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.

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

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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?

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One Simple Trick That Will Improve Your Film Lighting

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“What’s this?!” I hear you cry sceptically,

“Are you going to offer some kind of Holy Grail of lighting that will instantly make my movies look better?!”


Well… actually, yes. Quite simply if you put into practise the information below your movies will almost immediately look more… well movie like. It’s a simple yet incredibly effective lighting technique that should change the way you place your lamps… forever!

So, what is it exactly that I’m eluding to? Why, it’s Reverse Key Lighting of course. Don’t know what that is? You’re in luck, read on.

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Hope you enjoy. Thanks for stopping by — Elliot & Zander Weaver
Reel Deal Online Film School

5 Top Tips for Filming on Location

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“By failing to prepare… you are preparing to fail” — Benjamin Franklin

Shooting out on location can be one of the most exciting, rewarding but testing aspects of filmmaking. Working outside the comfortable studio environment inevitably brings with it many challenges – juggling time pressures and permissions of locations, working with the available light and around the changing weather all while lugging your gear from here to there.

But thankfully, the very nature of this high stress environment breeds highly capable and efficiency filmmakers. You learn how to control what seems uncontrollable, how to make the most of the time available and how to creatively solve the never-ending challenges.

Zander grass

One man and his camera

The most extreme form of this filmmaking is found in the world of documentaries, where you’re tasked with capturing real life as it happens, no rehearsals, no retakes, no second chances!

I can personally vouch that for the budding filmmakers, there is NO better training in the world than working on documentaries. And even if you’re planning a career in shooting drama, I’d recommend a ‘stint’ on docs to put you ahead of the crowd in no time.

So, here are our Top 5 Documentary Tips for Filming on Location

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Elia Kazan: On What Makes a Film Director

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The director does it because he has to. Who else will? Who else loves the film that much?
— Elia Kazan

Yesterday I was asked to write about why I wanted to be a Film Director – which, despite my unwavering passion for filmmaking, proved to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated.

The easy answer was “because I love movies”… but that wasn’t good enough or accurate enough.

It’s very hard to explain why anyone would want to be a film director. Why would you want to do that? What drives you? You must be a creative and a technician, while being both an artist and businessman. You must be cynical yet sentimental. You must conjure inspiration, commit with perspiration and maintain unwavering dedication. You must have all the answers to all the questions, all the time. It’s damn hard work and can hurt so damn much – there are certainly a thousand easier ways to earn a living.

Directors Close UpBut while searching for inspiration I remembered a piece of writing I read many years back in my faithful copy of Directors Close Up (if you haven’t got a copy of this book, get one pronto!)

The book is a brilliant read and features interviews with Directors Guild of America nominees for outstanding feature film directing. James Cameron, Frank Darabont, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Ang Lee, Baz Luhrmann, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone and Robert Zemeckis… they’re all in there and the personal insights into their filmmaking processes are priceless for professional and aspiring directors alike.

But it was to Appendix C on page 315 that I turned… because tucked away in the back of this book hides a transcript of the single most inspiring speech for anyone who’s ever wanted to be a Film Director. (more…)

Robert Rodriguez teaches you in 10 minutes what Film School fails to teach in 2 years

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“A famous filmmaker once said you can learn everything you need to know about film in a week… he was being generous — you can learn it in 10 minutes.” — Robert Rodriguez


Robert Rodriquez on the set of  Planet Terror GRINDHOUSEI want to introduce you to self-made movie maestro Robert Rodriguez. If you are an independent filmmaker you should already know who this guy is… but if not — then Rodriguez is your new best friend!

Director of movies like Sin City, Once Upon A Time In Mexico and From Dusk Till Dawn, Rodriguez made his first film when he was just 23 years old and raised his $7,000 budget by subjecting himself to medical experimentation. He then sold his now iconic El Mariachi to Columbia Tri-Star for a quarter of a million dollars.

Rebel Without A CrewAlmost 15 years ago I first read his book Rebel Without A Crew which is his film diary telling the making of El Mariachi, and was first introduced to Rodriguez’s 10 Minute Film School in which he shares his inspirational mindset and determination for finding creative solutions for filmmaking problems.

You can get rid of the problem one of two ways – you can do it creatively or you can wash it away with the money hose. You got no money, you got no hose!

Throughout his career, Rodriguez has demonstrated countless ways to do things for free that Hollywood spends thousands on without a second thought and now, for your viewing pleasure I present to you a compilation of his best 10 Minute Film School videos that will change the way you view and make films forever. (more…)

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