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non-cinematographer looking for feedback!

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I'm a writer/director and while I'd love to hire a DP, I can't exactly afford it so I shoot my own movies out of necessity. I've struggled in the past with nice looking shots that don't really drive the story forward. They looked good to me, but didn't tell me anything. For this short I buckled down and started writing down anything relating to character, motivation, atmosphere, themes, etc...So I could make more artistically sound choices that don't threaten to derail the story in the way some of my past work has. I can see an improvement in the work, but would still like to better understand what it is I did right, and what it is I did wrong. It's important to me that the cinematography serve the story as opposed to just being a showcase for "cool shots". I'd also love to know how you folks prepare for a shoot, and what kinds of things you think about as you plan out your shots. Here's the film for reference:

PLEASE watch in 4k. YouTube compression butchered my shadows.

Thanks in advance! ❤️


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Hey @Khaled F. Abdullah

I took a look at your film and it actually all depends on what you were trying to portray. 

I've been thinking about these things a lot in the last couple of months and I see a lot of people making really good shots but seldom do they understand the motivation of those shots. 

Or put in a different way, you always have two choices either find someone who can do something better than you and let them do it or invest the time to get better at something.

I think this is at the core of being a filmmaker anyway you look at it. Yes you can never be the best at everything but the truth is that knowing something rarely hurts and often benefits. So having a good grasp on cinematography is great.

Let me give you another example. I have never been a good writer, actually I spent a lot of time devoted to not reading or writing because I didn't like it. Turned out that this was due to dyslexia that nobody knew I had. But eventually I got into filmmaking and I figured that I would just find a writer who would write stuff for me and when I couldn't find anyone, I set out to start writing myself.
I won't say that I was good at it and I still thing I have a lot to learn but even I have noticed a progression in my work, even though I still relay a lot on feedback from people. 

I've always strived to learn new stuff and do things just to practice and get better at them. That's the same in every field, even in stuff like parallel parking. 😄 

So if you don't have anyone who can do your cinematography and you think it's not where it should be, just devote some time and effort into it, like you've already done and soon you'll be better off, even if you might not be completely content.

Best of luck to you and remember that we never stop learning new stuff, the difference is once you learn to learn stuff it becomes exciting. 



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@Khaled F. Abdullah this is really nice work and you did a lot with very little. I think you could be proud of it even if you'd studied cinematography or practiced it professionally for a while. There is a lot mystery in play in this film so I can't be totally sure, but your photography seems to serve the creepy story as far as I can tell, which is the main goal of any cinematographer worth their salt. Your compositions were well considered, you cultivated a high style and kept it consistent through use of light and shadow (and costuming, production design, make-up, and editing) and you motivate your camera movement for the most part. As the writer-director, you're in control of what the audience knows and when they know it. You seem to have a command of that.

While I think there are certainly wrong ways to shoot some things, there is no one right way. So, it's kind of impossible and maybe inappropriate for any of us to tell you that this is wrong or that is right (though I am sure some on here will try!). You have to decide as the director what choices suit your overall aesthetic sensibilities best and what is right for each specific project. If you work with a DP, they will help achieve that if you can learn to communicate to them what you're looking for visually as well as explain the story you want to tell and why you want to tell it. Doing the work you're doing here will help a ton. I understand you shot this yourself out of necessity, but all in all, I think this is a great exercise and is something every director should do once or twice, whether or not they want to keep shooting their own projects in the future. Conveying feeling and meaning through pictures is what cinema is, so knowing where you're coming from in terms of visual storytelling is half the battle in directing compelling films.

I teach cinematography and production, so I do critiques like this all day, everyday. This is frankly more visually unified than most undergraduate projects, even those photographed by cinematography majors. I try and encourage students who are just learning to focus on individual, meaningful compositions versus getting "coverage", as well as only moving the camera if they can explain why they did. These were clearly the rules you set-out for yourself here. Your camera moves are few and far between and I think I can sort out the motivation for each. If one thing jumped-out at me as seeming like it didn't totally fit and kind of pulled me out of the film--a tell-tale sign that something isn't quite working--was the exchange between Sara and the golem/monster thing. I like the crosscutting looks into the camera (creepy), but the shaky handholding on a long lens was a little much and kind of drew too much attention to the camera (and operator) and looked a lot more amateurish than the rest of the film. I think the jump scare at the end would have been more affecting if you'd employed the same stillness that you keep throughout the film right until the last moment. Beyond that conceptual concern, handholding here also creates a couple technical problems. The shakiness contributes to soft focus on Sara's eyes a critical moment (she sheds an actual tear out of fear that is unfortunately soft!) and it also adds a weird jello wobble on the golem's face that is caused by the BMPCC rolling shutter which cheapens the look, as you won't have that extreme warping on a proper digital cinema camera or motion picture film.

To conclude: Good job! You're doing the right thing. On a no-budget short that you're doing with friends, you have the luxury and responsibility to take the time to consider every frame, to consider all the subtext of your script and experiment with the best ways to convey these ideas through photography and performance, and finally to consider how it will all cut together. Do all this now and one day if you're just trying to make the day on break-neck series television, picking compelling shots that serve the story will become second nature.


Edited by Nick Morr
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