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.

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!

 

How To Analyze A Character & Play It Perfectly

Do actors play a character, or do they play themselves as a character? That is the eternal question an actor faces when analyzing a written character and deciding how best to portray it. And while this process of analysis is the primary job of an actor; there are no hard and fast rules of how to do it.

Different actors have different methods. Take some of the world’s most iconic and accomplished actors. Some, like Aamir Khan, use ‘method acting’; where they immerse themselves in the skin of the character. They try and live their characters by behaving and embodying the part. Like Robert De Niro’s famous portrayal of the boxer in Raging Bull, for which he went through not just an emotional and psychological transformation, but also a physical variation by putting on and loosing weight.

Then there are more instinctive actors who try and find aspects of their own personalities in the characters they are to play. An acting giant such as Meryl Streep is one such actor, who relies completely on instinct (not preparation in advance), to play her characters. Says she, “Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” Similarly, Craig MacDonald is of the opinion that, “The best acting is instinctive. It’s not intellectual, it’s not mechanical, it’s instinctive.”

 Whatever your method may be – getting into the skin of the character, or playing it by instinct; one thing that runs common in playing any character, is a certain amount of analysis. And it is that analysis in which an actor’s interpretive powers come in. Its all about creative imagination, with a caveat of being realistic. Actors and their interpretations will always vary. Take the film Ghajni for example – while Surya played the memory-loss protagonist in the Tamil original a certain way, the same character was played very differently by Aamir Khan in the hindi blockbuster remake. Which was better, is also a matter of subjective opinion.

What however is not a matter of debate, is that learning the true art of character analysis and portrayal, requires years of training. And this process ought to be studied in a scientific and methodical manner. Reading books, observing great actors, are things that will always help. But by taking a program at an accomplished film academy will instill an erudite, informed, and in depth manner of really getting into the character analysis process, and then manifesting those learnings in an engaging performance.

Aspiring actors in India today have that opportunity in the form of world class film academies, that will hone their raw skills and polish them to shine like sparkling diamonds. Give your passion for acting the education it deserves, and see your creativity flourish… after all…

Without wonder and insight, acting is just a business. With it, it becomes creation.
~ Bette Davis

 

How To Mold A Story That Appeals To The Audience

As a story teller or script-writer, it is your prerogative to put forth the story that you want to tell. But while that is your undisputed right; it is also incumbent on you to tell a story that engages the audience, involves the viewer, and engrosses cinema-goers. How do you ensure that the story you are telling, one that is extremely personal to you, meets the criteria to holding the audience captive? By following some simple rules.

 

  1. A Real Story – Whatever your story may be, if you root it in real people, and real situations; it will immediately be identified with, and that will make it engrossing to the audience. That is not to say it must be sweet and rosy. It could be negative too. But it must be true. People can tell if a story is contrived or cooked up. Because in life, the themes that exist are only so many. Writing a story that borrows from real life and real people; even if it may be set in fantasy, is the way to go. People want to see real emotions.

  2. Entertaining – The other key aspect to build into your story, is entertainment. Again, that is not to say that your story need not be serious, or intellectual, or poignant. Take the greatest films for example. Lets take Salaam Bombay by Mira Nair. Now that’s a gritty, somewhat sad story of the street life in Mumbai. But it is full of entertaining moments. And that’s what engages people. Because it is the entertainment that makes even the most serious story, palatable to a movie-going audience

  3. Intelligent – People are not stupid. So give them credit for a certain level of intelligence, and don’t mock it in your story. People appreciate that you have faith in them to understand what you are trying to say.

  4. Visual – Especially for script-writers in film, being a visual medium, write minimum dialogue, and use visuals to tell the story instead of too much talking. Its a cliche but true, that a picture speaks a thousand words. Use that. And you will definitely engage your audience.

  5. Character – Last, and perhaps the most important – to really engage an audience in your story, you need to have strong characters. People are not perfect, so don’t have perfect characters. Your characters, at least the primary characters, must have flaws, and their own individual stories, that receive as much attention if not more, than the plot of the story. People need to see real characters with problems, and to seem them develop and change over time. At the end of the day, its the only thing that guarantees an engaging experience.

 

Keeping all these pointers in mind, you can still write exactly the story you want to tell. Because rather than being impediments, these are the very rules that will help you write a much better & more effective story. So go ahead, and tell your tale!

 

Master Class in Film making with Sanjay Gadhvi


Sanjay Gadhvi, who made his Directorial debut with ‘Tere Liye’ in 2000, started his career as an Assistant Director during the making of ‘Patthar Ke Phool’ nearly 20 years ago. With this box-office hit that released in 1991, there was absolutely no looking back.

While speaking about his journey, Gadhvi particularly spoke about his blockbuster ‘Dhoom’ which received wide acclaim for its stellar cast and action sequences. The sequel, ‘Dhoom 2’, turned out to be the highest grosser of 2006 and also won him a nomination as the Best Director at the Filmfare Awards in 2007.

With these two Films, Sanjay set a benchmark for action in Indian Cinema. Speaking about the secret of his success, Sanjay said, “Always visualize the character in the script even if you have all the knowledge about the location, décor, setup, filming, camera, etc.”

As far as he is concerned, you may have all the technical knowledge in the world; but Film making is all about recreating a scene from someone’s life. However, the biggest question in today’s times is, ‘Does a movie work well only if its promoted well?’ A classic case, Sanjay mentioned, was that of ‘The Artist’. It’s all about how you reach out to the audience. “Talent prevails all around us, all we need to do is see,” he says.

When speaking of casting, Sanjay highlighted two aspects that are essential from a Director’s point of view. Suitability and potential are the absolute core. But from a Producer’s point of view, the fees charged by artists and the revenue earned from the final product (the Film) are very important. So how do they find a common ground? “Through the ability to stick to the basics (the purpose/message of the Film) while maintaining the commercial viability of the Film,” says Sanjay.

Narrating the story of the ‘Six Blind Men and the Elephant’, Sanjay explained what movie-making really feels like. Everyone has his own opinion. However, one need not make a movie for the approval of the masses. Instead, it should be made with the intention of engaging the audience.

Making a captivating Film, where the audience can’t take their eyes off the screen, needs a lot of inspiration. As for Sanjay, he wasn’t just inspired, somewhere down the line his inspiration was accompanied by the craving to make a Film. He was also the inspiration for one of the students at DA to join him as an Assistant Director during the making of ‘Dhoom’.

When asked whether songs are necessary in a Film, he was of the opinion that, “Songs are the essence and recognition of the character in the movie and there is no getting away from the character.” Picturing the screenplay of the song Mehbooba in ‘Sholay’where Jai and Veeruare orchestrating an attack, he said it was essential to the script.

Sanjay also mentioned how the length of each scene needs to be planned. For instance, the length of the basketball scene in Dhoom 2 with Sunehri and Mr. A was crucial, yet debated over, as it was 4-5 min long shot. Pulling off a scene that long was quite a challenge. Besides, it was essential to balance the length of this scene against other scenes in the movie.

During the question and answer session, Sanjay laid out some ground rules, like being open minded and avoiding rigidity completely. He also gave tips to aspiring Filmmakers about accepting the challenges that come with the process of movie making. While summing it all, he said that depending on the story, everything related to it needs to be connected with the content of the movie.

With his masterclass, Sanjay Gadhvi proved to be an inspiration to aspiring Filmmakers who are looking to find a foothold in the Indian Film industry. His secret to success lies in the fact that he makes the most of the process of Filmmaking and reflects a vibrant energy as a Director. With this one-on-one session, he showed how a Film as one man’s vision can win the vote of a 100 people.

%d bloggers like this: