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Ben Brahem Ziryab

Who do you think 81th Academy Award for Best Cinematography, will go to?

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So let's embrace and celebrate a spirit of experimentation and free expression even when it occasionally conflicts with notions of technically-correct photography. Better that than to stultify the artform by being too technically conservative.

Agreed! (Tosses cap into the air and does cartwheels down the street).

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Today I was re-reading a classic textbook from the U.K. called "Practical Motion Picture Photography" (1970).

Wow! I have that book too, David. Alongside "Photographic Theory for the Motion Picture Cameraman" - and others in a series written for the London Film School (now the London International Film School) around 1970. Pretty had to find now, I guess.

 

But you know what? They are both as valid today as they were then.

 

And your Moulin Rouge story is a great one. And fully believable (and I'm not just thinking of Technicolor). I watched the 1953 Moulin Rouge a couple of weeks ago. I think Morris really nailed the Toulouse Lautrec look well. Although I was involved (at the lab) in Baz Luhrmann's version shot by Don McAlpine, I have to say that I think the 1953 version looked better. But Ossie didn't have Baz :rolleyes:

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I'm an amateur among professionals here but my 2 cents is this.

 

 

Although Slumdog looked interesting, and it was diffrent, it wasn't very impressive in terms of its cinematography. Now regardless of your opinion on the look of the film, cinematography is about crafting light, It would be the same as if a film that didn't use any make up where to win a make up award because that is the look they wanted...I know, a bit of a stretch, but still. The complexity of the shots and setups in the dark knight is mind blowing.

 

 

My personal opinion is that the film looked very digital, it didnt seem to take advantage of that look, all I thought was "ok this movie was shot on digital, it would have looked better if they had shot 35" It was never this is a look they could only get by using the digital format.

 

Maybe I am biased by the fact I thought it was a horrible film, but those are my thoughts.

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I thought it was a horrible film

Wow, how could you think that? It's one thing if you didn't like it, but to say it's a horrible film is a little far fetched.

Oh, and I thought it looked great.

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I'm an amateur among professionals here but my 2 cents is this.

 

 

Although Slumdog looked interesting, and it was diffrent, it wasn't very impressive in terms of its cinematography. Now regardless of your opinion on the look of the film, cinematography is about crafting light, It would be the same as if a film that didn't use any make up where to win a make up award because that is the look they wanted...I know, a bit of a stretch, but still. The complexity of the shots and setups in the dark knight is mind blowing.

 

 

My personal opinion is that the film looked very digital, it didnt seem to take advantage of that look, all I thought was "ok this movie was shot on digital, it would have looked better if they had shot 35" It was never this is a look they could only get by using the digital format.

 

Maybe I am biased by the fact I thought it was a horrible film, but those are my thoughts.

 

Of course it looked digital?

and what is wrong with that??

Why does everything have to look like 35mm in order to be considered good cinematography?

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Today I was re-reading a classic textbook from the U.K. called "Practical Motion Picture Photography" (1970). The last paragraph in it is a quote by Ozzie Morris:

 

That was one of the cinematography first books I bought and I still have my copy together with the photographic theory book. The willingness to experiment by cinematographers was one of the lessons from that book. Other films mentioned include "The Hill".

 

People are free not to like a film, it's subjective and the stronger the subject matter the more extreme the reactions either way. However, I don't think they can say Slumdog is a bad film, more it wasn't a film they liked and reacted against. There was an awareness by the distributors that some people would react against the film because there are scenes of torture, child abuse in it - not what you'd expect to find in what advertised as a feel good movie.

 

BTW Titanic" was voted the worst film ever made in a poll a couple of years ago, which it's not; there are a lot worse films, just not many people have seen them because they were so bad.

 

Personally, I liked the cinematography in Slumdog, it wasn't classic studio film lighting, but it fitted the story as it was being told in the film. It might have looked better shooting 35mm, but very possibly you couldn't have managed to shoot the film on location in the slums with a 35mm rig (even an Aaton) because of dealing with the uncontrolled crowds of people.

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Of course it looked digital?

and what is wrong with that??

Why does everything have to look like 35mm in order to be considered good cinematography?

 

I guess I did not fully explain this thought. Like I said it didnt seem to take advantage of the digital format. it looked "lower quality" but subtly so and it did not look purposeful to me. I am all for people trying new things, and I dont have anything against shooting a film digitally if its right, but to me films being shot on these cameras which in resolution and "quality" are trying to par (not necessarily look like film but in a purely technical way par up to) up with film they just dont look as good and the appear to be trying to be, and the thing is they will be but not for a little while. this maybe be off topic, but have you seen "CHE" which was shot red, It just looked poor. Its a hard debate because who is to say what looks good at all, but these cameras just don't have as much information in a frame as 35mm camera does so in terms of technical "quality" they dont seem to par up. I am being unbelievably redundant here so I will stop. Like I said those are just my thoughts.

 

to the above poster, I'm sure the smaller camera rig helped but I have never even delt with a 35 rig and I can tell you that is just not true. Lost In Translation was shot on location in downtown tokyo handheld and often with out permits for example, and they always could have gone 16 which is considered "2k" as well...50d 16mm for those sequences would have been great I'm sure.

 

This is off topic and I do not want to turn this discussion into a debate about the film, All I can say is I do think it was a bad film, I also think most movies are bad, ha, For what its worth I felt some of the direction of the action sequences was remarkable but thats about as far as it goes. I also thought the wrestler was one of if not the best films made in the last 5-10 years and am disappointed more people don't see that.

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Everyone is entitled to prefer one work of cinematography over another -- truth is that I did not vote for "Slumdog" but I'm not going to make claims that everyone was wrong who picked it because it starts to get silly when you are comparing such different types of movies like "Dark Knight" to "Slumdog".

 

My only objection is these arbitrary "rules" people seem to be suggesting are some sort of requirement for good cinematography -- like that it needs to use more artificial lighting, that a natural-light movie such as "Days of Heaven" can't be considered good cinematography because hardly any of it was lit artificially.

 

I guess this also means that use of fast lenses to shoot the candlelight scenes for "Barry Lyndon" was some act of laziness on the part of Alcott and Kubrick because obviously they could have used artificial lights for those scenes and thus gotten "better" cinematography!

 

I also object to technical perfection as the litmus test for good cinematography. Or that it has to be 35mm-like or has to be 4K in resolution or that it has to be fine-grained, etc. You might as well be saying that blue movies should win awards but red movies shouldn't.

 

But I don't object to someone preferring one movie over another, but when the argument boils down to "it wasn't technically polished enough to be good cinematography" or "they used too much available light for it to be considered a good work of cinematography" then I feel that their fundamental thinking about cinematography and its purpose in moviemaking is flawed.

 

The point of cinematography is not to become an advertisement for Kodak or Sony, whatever, it's to help the director tell a story in the appropriate mood, style, energy level, so as to increase the viewer's emotional connection and involvement in the material and performances. You could say that all of the Oscar nominees did that for their respective movies, but beyond that, which wins is simply a personal taste issue, we don't have to get into silly arguments as to why someone is undeserving of praise, we don't have to use one movie to beat-up on another movie, especially when they are so different. It's like saying "this cheese is better than that bottle of wine!"

 

--

 

As for the notion that you can't run around in the slums of Mumbai in 35mm... sure you can, if you are willing to use something small like an Eyemo and 100' loads... there are solutions, but they all have their strengths and weaknesses. The digital solutions have their own advantages and disadvantages. You have so many factors to consider when picking a method of shooting something, not all of them about image quality.

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to the above poster, I'm sure the smaller camera rig helped but I have never even delt with a 35 rig and I can tell you that is just not true. Lost In Translation was shot on location in downtown tokyo handheld and often with out permits for example, and they always could have gone 16 which is considered "2k" as well...50d 16mm for those sequences would have been great I'm sure.

 

I suspect that down town Tokyo is rather tame compared with the crowds and the numbers of kids to be found in the Mumbai slums. Many documentaries filmed in these areas tend to have numerous people looking at the camera in the background of the shots. That's fine in a documentary, but it doesn't really work in a drama. Even in western cities the kids can be a problem jumping up into shot all the time.

 

I'm not saying you couldn't shoot on film, more that in this case they made the choice to mostly use the SI. In making that choice some options opened up, whilst perhaps others closed down, it's the filmmakers' creative decision.

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Although Slumdog looked interesting, and it was diffrent, it wasn't very impressive in terms of its cinematography. Now regardless of your opinion on the look of the film, cinematography is about crafting light, It would be the same as if a film that didn't use any make up where to win a make up award because that is the look they wanted...I know, a bit of a stretch, but still. The complexity of the shots and setups in the dark knight is mind blowing.

 

Thank you!

 

(BTW, don't feel like an amateur among professionals here. There are plenty of ASC guys, but also plenty of students, hobbyists, pipe-dreamers, and camera assistants on here too)

 

Your makeup award is an even better analogy than what I was trying to point out with figure skating.

 

I just want to make it clear too, that my objections would be just as vehement for a 16mm film, or a film that didn't use lighting shot on 35. Ultimately, cinematography award winners should be of a higher standard. IDK, has anyone here shot on a subway, train, bus? You can get exposure, but can you really do a better job without lights than with? This is what I have trouble with.

 

Technical calibre is secondary to the art, but boy, you really should have to do something above and beyond to win an award for visual story telling when you're starting the race already at a deficit in the technical arena.

 

I've heard a couple of guys compare digital techniques with things such as diffusion, filtration, push processing, bleach bypass. While these techniques also entail some reduction in optimal quality if you look at the Physics of it, I think this is totally different. They were reductions in quality that specifically suited the story.

 

How does shooting on digital suit the story here in a way that film would not have, or using supplemental light would not have? How does this movie blow away conventional lighting techniques, or conventional film techniques? How does it re-envision our craft? How does it break rules for the better?

 

I read articles about how digital cameras were better because they were lighter, easier to carry. Oh please. . .

 

What did digital do in this movie that film could not have done, BETTER? That's the rub for me. I WANT to see a digital movie win for cinematography, but not like this. I wanted to see something like "Wizard of Oz", maybe not something I personally was happy with, but something undeniably new, different, better.

 

I am not going to commit to this speculation fully before I see the film. But perhaps this is a more of a Recession or Budget award than a cinematography award.

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I don't get why degrading 35mm is OK artistically but using something already "degraded" is not OK -- that's like saying it's more artistic to use the sharpest lens and put a diffusion filter on it than to use a softer lens. Or to push a slow film to get grain rather than use a grainier film, when what you want is a grainier image. What matters more is what gives you the look you want, not how hard you made it on yourself to get there.

 

Nor should the volume of make-up you slather on an actor be proportional to the degree of artistic merit, just as the volume and degree of artificial light you pour onto the subject is not proportional to the artistic merit. Where do you guys get these notions on art?

 

Look at "Man on Fire" -- it used cross-processed reversal stocks in a hard-cranked camera to get jumps, double-exposures, roll-outs, burn-outs, etc. -- all the mistakes that probably would have gotten a silent cameraman fired in the 1920's... It hardly meets any definition of technical perfection, the colors and contrast are all out of whack, but it clearly is an artistic expression -- and even if you admit that, to then turn around and say that because he used 35mm cameras and filmstock, it still meets the standards for "good cinematography" but had he used any other technology, it wouldn't have, well, that's completely arbitrary.

 

It's a little like saying that a Beethoven symphony is "good music" but the Sex Pistols is not, when the two have completely different artistic aims. Punk rock may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is still a legitimate form of musical expression. Not everything in art is about technical perfection or complexity.

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i really dont understand it.

 

film, digital, filters, lights, bla bla bla, they are all tools! just tools. who cares if they used digital instead of film? they did what they wanted to, and that's it.

 

why are some people talking about slumdog if they even seen it? are you seriously talking about something u know nothing about? thats not exactly correct, i would say. i actually didnt like de movie, but i think it was visually interesting. i would vote for pfister, but not because it was imax, or whatever.

 

cinematogtaphy is the art of telling stories visually. it s not about ligting. its not about choosing film over digital. these are small portions of it. its about telling stories, and thats it. if u feel digital will help u, and would be more interesting than film, go for it. if u feel u want a tiny camera, use it. if u want a canon still camera, use it. u can manage to make great cinematography with all these tools. what matters, is how the audience reacts to the images, and pardon me, it has nothing to do with 'preetiness', thats just plain wrong.

 

maybe some people here should study a little bit more the history of cinema, worldwide. the more u know, the more humble and open to new things u get, i reckon.

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Although Slumdog looked interesting, and it was diffrent, it wasn't very impressive in terms of its cinematography. Now regardless of your opinion on the look of the film, cinematography is about crafting light, It would be the same as if a film that didn't use any make up where to win a make up award because that is the look they wanted...I know, a bit of a stretch, but still. The complexity of the shots and setups in the dark knight is mind blowing.

 

The flaw in this logic is while you could define make-up work as using make-up (some make-up artists may disagree), you can't simply equate cinematography with using artificial light and manipulation of natural light -- the certainly can be an aspect of the work, but cinematography is much more than lighting. Plus it ignores the fact that there is a lot of lighting in "Slumdog" (not to mention that 40% of it was shot in Super-35.) The movie is clearly NOT an Dogma exercise in using only available light -- there are so many interior scenes that are lit throughout the whole movie. Plus night exterior scenes.

 

Look at still photography -- how much manipulation of the actual daylight did Ansel Adams do when shooting those wide shots of Yosemite? How much did Cartier-Bresson do in his famous photographs? Are they therefore less artistic than Gregory Crewdson? Are their works of less value?

 

Sure, "Dark Knight" was an impressive achievement in cinematography, hence why it got some many nominations worldwide. Yes, it was a very complex shoot, though I'm sure shooting in the slums of Mumbia was no picnic either. But awards aren't given out to whoever has the trickiest dolly move or who worked the hardest physically. There are plenty of crappy movies with complicated dolly moves and plenty of them were probably hard to shoot.

 

Cinematography is an ART. Why is that so hard to understand? It's not just a technical exercise, it's not just an endurance test. It's visual storytelling, it's images that evoke emotions, provide the proper mood, support the performances, and serve an overall vision -- and to achieve that, there may be reasons to not use the sharpest lens or the highest resolution format or the smoothest camera move. Or there may be, it just depends. The photographic approach of "Dark Knight" when applied to the story of "Slumdog Millionaire", while it may have been an interesting gimmick, could just have easily been a terrible way to approach that material. Running handheld through narrow alleys with kids was probably the right approach for that script compared to stately IMAX helicopter shots.

 

The real question is not how slick or polished the image is, but how apt it is, how effective it is. You have to ask yourself if the end results of Dod Mantle's cinematography support what Danny Boyle wanted to achieve or worked against it, whether the movie represents a specific artistic vision, a worldview, or whether it seemed like the cinematography was out of step with the dramatic intentions. Both "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Dark Knight" are great works of cinematography because they both achieve what cinematography is meant to do in a movie -- evoke, excite, create a world. Whether you prefer one or the other just comes down to personal taste, unless you are the sort of person who feels that their taste is better than everyone else's.

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Well, I'm going to see it at seven, because I want to rely on my own observations rather than hear-say.

 

My problem with what you are trying to say, David, is that, by your line of thought, economy could render a certain film most "effective" too.

 

I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't be into cinematography if it were as easy as just turning on a camera, no lights required. If it isn't challenging, it isn't fulfilling. . .

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Well, I'm going to see it at seven, because I want to rely on my own observations rather than hear-say.

 

My problem with what you are trying to say, David, is that, by your line of thought, economy could render a certain film most "effective" too.

 

I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't be into cinematography if it were as easy as just turning on a camera, no lights required. If it isn't challenging, it isn't fulfilling. . .

 

 

I don't think David's saying that at all.

 

Even if you don't do any lighting, you still need to know WHERE to point the camera. You have to cover a scene in a way that is sympathetic to the story. Which lens ? How are you going to move the camera. What are you using to move the camera ?

 

There is so much more to lighting than the units with power cables running from them. Available lighting is just as demanding as lighting with fixtures. For starters it's variable and you have to deal with it changing. You still need to try and stage the action to best take advantage of what's naturally there. And it takes a great eye and as much skill to be able to use available light to CRAFT it to do what you want. Flags, bounce, negative fill etc.

 

Karl you seem to have the idea that cinematographic skill is somehow equated with using lights ??

 

Lighting with the sun is the most challenging lighting you can do.

 

jb

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Lighting with the sun, is essentially just aiming for exposure. You can obviously still control where you place the subject, but it is essentially "defensive lighting". I just don't understand how a movie that neglects half of the craft gets the top American honor.

 

Hopefully this will all make sense when I see it in an hour. . .

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wow.

 

I really don't know what to say.

 

jb

 

Well, the way I was taught to do it is put the sun behind the subject's head, or just keep everyone in the shade.

 

Do you know how harsh and unflattering unbounced sunlight is? I can post examples if you'd like :blink:

 

You're essentially at the mercy of what the weather conditions are, so I generally dislike this notion that really skilled people can make it work. Essentially a lot of it comes down to either the amount of time you have or getting really lucky with the conditions.

 

I was always taught that the skill of this field is making film look like the human eye sees, hiding things that are actually there that the human eye ignores.

 

If you want to demean and belittle me, with silly posts like above, I'm sure I can fiind better ways to spend my time than to try to explain my objections to available lighting in high end dramatic cinematography.

 

I mean, the fact that lighting is so prevalent, even in documentaries, is surely more than just a residual vestige of the bygone days when film was too slow to be exposed without additional lightsources.

Edited by Karl Borowski

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There is SO much more to outdoor photography and cinematography than figuring out what f-stop to use.

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the most revered photographers, with some of the greatest compositions in photography, but they were taken with a 35mm still camera out in the streets -- no lighting, no crews. The art comes from the mind of the artist, it doesn't come from lamps and cables.

 

Again, look at the famous candlelight scenes in "Barry Lyndon" -- there's no artificial lighting yet there was a lot of work and thought that went into figuring out how to NOT use artificial lighting (same goes for the magic hour shots in "Days of Heaven"). Plus the shots are artfully arranged, staged, the candles create the light from the right directions, provide the right mood. But does that mean it can't be art because it wasn't lit, that it was "too easy" to make it art?

 

barrylyndon2.jpg

 

There have been plenty of Oscar-winning outdoor movies where the majority of the most famous images did not involve any artificial lighting -- from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "Days of Heaven" through "Dances with Wolves". Sure, there are some lit scenes but that's not everyone remembers the most from those movies.

 

This is one of the most famous images in movie history, artfully composed, but not lit:

 

GREAT4.JPG

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Lighting with the sun, is essentially just aiming for exposure. You can obviously still control where you place the subject, but it is essentially "defensive lighting". I just don't understand how a movie that neglects half of the craft gets the top American honor.

 

Hopefully this will all make sense when I see it in an hour. . .

 

You should check out "Days of Heaven"

 

Too slow... David got there first.

Edited by Brian Drysdale

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Well, the way I was taught to do it is put the sun behind the subject's head, or just keep everyone in the shade.

 

Do you know how harsh and unflattering unbounced sunlight is? I can post examples if you'd like :blink:

 

Karl that's my point. How about when someone shoots under those conditions and make it look sensational ? Do you really think Dances with Wolves didn't deserve it's oscar ??? Do you really think Dean just *got lucky* and waited around for long enough ??

 

 

If you want to demean and belittle me, with silly posts like above, I'm sure I can fiind better ways to spend my time than to try to explain my objections to available lighting in high end dramatic cinematography.

 

Karl im not trying to demean you. I'm genuinely flabbergasted that you can think of available lighting in such a dismissive way. Sure it's easy to get an exposure. Actually making it look good IS something that is special and deserves recognition as such.

 

I can argue the same thing about using lights. I can turn a light on and get an exposure. The trick is to take it to that next level. It's like you've just given up an even trying....

 

jb

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Karl,

 

Lighting isn't all that's encompassed in cinematography. As John B is indicating, cinematography is also camera placement, lens choice, choice of movement (or lack of movement), etc.

 

Indeed, a film that featured brilliant camera placement, incredible movement, and astute staging of action, without ever using a single artificial light, could easily be a showcase of sublime cinematography. To say it again, cinematography is not just lighting.

 

Indeed, it's easy to imagine situations where a lack of lighting improves the effectiveness of cinematography. A mockumentary will likely benefit more from a point-and-shoot approach than a constructed light approach. Shooting in the slums of Mumbai and hoping to bring your audience into that environment in a visceral and engrossing way might easily benefit from a more verite style as well.

 

I work in music videos where we're almost always over the top and yet I'm never so awed as when I look at films that are minimally lit like The Duellists or Barry Lyndon or City of God and it's when watching films like those that I realize just how little I know and just how far I have to go. Moreover, many of my favorite shots in these films, and others, were made without a single artificial light, or bounce, or even flag.

 

Cinematography is so much more than all that and I, for one, am grateful that it is.

 

Evan W.

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I'm sure the smaller camera rig helped but I have never even delt with a 35 rig and I can tell you that is just not true.

If you've never even used a 35mm camera, how is it that you think you know one way or the other what's possible with a 35mm camera? If you don't know what you're talking about, you shouldn't talk. Information based on the lack of knowledge is not helpful.

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Over on CML Jason Rodriguez has given his best break down of one scene at the train station between the SI and the 35mm film camera. It's a real nix, cutting between the two with good work in post, so that it's difficult to tell camera being used. He thinks that Slumdog may be roughly 60% SI, 40% film, although he's not 100%, saying it may lie between that and Danny Boyle's figures.

 

If anyone is interested in asking him on the Silicon Imaging forum, I expect he'd be willing to post same message there.

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