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Alan Kovarik

Is cinematograpfy these days too perfect?

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Imagine The Office without fake interviews, looking at camera, etc., and the style would work just as good. So would the more polished comedy lighting, so would being shot in B&W, etc. In all of these cases we would think what a great show this is and we would obviously associate this specific look with that greatness. My point is that these rationales "brightly lit is for comedy", "realistic is for mockumentary", "b&w is suitable for film about holocaust", "desaturated is for horror" are not true, because for every genre you can find many great examples of very different looks. Those styles might or might not have a specific rationale, but IMO most of the time these rationales have just a minor intellectual symbolic meaning, and are not actually "right for this movie" in the sense that they wouldn't work elsewhere or that some other competent style would be distinctly worse.

I disagree with this. I definitely think certain things come across better when shot a certain way. I don't think there is one particularly right way or the best way but I do think certain things are more effective one way rather than the other. No, I don't think The Office would be as funny without the fake interviews or looking into the camera. And I think it would ultimately bizarre if it was shot film noir style or with just one spotlight on an office desk with two characters shot across it with perfectly symmetrical compositions. I am not sure if it would be as funny then. It may be more stylistic and interesting to observe from a filmmaking perspective but the intentions of the film would be diluted in this case.

 

For example, if you're shooting a scene in a totally dark room at night and there's absolutely no light source visible in the frame that has been set, but the dp has lit it all over the place and gone extremely high key with it, you'd be a little confused. An ordinary viewer may not know what is bothering him or her about the scene but most likely something is and that is a distraction. It takes out of the viewing experience.

It most likely will seem unrealistic and out of context from the mood the filmmaker(s) wished to create for that scene.

 

And from a totally different standpoint of the argument, what is really wrong with putting in effort into the visuals? Why are we arguing that bad aesthetics won't make a difference when most people here are here for the reason of creating good aesthetics? :)

And for that matter, coming back to the original thread, what is wrong with wanting perfection on screen? I personally don't have a problem with striving to get the best looking shot every time.

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In a nutshell Peter..are you not saying.. a good film can have very ordinary/ useless camera work, lighting,composition etc.. basically could just be a wide shot in every scene.. with flat soft lighting.. providing the acting /direction/scrip is amazing..presumably sound and editing is like camera.. technically pass able ,you can see it and hear it..

 

But a film with poor acting,script,directing.. that is shot very well .. will still be a rubbish film..?

 

I dont think anyone on this forum would argue against that.. and there are many examples to prove it..but if you are going to employ a DOP instead of your 10 yr old son.. then surely you want the best from this person... your logic just doesn't apply to the real world of film or Tv production.. nes par? it may not be the story teller but its a huge augmentation to the story.. and thats all it ever will be.. it serves the story.. but to deny its of any importance at all would seem to be a bit odd..? but each to their own of course..

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Sraiyanti, I didn't say that The Office would be equally funny without the interviews and looking into the camera, I said that if it wasn't made in such mockumentary fashion, the realistic cinematographic style would still work equally well. So the style doesn't need this mockumentary rationale to work.

 

As for the dark room example - I agree, there are cinematographic approaches that are not right. Extremelly unrealistic lighting that puzzles the viewers or some extra-stylized stuff that distracts them are obviously not the right thing to do. But I think that goes without saying. When I am talking about various styles being right for one movie, I am talking about "normal", "functional" styles, not the styles that are obviously wrong (lighting the night as if it was day, strobing light through entire movie, shooting at 100x100 resolution).

 

There is nothing wrong with putting in effort into the visuals. I completely and wholeheartedly agree. The problem is that you guys are reading my posts as if I am advocating against artistic personal expression which includes individual cinematographic styles, seeking perfection with visuals, etc., but that is not true. I have a very strong and nuanced opinion on how movies should look, what are legitimate styles (not in the sense that they are functional, but in broader sense). Majority of the people that I talk with can't relate with my obsessions over smallest details. But that is not what I am talking about in this thread - in this thread I am talking about the specific influence cinematography has on the subset of what the movie is. I am not talking about the influence of cinematography on the whole movie. I am not talking about the influence of cinematography on the whole experience of the viewer. As we found out, we are defining story differently. I feel like "story" to you guys is basically a synonym for the whole movie, the most important thing, something that everything should be subservient too, etc. So when I am saying that the function of the cinematography is not to "tell stories", that to you basically means that cinematography is worthless. But I have never said that, in fact, I have repeatedly in this thread stated that I find cinematography very important.

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In a nutshell Peter..are you not saying.. a good film can have very ordinary/ useless camera work, lighting,composition etc.. basically could just be a wide shot in every scene.. with flat soft lighting.. providing the acting /direction/scrip is amazing..presumably sound and editing is like camera.. technically pass able ,you can see it and hear it..

 

But a film with poor acting,script,directing.. that is shot very well .. will still be a rubbish film..?

This is not really a good summary of everything that I tried to communicate in this thread, but I would agree with most of your quote (with the biggest exception being "basically could just be a wide shot in every scene", because various editing styles create a huge difference, and some of the things you just can't accomplish with all wide shots. That is not to say that you can't have a great movie with all wide shots, but such a movie would be meaningfully different (meaningful in terms of content) from movies with different editing).

 

And again, so that I am not misunderstood: saying that you don't need a good cinematography to create a good movie (as opposed to good acting, directing, etc.), doesn't mean that I think cinematography is worthless. It is very important, because it is part of the creative expression of the people working on a movie.

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So it comes down to semantics then, I suppose. I think the confusion was that a lot of parallel points were addressed within the original argument. I don't think anyone is disagreeing with the fact that cinematography isn't synonymous with storytelling. That's not what made it seem like you're undermining the importance of cinematography. The other statements about lighting not changing much in terms of story was what we were hashing out.

 

Either way, to each his own, yes.

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I kinda agree with Peter and I think you'll find, script, acting and post production, trump directing and cinematography any day. If your actors are confident in what they're doing, if your crew understands how to deliver the net result based on the variables put in front of them (excellent art direction/set design, story boards, script breakdowns, schedule), the top people on set should be able to sit in a little black room with monitors for the whole time, talking on walkie talkies, so the crew who does all the work.

 

There are three variables; 1) Good, 2) Cheap, 3) Fast. You can't get all three... but you can for sure get two. You can get good, cheap and slow. You can get cheap and fast, but not so good. You can get good and fast, if you throw GOBS of money at it. I feel that breakdown explains the cinematography issue as well. If you've got a low-budget movie that needs to work fast thanks to it's budget restrictions, hiring a top cinematographer may be impossible and not logical. In my opinion, the extra money you spend, may not be worth it simply because whoever it is, won't have the necessary time to compensate enough in the look for it to matter. Sure you need a "competent" cinematographer, one who won't screw everything up and one that works fast. But to say you need a Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki or Ed Lachman, in order to make your movie "good"... it's down to more factors then that.

 

An example of this is Janusz Kaminski and how fast he works on the Spielberg films. You can see it when you watch the movies. Sometimes his work is absolute top drawer, but in other scenes it's very mediocre. It's all based on the time it takes to setup lights and where a top guy can walk into a room and understand what to do, that doesn't mean a lower end guy won't know the same thing. I feel the separation is time, the really good guy is only great if they've got the top support crew around them AND lots of time to make their "vision" come to fruition. You look at some of the lighting rigs proposed by top cinematographers and it's like, holy poop that's a two day setup right there! If you're shooting 4 - 8 pages a day, umm... you've got a problem! So of course, the top guys will take your movie to the next level IF you have the time to let them make their magic. Since time is money... it's a no brainer to say, the lower budget movies, simply can't afford a top guy and that's why they don't really need one. It's a catch 22 in a lot of ways, but it DOES leave the door open for some lesser known people to do excellent very fast work. If you can work fast these days and deliver some essence of quality, you'll be booked forever.

 

As a side note, I want to say a lot of the top guys today are having to work faster then they want and that is absolutely a reason why modern movies don't look as good as they could.

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I assume with "post production" you''re talking about a good editor, someone who can bring together all the elements and make the best of them.

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I assume with "post production" you''re talking about a good editor, someone who can bring together all the elements and make the best of them.

Picture cutting, audio mixing, color... it's all hypercritical today.

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script, acting and post production, trump directing and cinematography any day.

 

I would be interested in watching a movie made by writers, actors, and editors, but no director or cinematographer. Could be an interesting experiment. You would at least need the editor on set to make sure the camera angles cut together. Which means the editor would have to choose the shots. I imagine the actors would want somebody to talk to about what they're doing. Maybe the editor can handle that too?

 

Know anybody that can handle all of that at once? I'm looking at you Tyler :P :lol:

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Doesn't make sense to say that post-production matters but the work of the people who bring the material into post-production doesn't matter. I suspect most post-production people would disagree -- certainly all of the editors, colorists, and vfx supervisors I've worked with want good material to work with in post. Directing and cinematography are a major component of what happens every day on a set. It's like you're saying that the only things that make a great movie are pre-production and post-production, so maybe they can just eliminate the production part itself since it doesn't seem to contribute anything meaningful.

 

With all the complaining you do about the work of directors and cinematographers, it hardly seems like even you feel that what they do doesn't really matter, because if their work didn't contribute anything meaningful towards a successful movie, then why complain? And why then does it matter if you hired Christopher Nolan versus Joe Film Student to direct your movie? After all, if the script and actors are good, and the post-production is good, then a robot using an iPhone could do that unimportant shooting part under available light, right?

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if the script and actors are good, and the post-production is good, then a robot using an iPhone could do that unimportant shooting part under available light, right?

 

That's going too far. The robot would have to shoot on film. :P

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You cinematographer "types" crack me up! I am still laughing. :) Very funny, Justin. As eloquent as always, David.

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Peter is trying to separate the concepts of story from storytelling, basically suggesting that the storytellers don't contribute to the story, which is only true in the most mundane and limited definition of the term story, i.e. just the source material.

 

This is all just a word game, saying that cinematography is an act of storytelling but isn't an act of story creation, therefore it doesn't contribute to the story. The "story" of "Hamlet" exists outside of any performer or filmmaker (including the key creative collaborators) executing their interpretation of that story, so while one could say that no one "contributes" to the story other than the person who created that story originally, it's a rather pointless distinction because most people consider that the creative act of storytelling is a contribution to that story.

 

And clearly cinematography is an act of visual storytelling when working on a narrative production -- questions of how to tell this story come up all the time from the moment a cinematographer is hired in prep and throughout the working day on the set, and through post-production. Every day a cinematographer shows up on the set and meets with the director and they talk about what they need to accomplish to tell this story. In fact, with the limited time that most productions have, you don't have the luxury to shoot much more than the basic story points that the script demands, so it is imperative that you understand the story moment to moment. If the point of the scene is that the look on the wife's face tells the audience that she has just realized that her husband is having an affair, you had better capture that on film before you go home that day. And if you think that's obvious, you'd be surprised in the rush to make a movie how moments like that actually get missed if you get distracted from the story you were hired to tell.

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One could just as easily discuss the contributions of the music score to the story of the movie... you could say that strictly speaking, if you replaced John Williams' score to "Star Wars" or "Jaws" with something less iconic, maybe an 8th grade kazoo choir, the "story" would be the same. However, imagine the scene of the stormtroopers chasing our heroes around the Death Star with the music from Benny Hill (Yakety Sax) playing under it. Or for that matter, the opening of "Raiders of the Lost Ark":

 

 

And one can argue that in the case of horror movies, the score often reinforcements some story points (i.e. there is danger) or misdirects the viewer deliberately.

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I've used this scene from the 2005 "War of the Worlds" as an example of what filmmakers can bring to a script.

 

"The machine makes a large vibrating noise as if calling out to
other robots. It arms it's disintegrator beams and opens fire.
People can be seen to disintegrate as they are struck with the
beam. The beams, when fired make a zap sound. People start exploding
into dust and their clothes are blown away. Ray misses numerous
beams by a foot or two as he goes into a convenience store. Again
Ray runs out the back door and misses another beam by inches.
He runs his ass off trying to escape the robot. Disintegrator
beams strike off rooftops to clear a walking path. Ray hides
behind a building as the machine walks by."

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Besides all the obvious story points that have to be made into reality by the production team, there are a hundred little story points that need to be addressed even if the script doesn't mention them. If you have a morning scene where the mom drops the kids off at school followed by a scene where the husband walks into his office, followed by his assistant bringing important news, the actor, the prop master, and the wardrobe people are going to want to know if the character is arriving for the first time that day to his office, because that means he might be wearing his suit and carrying his briefcase, for example, and then it suggests that he either gets to work rather late in the morning, or he had a meeting outside of the office first, or maybe he's been at the office all morning and this is just the first time we see him return to his office, so he's already got his jacket off and his sleeves rolled up, etc. And if you think none of this stuff really matters, you haven't been doing this long enough to know what happens if you guessed wrong. You could shoot the actor arriving with the suit on, carrying his briefcase, only to get an angry phone call from the producer watching dailies later, saying the actor was supposed to look like they had been working all morning. Little stuff, but it adds up and it can affect the story being told, whether the character is someone who shows up late for work or gets there early. Even with lighting, you sometimes have to decide, if showing the character is working late in his office, just how late to make it look -- early evening, late at night while the cleaning crews are working, even later with most of the office lighting turned off, etc. Because all of those decisions tells a slightly different story. Some scripts are very specific about such details and some are very vague.

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I think (yet again) you guys misunderstood what I was saying. I wasn't saying that pre and post make a movie. I was stating that you can have poor direction and cinematography, but still make an incredible product today, thanks to digital technology. Those jobs are clearly important to have, movies don't make themselves. Yet, I can share from personal experience, productions that even I have worked on, where the movie was really made in post. The director was nothing but someone there to keep the ship on course and the cinematographer was only there to make sure the actors faces were visible... and I mean that literally.

 

I mean think about it another way, there are plenty of directors who don't know what they're doing, yet still produce decent product. It's the same for every job, but if you do a good job in prep. If the story tells itself and you have great crew, there will be a decent image on the back end for some post production guru's to clean up and make excellent.

 

This is a new thing by the way, because prior to the DI process, you couldn't make huge mistakes on set. You had to come back with a good negative, which means you HAD to be somewhat of a knowledgeable cinematographer and have a good crew around you. The lab could only do so much and at a certain point, you can try new things and answer print until you run out of money, but the next result always comes back to the DP. This is... (yet again)... why we consider so many pre-digital age movies to not look so good. Most DP's had to come back with a "safe" image because there wasn't much they could do after the fact. Modern DP's appear to be able to do anything they want on set, just look at Mad Max Fury Road. I've seen raw material from that movie and it looked nothing like the finished product. I could say the same thing about dozens of other big hollywood movies that look like crap coming out of the camera, but with a million or so into a top color corrector, they come to life.

 

Which is why I say, pre-production and post-production mean MORE today, then they have in the past.

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But Madmax was not shot by a modern,I guess you mean young DP.. Sorry Mr Seale :).. practically out of retirement to shoot it..

 

Raw material is never going to look good from a digital camera used for movies.. because its RAW ..! . or at least LOG..just with a LUT thrown onto it ,what does negative look like straight out a film camera..?.. it has to be processed.. its not shooting BMX bikes with a pocket camera .. in REC 709.. Look at the out takes from film camera,s .. they also don't look anything like the finished footage.. but they both have the potential because of how they were shot in the first place..

 

The logic just doesn't work.. how can post make a great film from shite rushes.. it would be how does the saying go.. icing on a turd.. at best.. Post is more important than the director ???

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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Modern DP's appear to be able to do anything they want on set, just look at Mad Max Fury Road. I've seen raw material from that movie and it looked nothing like the finished product.

 

Considering Mad Max was basically in pre pro for about ten years, I can only imagine the shocked look on George Miller and John Seale's faces when they were presented the final look of the movie by the colorist. :P

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Considering Mad Max was basically in pre pro for about ten years, I can only imagine the shocked look on George Miller and John Seale's faces when they were presented the final look of the movie by the colorist. :P

 

I recall from a BTS clip, that the 'pre pro' included designing a digital camera, which when Seale came on was tossed in favor of ARRI for the main camera, and several types of 'low end' digitals such as the Black Magic and Canon offerings.

 

There is perhaps some sort of 'agism' going on with some of the reasoning... I couldn't wait to toss my SLR (actually the Wife's SLR, I hadn't purchased a 35mm camera since I bought a Minolta in 1973.. Ok... I did buy the Lumix GH-1... but almost strictly as a 'motion picture camera' the stills were a 'bonus' feature I rarely used...) in favor of a digital solution that had the quality I required of a SLR, and of course a price I could afford.

 

As soon as that happened, Still Film Film was history for me. There were issues to be dealt with, but those were not insurmountable.

 

I can't be so unique as all that whether for stills or motion pictures.

Edited by John E Clark

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But Madmax was not shot by a modern,I guess you mean young DP.. Sorry Mr Seale :).. practically out of retirement to shoot it..

Whose hands were tied. Seale wasn't even allowed to setup lights in shots that clearly needed them.

 

Raw material is never going to look good from a digital camera used for movies.. because its RAW ..!

The stuff I worked with in the promo/marketing side, had the "set" color treatment done to it. So it was a "director approved" LUT. Which again, looked nothing like the final. And when I say that, I mean every shot had major work done. That movie cut together from the editing bay, looked like some sort of visual effects artists nightmare.

 

The logic just doesn't work.. how can post make a great film from shite rushes.. it would be how does the saying go.. icing on a turd.. at best.. Post is more important than the director ???

By manipulating everything in the shot. Imagine a shot with 4 actors in it, but the director is like, yea... we only need two. They just delete the other two, re-frame the image, throw some fancy color effects on it and boom, it works a lot better. Lucas pioneered this way of working because he has no idea how to direct actors, (claims made by the actors on the star wars franchise) so he made the movies by putting actors in green screen rooms and then making a product in post. This happens much more then people realize today. If you aren't working in modern post production, you'd never know.

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1 So post production ... was dictating the lighting to Miller and Seale.. I really doubt this.. don't tell me this was from a good buddy..

 

2 If post production cocked things up on the production you were working on.. doesn't mean that inherently material from digital camera,s is crap .. of course its different after post.. thats what post is for..!! if it looks like crap it means the post was crap.. very simple..

 

3 Yes given the time and money almost anything can be achieved in post.. yes that Lucas guy.. what the hell does he know.. he,ll never amount to much :).. that useless guy besides.. you would really have me believe that the vast majority of big budget films are routinely shooting in green rooms so they can remove actors to save the film in post.. ?? I don't know what your drinking.. but i want some :)..

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1 So post production ... was dictating the lighting to Miller and Seale.. I really doubt this.. don't tell me this was from a good buddy..

If you watch Seale's 2hr + speech on shooting the movie, you'd probably understand. It's on vimeo somewhere and is worth watching.

 

2 If post production cocked things up on the production you were working on.. doesn't mean that inherently material from digital camera,s is crap .. of course its different after post.. thats what post is for..!! if it looks like crap it means the post was crap.. very simple..

Well I haven't seen anything from a digital camera of any kind that doesn't need re-working to make look "acceptable". Even the snaps on my iPhone will be tweaked before posting online or even storing on my drive. If something looks like crap in the theater, that generally means there wasn't enough money to fix it. I've worked on projects where the filmmakers just shrugged and said, that's the best they could do. I gather if someone handed them another million, they'd probably do better.

 

3 Yes given the time and money almost anything can be achieved in post.. yes that Lucas guy.. what the hell does he know.. he,ll never amount to much :).. that useless guy besides.. you would really have me believe that the vast majority of big budget films are routinely shooting in green rooms so they can remove actors to save the film in post.. ?? I don't know what your drinking.. but i want some :)..

Robin, how many big movies have you been a part of?

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