This week I’m having Director of Photography and Producer Sam Sullivant talk about cinematography, his first in a two part series. Over the next few weeks I’ll be having more department heads talk about their fields. If you have any specific questions or want to learn more about anything, leave us comments! –BB
Okay, so we live in a digital age, right? Video was analog for a bit and now is primarily digital. More and more cinematographers are shooting digitally, so why don’t we just call them videographers? They are shooting video after all, aren’t they?
This line of thought above is a common misconception regarding the art of cinematography. There are so many mediums (or media) on which to shoot a film nowadays. For example, 65mm, 35mm, 16mm, multiple film stocks, 5K digital, 4K, 2K, DSLR, or even iPhones or Hi-8 for all I care. Oh, and we forgot to mention stereoscopic 3D! The medium of film is always in flux in this industry. What is of higher importance is THE STORY. Understanding and mastering the storytelling aspect is what, I think, makes cinematographers and videographers most successful. However, cinematography is a completely different craft and art form than videography, and this must be understood.
There may be crossover in the mediums on occasion (i.e. the rise in DSLR shooting across platforms for wedding videos, TV shows, and even films). However, the technical mastery, creative storytelling, and philosophical underpinnings of cinematography are what continue to set this craft apart from simple event videography or even some television programming.
[Note: To clarify still more, while the terms “cinematography” and “videography” may have originated with the media used, i.e. what the piece was shot on, video versus film, I would suggest that, currently, the terms refer more to the exhibition intentions of the creators, i.e. how the piece is intended to be shown to audiences. Cinematography used for pieces intended to be shown in the cinema, videography used for pieces intended to be shown on home video. Narrative and documentary films are almost always intended to be seen on the big screen, whether they make it there or not, and wedding videos, concert videos, etc, are rarely shown on the big screen. There are exceptions, of course. Straight-to-DVD movies obviously use cinematography, even though they are sent straight to home video. And concert films are on the rise in the theaters with Michael Jackson’s This Is It and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never leading the charge, though it could be argued that these are considered documentaries, not concert videos (I would contend that This Is It is still videography due to the fact that all the footage is archival video intended for private reference, marketing, or behind-the-scenes footage). Narrative TV shows I would also consider cinematography while reality TV is, painfully and obviously, videography.
The simplest way of delineating the crafts, however, is this: cinematography is used for pieces crafted specifically for the camera, while videography is used to capture live events.
…please excuse the interruption… –BB]
The medium is certainly a crucial and highly important decision in the pre-production process of making a film. We ask ourselves: “How many visual effects shots do we need? What aesthetic look do we want in the film? Are we shooting daylight or tungsten? Are we going for a chiaroscuro look with the lighting, or a more naturalistic one?” These are a few of the many questions that we must ask in deciding the medium. For NUAT, we also must consider budget and workflow. This is major in being able to work on an independent (often shoe-string) budget. There are certain things we cannot skimp on, but the advantage we have these days is…. OPTIONS!
I am inspired by a number of films in regards to cinematography. One of my favorites is Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock. I particularly love how the shooting style conveys themes of confinement and voyeurism consistently throughout the film. Not only are the reaction shots or “looks” in the film vital to the storytelling, but even the insatiable curiosity, perhaps even “Peeping Tom” tendencies of L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart), are a commentary on filmmaking and cinematography itself. The mise-en-scène (or “look of the scene”) conveys this in many ways and through multiple layers. The lens choices, the lighting, the depth of field decisions, camera movements, on and on all play an important role in telling the story.
For the NUAT Experiment, we are facing many challenges in being able to tell this story well and also keep it within budget. The cinematographer is a major player in this process, and the tools we use need to be just right for each shot. I like the challenge though. It’s all a part of the creative process of making a movie transform from simply a medium into a powerful story.
This week’s lesson:
Regardless of the medium, cinematography
is still all about telling the story.
Next week: Part 2 of Sam’s series on cinematography
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