Cinematographic Learning Part-1

A filmmaker is a storyteller in visuals. Story always forms out of one’s imagination and life’s experience. But, to make it communicable to another person the storyteller needs craft. While imagination is inspired, a craft can be taught. It is to be noted that the tradition of training performers in a proper school was always there in India. So, it is more of a baseless prejudice that film art, unlike music or painting, cannot be taught. Further, people have a wrong idea about teaching. As Jean Renoir once wrote, a teacher’s job is to show relations between things. Through a guided tour, a teacher brings multiplicity of real experiences to his students. That can save a lot of learning time.

However, anyone who wants to be a good cinematographer needs rigorous training in some basic steps. These are the building blocks for cinematic story telling – Composition, Exposure, Optics, Lighting,  Understanding of Color,  Camera Mechanisms, Sensitometry, Pre-production and Post-production processes, , Camera operation and Grip, Set Management and Creative Collaboration on the set.

There are few things besides these that an active cinematographer has to bother about, in his daily work. Finally, everyone learns and becomes sophisticated in the skills through use and practical experience – through problem solving, basically. But, to start, one needs to have good, or at least standard, skill in these ten things. Sometimes, they are called the ten golden steps in cinematography.

Let us examine the steps more closely.

1

In reality, we see things happening around us in a continuous mode. In cinema, the reality is framed. Where the frame ends, space is suddenly cut off. Any story-telling, hence, is essentially made through frames, and more importantly, through arrangement of things in the frame. Actors and set properties can be arranged in different geometric formations in relation to one another, and in relation to the background.

ImageImage

The idea of power, for example, is enhanced by the circular formation in this frame. Even when this is not a wide top shot, it can be seen that the power is projected by the suggestive circle in which people are sitting.  The scene presents a grave mood even when the viewer is not aware that it is the control room for war.

Primary shapes, such as circle, square and triangle, either as physical shapes or actors and props in such formation always catch the eye. Just like the shapes, lines and solid forms – sphere, cube, cone and cylinder – pose creative challenge to the viewer’s dynamic mind. Great filmmakers like Eisenstein always knew this, and took it to a height in films like Ivan the Terrible Part I and Part II.

Image

Modern filmmakers take recourse to this when they want a strong emotive utterance without using dialogue or too much physical action. Coen Brothers’ Fargo plays a witness to setting up the atmosphere of chill, business and cold murder through use of lines.

Image

Lines can be vertical like this formation, or diagonal like the car. When the actors and props are in a diagonal arrangement, that gives the frame certain dynamism, and story a certain speed. Changing the shapes and lines in successive shots, produce internal rhythm that helps in engaging the viewer to the story.

When a sense of rest or immobility is to be conveyed, filmmakers use a horizontal line instead. Such a line, parallel to the picture-frame-edges, produces the least internal motion. Viewers tend to connect maximum things to positions of human body in the space. A horizontal line evokes a dead body, or at best a sleeping man, to mind.

Talking of lines, one should remember that lines also psychologically divide a framed space. Film screen space is always rectangular. But the rectangle can be of different widths. This is known as Aspect Ratio, in cinematic terms. Choice of aspect ratio is both functional and aesthetic. Whatever it is, the picture space always retains certain areas of prime importance which the human eye catches fast.

Traditionally, this psychological preference is translated geometrically in the frame. It follows certain visual conventions that in turn depend on visual psychology and viewer-reaction points. In filmmaking, photography and painting, this is known as the rule of the third.

It is interesting to note, when the frame gets wider – a Cinemascope frame, for example – the rule of the fourth follows, quite logically.

Image

The idea came from painting. Visual artists always knew where the viewer’s attention tends to hover maximally, in a square frame. If the painter wanted some face or object to draw viewer’s attention most, they just had to keep them in those particular areas in the frame. With such a calculated approach, interesting storytelling became easy.

Filmmakers quickly took to the same approach. However, motion picture cannot always show a dynamic, harmonic frame, as people and objects keep moving through time. The idea of Key frame came soon as a solution. When important things are happening, or someone is delivering a dialogue, the actor in prominence or an object which the filmmaker wants to highlight, is halted to rest. When someone is at rest, his face can be at one of the nine interesting points of intersection, making the frame visually dynamic and interesting.

 Image

It is playing with the viewer’s psychology and expectations finally. A normal human mind always looks for something exciting in the space that is not revealed to him, or revealed partially.

This is why for a solo character in the frame he is normally kept in one of the thirds (left or right third)

Image

Even when it is an Over-the-Shoulder shot, like the frame above, the character who is positioned in preference to the other character, is normally kept in the middle third or one of the side thirds (depending on shot-size and if background is shown properly.)

The idea is inherently embedded in human visual psychology. Man likes mysteries, puzzles. When everything is revealed, the human mind does not have much to work on solving the puzzle. However, when a solo character looks at an off-screen space (space outside the frame), the viewer’s mind wants to know what lies beyond the frame line. Filmmakers like Hitchcock knew this, and played subtly on the basis of normal human expectations.

Image

In this frame from Rear Window, the photographer Hero, Jeffries (acted by Jimmy Stewart), and looks at something off-screen. He points his camera’s long lens to that unseen object too. Naturally, the curious human mind seeks an answer to ‘What lies beyond the frame?”

The answer can only be obtained in the next moment. This is why film is a serial art form, where one composition follows another to answer some question.

Where the form (ie, the composition) makes the content (ie, the expectation) stronger, the storytelling becomes effective.

Provoking Thought & Action – Seminars Held By Digital Academy – The Film School

Since our inception in 2002, Digital Academy – The Film School (DA) has endeavored to go beyond the conventionally defined charter of an educational institution. It is our belief that the responsibility of a center of excellence transcends the courses it teaches to the students enrolled. An institution must therefore reach out to a larger audience, for a bigger purpose than its primary role as an educator to its students.

 

The most coveted educational institutions have followed this same philosophy. To come to the aid of the industry they prepare students for, by provoking thought & action outside the boundaries of their own grounds. By advocating affirmative action, intellectual debate and discussion on pertinent issues. Schools like the Harvard Business School to institutions closer to home, like the IIM’s and IIT’s, regularly organize forums where students, teachers and industry leaders are united on a common platform to brainstorm, interact and find solutions to relevant topics.

 

At Digital Academy – The Film School, it has been our sincere effort to bring about the same level of opportunities and the same degree of out-of-class debate & discussion. To create events that shape the industry and prove to be the best possible platforms for detailed discussion on a range of subjects pertaining to the study of Film, the making of Film, and to the Film industry in general.

One such seminar that DA organized was on Post Graduation Diploma in Films & Television for the students of the Garware Institute, at the Kalina Campus. The seminar was conducted by award winning Spanish Cinematographer Dani Sanchez-Lopez, winner of the prestigious Cecil B DeMille award for his path-breaking Cinematography in the Film ‘Heal’. By bringing together a world renowned DOP amidst young students at Garware Institute, DA was proud to reiterate our commitment to Mumbai University and to the continuing interaction between students and Film personalities & Technicians.

At DA we understand our role as a center of excellence far extends the world class courses that we teach at the school. We need to be a motivator of positive thought and action. It is a constant and relentless pursuit at DA. One that you have to experience to believe!

Expert Workshops In All Courses

At Digital Academy – The Film School (DA), our education & learning philosophy comprises two elements that we believe are needed in equal measure to impart a holistic Film education; theory and practical learning. So while the theoretical classes instill important knowledge about the history and techniques of Acting, Direction or whichever course it may be, it is only upon practical application that students can truly put their learning to the test.

 

Furthermore, practical hands-on experience, through workshops conducted by experts from various departments, gives students real-world insights and tools to become more effective Film-makers. For example, it is one thing to read about editing techniques in a book or study in a class, and quite another when a real workshop is conducted by a well known industry Editor. Minus the workshop, the student will be knowledgeable, but armed with the workshop he will have the chance of trying out techniques for himself, that too with invaluable inputs and advice from a successful Editor.

 

In keeping with this firm mandate we, at Digital Academy – The Film School, organize regular workshops in a variety of courses. Renowned Sound Engineer and Producer Mr. K J Singh, winner of several Sound mixing awards for his work in Films like ‘Rang De Basanti’, is just one example of an industry heavyweight and a technical master who has held a workshop at DA. Like him, there have been and continue to be many others who regularly lecture and take workshops at DA. Mr. Kiran Deohans, one of India’s top Cinematographers with Films like ‘Jodha Akbar’, ‘Aks’ and ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’. Famed writer of Films like ‘Parinda’, Mr. Imtiaz Hussain. Ace comedy Director Mr. Sajid Khan of ‘Hey Baby’ fame. All these people and many more illustrious Bollywood personalities regularly hold workshops and sessions at DA, in every subject, from Acting, Direction, Writing and more.

At Digital Academy – The Film School, we do not just put students in a classroom and give them theoretical know-how. We prepare them for the real world of Film-making in Bollywood and abroad, by imparting education that is full, complete, thorough and all-round. It is unlike any other in the country. Now the only question is, will you take this education and fast-track your entry into Bollywood?

Tips On Film & Television Editing

Film making is a multi-faceted and collaborative effort. Sure it begins with a great story and is largely dependent on a visionary Director to realize that story appropriately on screen. But there are many more people and functions that determine the end result. And one of the most crucial aspects in that scheme of things is the Editing.

 

It is the Editing and the Editor, albeit with guidance from the Director, that ultimately determines what goes on to the screen to become a part of the final cut and what the viewers watch. Not only is it a position of extreme power and responsibility, it is also a task that requires an immense story sense, a sense of pacing and a sense of visuals. So what are the tips to keep in mind to edit for Film & TV?

  1. Story: All that matters is the story. An Editor must know and feel the story completely. Only then will he or she be able to express what needs to go on to screen, justifiably.

  2. Pace: When editing a Film, the pace must also be kept in mind. For example, if one is watching a James Bond Film, it can not be slow and linger on indefinitely. By that same logic, a drama can not be paced and cut like an action thriller. It will simply not work.

  3. Cut On Motion: A basic rule of Editing is to avoid a jarring & noticeable jump. A good Editor must always cut on an action that one of the characters on screen is doing. This will make the cut smooth and unnoticeable.

  4. Awareness: An Editor must be aware of the important characters and the plot points to give them their due importance and time on screen. For example, if a character is experiencing a moment where he realizes something, it needs to be played out fully on screen and not snipped midway. By that same token, unnecessary scenes, that Directors understandably become attached to, but don’t help move the story along or serve any character purpose, need to be omitted or shortened.

  5. Read/Watch/Observe: The best way for an aspiring Editor to learn more is by reading books written by great Editors. For example, In The Blink Of An Eye by legendary Editor Walter Murch, is a great resource. Similarly, watching more & more Cinema will always teach invaluable lessons.

But ultimately, because Editing is one function that needs an equal combination & dexterity of the right brain and left brain functions, ie. technical Sound Editing as well as a creative sensitivity, especially modern day digital editing, the only sure way of truly grasping it is by taking a thorough Editing course. Institutes such as Digital Academy – The Film School, now have world-class programmes in India that are tailor-made to each Film-making discipline, including Editing.

One course and you have all the knowledge, tools and skill set to be effective and great Editors. So why try anything else?


A Path For Every Dream

Film Making is a complex and multidisciplinary medium. Different people have different aspirations, about the roles they want to play in the process. While some want to be Directors, others are more inclined visually, and want to be Cinematographers. While some want to express themselves in front of the camera as Actors, others want to create the characters that are being portrayed by being Script Writers. The facets are endless, but that’s where Digital Academy – The Film School, gives you the winning edge.

 

At DA, we understand and appreciate each facet of the Film making process. And like our infrastructure and teaching talents are not restricted, neither are the courses on offer. We have put a lot of time, thought, and effort, into designing courses that address each aspect of the Film world. The only thing left for you to do, is to decide which one, and commit to your dream!

For the hungry young Director, it is crucial to have an understanding in each of the filmmaking specializations. Because only then can that person truly serve as the captain of the creative ship. Our Film Making course does exactly that, by providing theoretical & practical learning in the areas of Cinematography, Sound, Editing, Acting, Production Design & Production. Spread over 6 months, this intensive training yields only the best amateur Film makers, that are eager to make the next big epic.

Like the detailed plan for a new building that’s to be constructed, the Script, or screenplay in film terms, is like the constitution of any film. Our Scripting course hones in the nuances of screenplay writing in budding writers over a rigorous 52 session program.

 

To make a Film from scratch to finish, writing your own story and then Filming it, DA offers the Film & Television Direction Course. The emphasis here is on independent study, learning through the writing of an ‘original’ Screenplay and the making of a Film.

If it is the poetry of images that moves you, DA presents the Cinematography course. After all, in a visual medium like Film, it is the moving images, that ultimately move & engage the viewer. Not only will you get hands-on practical training in Film and digital cameras, along with extensive lensing and lighting practicals, but will also get a rigorous input in the aesthetics of image making.

 

Editing, that all-important function that decides how you will be told the story. The where, when, why and how of everything on screen. Editors are not just technicians, but the real story tellers of a film. DA’s Film & Television Editing course will provide hands-on practical training using FCP and Avid Express DV, and the fundamental and aesthetic principles of non-linear editing for Film and Television.

What would a Film be without sound? Not only would one not hear the dialogue, one would have no atmosphere without sound. DA’s Sound Recording & Engineering course provides technical & creative training, by employing state-of-the-art equipment used in professional studios. The art of music programming and recording as an independent art is also taught here.

Acting is to Film what a race car driver is to the racing team. He or she is the driver of the Film and the story. At DA, the Acting course offers a comprehensive course in which we try to hone the skills as well as recondition the minds of the students so that they may perform to the best of their abilities and become great Actors that embody and exemplify the Film’s story.

 

Production, the actual logistics of Film-making. Distribution, the physical spread of the finished Film. Exhibition, the actual mass screening of the Film. All crucial aspects that fall under the purview of an increasingly involved, inventive, and creative Producer. The Producer’s Course at DA delves deeply into all these aspects. We offer the expertise that will gain a steady and lucrative entry for the students as independent professionals or as parts of a commercial set-up.

With that comprehensive list of course choices; Digital Academy – The Film School, offers the most updated and in depth training possible in Films. We like to say, if you have a Film dream, we’ll put you on the right path!

 

%d bloggers like this: