Tag Archives: filmmaking tips

Shock and AWE, provided by David Donihue

Whatever! Simply whatever you want to learn, The Internet is the answer. Nowadays, it is simple for us to just type a query in the search bar and get the answers in an instant. Living is far less challenging now, isn’t it? Well, not exactly. Even though The Internet is full of information, not all of it is worthy of your time. It might not even be true for that matter. In such times, I can’t express the joy when I discover something that is truly brilliant. Something that all of us young filmmakers can aspire to do some day!

1.Take Me Home

Just some time ago I discovered this music video by David Donihue. I was astonished by the positivity it has to offer. Not one of us gets everything so easily. And the way you deal with failure is what defines your character. There are two things that matter in the world. The situation and your reaction to the situation. Rather than revealing anything more about the contents of the music video, I’d just like to say that this video was uploaded just about 12 days ago and it has already crossed the 300,000 mark. Go ahead and watch it!

2. Shock To The System

Upon doing some research I found a few more videos by the same director. This time, it’s a totally different subject and the treatment will leave you astonished. A thought provoking concept, conveyed beautifully. Avoid the family filter and watch it. It is imperative that you do!

3. Doping

Well, just as I was talking about our reaction to the situation that matters, I saw this. It led me to believe that the situation doesn’t matter at all. In fact nothing else matters. This beautiful She Hulk in the video brought out the monster in me. It reminded me of two little words I love to say to all of them who do not appreciate my efforts. The video made me laugh and it made me think! That is quite an achievement!

4. Blue Sky

Something ironic about the video being in black and white isn’t it? I am a fan of Black and White. In fact, the very first film that I made was in black and white. Even one of my latest films is in black and white. The tone itself made me nostalgic. The music and the lyrics were a brilliant addition that simply took me down the memory lane. Watch the video and learn how well emotions can be handled!

“So who is the one that fills your life with colours?” This is the question I wanted to ask myself upon looking at the video. The video is simple and yet touching. And the interpretation of the title “Blue Sky” in the video makes this video one of my favourite music videos I have seen lately. I feel the title of any film or any art form for that matter, should have a deeper meaning. I could sense the director wanting to derive that meaning from the title of the song and incorporate it into the video so that it reaches the audience effectively.

(I took a break as I wanted to download these songs from iTunes, or otherwise.)

Coming back to the film making bit of these five videos… I think what I loved the most about these videos are the story part of them. Nowadays, when the attention span of audiences has shrunk down it is remarkable to find something that can hold the audience for 5 to 6 minutes. Usually we see music videos with fast moving imagery and no story at all. But I feel, the story behind a film is very important. And even I am sure I will definitely remember these music videos for the story and the overall direction.

Why am I featuring this awesome filmmaker?

I feel some filmmakers, over a period of time develop a style for themselves that they are comfortable in. I feel it is very dangerous for the “art” of cinema. As soon as an artist enters his comfort zone, the art dies. And I feel David over here is determined to give us a variety of good films in the form of music videos. I feel it is important that we learn that nothing good ever comes out of comfort zone.

Discovering a new artist on The Internet is happiness. It is a day well spent.

I want to share this happiness with you guys and I want you to pass it along…

Cheers!

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#5 Anthony Hopkins – The Power of Extreme Closeups

The subject I am writing about is much wider than this particular film. Yet I want to surround my post around this movie because of its exceptional use of extreme closeups.

There are a lot of definitions of what an extreme closeup is. I prefer to say is when you take a close up and you go even closer, so close that you can feel the breath of the character, and even the slightest of change in expressions you are taking an extreme closeup.

I observed in the film, when the lead characters – Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) talk to each other the camera hardly moves any farther than a mid-shot. And that comprises of a major portion of the film. I think this special treatment is designed to portray the suffocating conversation that they have. And when we move to an extreme close-up of the Cannibal Anthony Hopkins, we know that this guy means business.

At first I thought it was a mere coincidence but later on I paid close attention to this. Hopkins hardly blinks in the entire movie. He does not take his eyes off his “patient”. Also there is a purpose for keeping Hopkins behind a glass wall rather than bars. The director Jonathan Demme was convinced that shooting through bars would compromise the intimacy between Dr. Lector and Clarice.

What does an extreme closeup achieve?

1. It chokes you: At least in a thriller like this, you are forced to wonder what is going through the mind of the character when his pupils dilate. You wonder what he is looking at. You wonder what he is saying. You wonder what he is about to do next. The whole idea of not being able to see the action is the greatest power of extreme close-ups. For a twisted character, how dangerous it is not to be able to see what he is up to?

2. Emphasis on a particular line: Maybe not in this film, but one can use extreme close-ups to make a line stand out, to reveal a secret.

3. Cut the chin: a very simple trick I learnt in my film school. Actually I was told NOT to cut the chin ever. If at all going to a close up from a mid-shot you can cut a little bit of forehead but never the chin. It gives out an image of the head being cut out from the body. When asked to describe the character of Dr. Hannibal Lector, Hopkins said that the Lector is a good man trapped by an insane mind. Wonderful!

Hopkins, in the film is present for no longer than 25 minutes in total. His performance is the second shortest to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. There are only three films who have won the Big Five Academy Awards till date. This film was one of them. Since 1991 no other film has been able to repeat this success. The film is considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant by the U.S. Library of Congress and is preserved in the National Film Registry in 2011.

#3 Within 40 Hours (2012)

This was the first documentary I was involved in. And it was based on the students of Kamla High School in Mumbai.

1. Pre-production: It is important to invest a good amount of time in pre-production. But that does not mean we can spend 90% of the time on deciding what to do. In our case, the school that we worked for was supportive by all means. We could shoot wherever we want, we could go in a class in the middle of a lecture and interact with the students very easily. So we were sure at least there are no hindrances from the organisation. We could focus on the creative aspects. We chose the right organisation.

2. Best time to shoot: In photography it is known as the Golden Hour. Luckily enough for us, to match the timings of our college and the school, we had to shoot either early in the morning or just before sunset anyway. And in the month of February, the climate was just beautiful for a shoot. I’ve taken some of the prettiest shots out of sheer co-incidence just because the time was right.

3. Some people are camera conscious: Some kids are natural in front of a camera. Some are not. And that applies not only to kids but to everyone. As this was a documentary we could get away with the hesitation as it acted as a character trait to the person. Also, the subject was psychology so we actually used this to convey our point more convincingly.

4. You don’t need to get it right in the first take: We were interviewing ourselves. We were making a presentation where we were telling the audience about our experiences and what we learnt during these 40 hours of work we did at the NGO. So we had the liberty to note down the points so that two people don’t repeat the same ones. And we did so. That worked so well while editing the film. But on the other hand, it made everyone very conscious while they were talking. The best way to deal with this was to cut the shot a line before they fumbled and then ask them to start again just before the line they said incorrectly. I added a movement in the middle so that I could get a cutting point. And it did not appear as a mistake while everyone watched it.

5. The above only works when the subject is ready to coordinate: As we interviewed the professors, we were running short on time. We had to do it in one go. So we had to settle for a simple cross fade to cover up.

6. Double tap: We were using Lapel Mics for recording the interviews. It is important to check that there is no necklace or any element for that matter which is constantly banging on the condenser.

7. Shoot a lot of inserts/ cut-aways.

8. Cinemascope (2.35:1 ratio) adds a really professional look to your film.

9. Music can make or break your film

10. The film was awarded as the best project and it marked the end of our first year in BMM. It left me on a high and inspired my next Documentary, Pardes. More about it soon!

#3 My Creation – Some notes on composition

There is a plethora of information available on the Internet but knowledge of something is different. For me, knowledge is the kind of education that you can make use of in actual day to day life. So here I am, compiling some information hoping to convert it into knowledge for myself and maybe for the rest of the world!

Few pointers that make a good composition:

1. Grouping

2. Balance

3. Ratio/ Proportion (one of the best things I learnt today!)

4. Rule of thirds

5. Lines and curves

6. Figure and ground

7. Harmony and contrast

8. Light (soft light and hard light)

9. Colour

On reading all these articles, (if someone is passionate enough to do so) you will understand that there is a lot going through the DoP’s head before he even presses the record button. Does he carry a book with him referring to every tiny detail? Not anyone I know of. This is the homework one often does subconsciously. At first you might have to try hard, push yourself looking at one frame for hours before you decode it. Later on it becomes a part of your daily life.

As we move forward in time, most of our functions as a cinematographer will be submerged under the term automatic. I feel there is nothing wrong in putting your camera on P mode when you doubt your exposure settings. Ultimately, the results matter. However, I feel it is very less likely that a camera will be able to compose a shot as well as we can. You may be using a cell phone or a DSLR or a cinema camera, if you don’t make use of your frame, you will end up with an average looking image.

So if you don’t have a camera and you still want to be a DoP or even a better photographer, try this: cut a 4 inches by 3 inches rectangle in a cardboard and start ‘framing’ the world around you. When you have a limit to your field, you will understand how a simple change in your position can make the frame look better. I feel at every level, a visual artist should carry out this exercise.

 

 

#2 My Creation – For a change (2012)

FOR A CHANGE NEW

It makes me smile when I look back at my early works. It has been more than two years now since I made this. And I can’t stop laughing when I look at the foolish mistakes visible on screen and the major cover ups made on the edit table, minutes before our presentation!

Here are a few technical and a few creative tips to myself in the present from an enthusiast in the past:

1. Troubles with the crew:

There are all sorts of people in the world. Some may prove as an asset to your film and some are just troublemakers. They do not contribute towards anything but ruining your plan and raising your temper. It is essential to determine “your crew” and get rid of the troublemakers at first instance. Things get really tricky when you’re not paying anything else but your gratitude. All that diplomacy seen in TV soaps comes real handy in such conditions. I wish I was more manipulative then!

2. Getting a 50mm prime was the best and the worst decision:

Why it is the best lens? I think DigitalRev can explain better. They’ve explained it from a photographer’s perspective but most of the points are valid for a film maker too. To make a long story short: fast aperture – better lighting; small and lightweight; bokeh; as cheap as my camera bag (then!) Now some things others might not tell you. The flip side of the coin. Since buying a 50mm it’s been a task to move to any other lens. I don’t think I used my kit lens 18 – 135 to its fullest potential for a long time. And frankly speaking a wide angle lens provides a variety of angles to your film. It is necessary to opt for a stylish wide look to show your sets, to establish your settings.

3. Class 10 Transcend:

SanDisk happens to be the market leader in SD Cards but for me, Transcend at a cheaper price has been a reliable companion. I think I purchased a class 4 card out of sheer ignorance but I was lucky to get it replaced. For my camera, Canon 550d, I require a class 10 card with about 45mbps speed. I purchased 2 SanDisk Ultra 16 GB cards later on and I was pretty disappointed. If you are ready to spend, go for Extreme or Extreme Pro only. I’ve heard a lot about Sony but never used any.

4. What happens when you’re pulling off an Orson Welles?

Yes! I acted in this one. No! I wasn’t the lead. It is considered as the director is the best actor on set. I was the worst. I have done my share of performing on stage and even in front of camera before. But when you have the responsibility of Directing, Shooting and handling the Mics as well; things tend to get into the weird zone. I think I was the most awkward character on screen. This multiplies my respect for directors such as Orson Welles, Mel Gibson, Charlie Chaplin and many others who pulled this off with mastery.

5. Music made this film what it is

This film was fundamental for my learning because I learnt how music can enhance the overall cinematic experience and how it can convert an ordinary video into a decent short film.

6. Good casting lends you a sigh of relief

A very senior actor upon watching the film praised my casting abilities. Whatever I had done was unintentional and intuitive. Taking up actors on the go, making my classmates act on the streets et al! Whatever it was, it worked. When I see the film again I know how important such decisions were.

7. I work pretty well under pressure (only on the edit table)

When I have 5 hours to finish the edit I can do a better job than having a week for it. Or maybe it just feels like it. But I have not finished many films in absence of a deadline. This worries me immensely. I hope I can change that with time.

8. Not just the white balance but the tint!

People suggest you to check three things before you press the record button: exposure, focus and white balance. I don’t have a manual white balance option in my camera. I always stick to auto and most of the times get away with it. It was sunny when I was shooting and there is a green cast on my actors because of the sunlight reflecting off the leaves in the foreground. Fixing it is pretty difficult and cautionary measures during the shoot are the only way to survive.

9. Take your time but hide that mic!

I knew the mic was visible. It was just the tip of the lapel mic. I thought it will go unnoticed. I notice it every time I see the film and it is pretty distracting.

10. Keep your friends closer (there is no enemy part to this one)

Keeping in touch with all the people who lend you equipment is like your second job. You can make a film because these people put aside their interests and simply let you use their houses, mics and sometimes even cameras for free. I think I owe all of them whatever I am and whatever I may be.