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I am wondering about the feeling that a film gives to its audience when it is realized with a single focal length.

 

First of all I am very interested in your experience if you have shot a (documentary) film with only one focal length!

Which kind of story is likewise being told with the use of just one focal length?

Which are the criteria to choose this component for your work?

Does the film seem more realistic to you in the end (let's say, if you use a 28-45mm)?

Does it help to keeping the overall atmosphere homogeneous when each single scene owns a different camera-language?

Please let me know about films and other video material related to my thought!

 

It would be great if my inquiry raises a discussion about why to sustain a film's story through that technically and esthetically "dogma".

 

Thanks in advance for your information input!

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I'm not sure the story itself is sustained by the focal length alone, perhaps more the style of telling. There are feature films that have been shoot with a single focal length and I know documentary cameramen who favoured using mostly a 10mm lens when shooting 16mm, perhaps because they were shooting mostly handheld. In that case, it's perhaps more that latter that could be taken as the key element in the story telling than the focal length.

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Psycho (the 1960 original) is supposed to have all been shot with a 50mm Super Baltar lens as Hitchcock believed it was the closest approximation to human vision (in the days before Super 35). The thing that is important though is camera placement which in Psycho is always perfect and very dynamic. It makes the human vision argument a bit sketchy as the camera is usually in places impossible to represent a human viewpoint.

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I shot a feature in January that was probably about 90% shot on a 35mm lens (on S35mm framed for a 2.39 extraction). It wasn't by design, I just found that the FoV really suited our location and the compositions I was making (it seems a great match for the 2.39:1 frame). 35mm was wide enough to give us a sense of the environment, while not being so wide that I couldn't 'trap' our actors in their surroundings (the film is supposed to feel fairly claustrophobic).

 

So I definitely think it can add something to a film. But still I think it's an odd device to force upon yourself without a very specific reason - you need to pick a lens that compliments each composition IMO.

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The Royal Tenenbaums was shot entirely on a 40mm anamorphic I think.

 

To be honest, I could do 90% of my work on the 32mm and the 40mm spherical and I often have. It's to the point where the AC's don't even ask in the morning - they stick the 32mm on knowing it's the one that's most likely getting used.

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^ I agree on the 35mm ish focal length. its like 50mm on full frame and its just the perfect lens. That said I use a lot of stuff and like playing with the focal lengths still.

 

 

I just watched a great documentary yesterday by Sean Dunne (its on vimeo) "florida man" its shot all on a 16mm lens I beleive.

 

 

sometimes the limiting of using a single focal length can do alot and aid the story ....or using a couple. I once shot a short where all the work is either 35mm handheld or static longlens from 70-400mm. The long lens reperesented this outside perspective and the 35mm handheld work was very much engrossed in the action with the charectors. Picking focal length is like picking a brush stroke or a color pallete. there are an endless amount of meanings that can be attached to focal lengths selections so in the end you do what feels right.

 

 

another example is the paradise series by urlich seidel I beleive shot mostly on 19mm lens and one slightly longer lens like 25mm?

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I'll admit, with film I'm constantly changing focal lengths to achieve certain looks instead of moving the camera because a lot of times there is simply too much to move and it's easier to simply change lenses and leave the camera in the same place. I also like zoom lenses for quick focal length changes. Since I shoot everything spherical and light properly, the slower zoom lenses aren't a big deal.

 

However, when I shoot with my own digital equipment today, I tend to shoot entire projects with one focal length for everything except establishing shots. So 90% will be the same lens. This is mostly because I can't afford a cinema zoom lens and I refuse to use still camera lenses for cinematography. I like my kit to be super small, compact and lightweight as well. The moment you add a heavy piece of glass, all of that goes out the window.

 

With the Arri SR's it's no big deal, put the handle grip on it and use the other hand for zoom/focus/exposure. With the smaller digital cinema cameras like blackmagic, red, Canon C series, etc… it's hard to mount big lenses and shoulder the cameras. It's a huge problem and it causes a great deal of complexity when shooting digitally. I truly wish someone would come out with a cheap shoulder mount digital cinema camera.

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"The Godfather" was mostly shot at one focal length across all parts. Same with "Manhattan" and many other Gordon Willis-shot films.

 

That's right, I think he shot most of his spherical 1.85 films with a 40mm (on Academy 35) and his 2.35 films with a 75mm anamorphic simply because that was how he felt his eyes saw. Similarly, Roger Deakins uses a 32mm for a majority of his work, but I'm not sure about variations in format or aspect ratio.
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I remember reading that "Oliver Twist" by Polanski was shot mainly with 2 lenses.

Here i've found the exerpt from "American Cinematographer" regarding that:

 

"Polanski’s pictures are distinguished by the use of very few wide focal lengths. Edelman recalls that The Pianist was principally shot with two lenses, 27mm and 32mm, and he notes that Oliver Twist was shot with a 21mm and a 27mm. Lens choices “happen on the set,” says the cinematographer. “Roman has been shooting his movies with one or two lenses all his life. He likes wide lenses because he likes to see the characters integrated with the space.” The director adds, “A wide-angle lens gives you more depth of field, which is important when things that happen in the background have to be sharp, so that counts also. Of course, there is also more sensation of movement with a wide angle because you see more of the perspective change — the things on the sides of the frame move more than the things in front.”

 

 

Link to the entire article from The ASC's website:

"A Boy's Will - Oliver Twist by Roman Polanski"

 

 

 

I think Douglas Trumbull talked about on using lens with FoV equivalent to human vision

in order to accomplish the immersion or something...

 

 

Best

 

Igor

Edited by Igor Trajkovski
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Thanks for all your great replies and ideas and film-tips!

 

Mark Kenfield, is there a possibility to watch footage (of your example, I stumbled across the claustrophobic expression) or the teaser of the feature?

 

Brian Drysdale and Kenny N Suleimanagich, are your films of yours open for public to watch it? What was the story's implemented feeling? And do you have any regrets having done this choice about one focal lenght?

 

Great film-suggestion, the "Florida Man", Albion Hockney, thanks!

 

Tyler Purcell, this "practical shoulder mount digital camera"-wish is exactly what i was saying just some days ago. Though the Sony's PXW-FS7 with it's 35mm Sensor, S-Log, 4K recording in 4:2:2, is not too far away from being a cinema camera

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Tyler Purcell, this "practical shoulder mount digital camera"-wish is exactly what i was saying just some days ago. Though the Sony's PXW-FS7 with it's 35mm Sensor, S-Log, 4K recording in 4:2:2, is not too far away from being a cinema camera

 

The shape is very good, it was a smart move from Sony. It's the one thing Blackmagic Designs doesn't understand… they remind me of Toyota and the Prius. They think packaging is the most important thing, where in reality usability is far more critical. Blackmagic have the technology, but outside of the pocket camera, don't have the form factor. That new Ursa is a worthless tank of a camera. I messed around with one not long ago and within a few minutes realized how absolutely worthless it is. Even the standard blackmagic cinema camera's have less-worth then they SHOULD have due to the internal battery and ridiculously odd form factor. Nobody wants a big display, everyone wants an elfin' viewfinder!!!! HELLO!!!!

 

Anyway, I was at a blackmagic event last year that gave me some hope. Rumor around the mill is their new camera will be more shoulder mountable like the URSA and they've been researching OLED technologies to perhaps build a viewfinder for the URSA in the future.

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