’s clear how seriously these actors approach their work – they love what they do, they want to do their very best and they put a lot of effort, thought and research into how they can achieve that.

Read the full post »

Making Props & Set-Dressing

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 18:
MAKING PROPS & SET DRESSING


“In the property-maker’s room lives the wizard of the studio. He is an inventor, a chemist, a bit of an artist, and an engineer.” — Edward Carrick

The first thing you need to know is what the difference is between Props and Set-Dressing

Prop is short for Property  suggesting that an actor will somehow use such an item as their character’s property. A phone, a compass, a gun, a camera are all Props IF the character uses them in the scene.

BUT if the character does not interact with these items, and the phone or the camera just sit on their desk in their office they become Set-Dressing  these items are not pivotal to the action of the scene but help to make the environment more realistic.

This cool video essay, Why Props Matter,  takes a look at the hidden power of movie props. And how filmmakers use those everyday (and not so everyday) objects to enhance cinematic storytelling.

Read the full post »

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