Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Film is nearly dead

I had a conversation with someone recently about movie stuff and the subject of projection came up. They just could not get their head round film projection. It seems that certain people just don't consider what the world was like before digital. It's sad really that film (as in celluloid) is slowly being forgotten about. I also have a friend who has recently started using 35mm cameras to take photographs. I remember one situation where we took a group photo with someone else and that someone else then asked to see the photo (facepalm). I'm grateful for digital, don't get me wrong, but I just think 35mm film still has its place in the modern world. Movies shot on film just have that dreamlike quality to them and it's something that I feel modern movies are missing. Ideally, digital and film should coexist. Modern film cameras have all these digital features to assist the operator but they still use 35mm to record images and I think that's the way it should be. Film projection is still very common and in a lot of cases, movies shot in a digital format get printed to film so they can be shown at cinemas that don't yet have the facility to digitally project. I feel that shooting on film also encourages filmmakers to take more care since film stock is expensive and once it's exposed, you can't go back and record over it like you can with video tape. Video should be used for TV and film should stay with the motion picture industry...

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Last week, a friend of mine convinced me to watch this movie. The title alone make this sound like that typical cheesy horror movie that some kid in a 1950s movie watches on the television set while his parents are away one evening. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is exactly what it says on the tin. Alien clowns land near a small American town in their circus tent spaceship and start killing the locals for their blood. This film is so cheesy and that's what makes it so hilarious. Seriously, the makers must have genuinely planned this from the start. Looks like they succeeded though because this is now a cult classic, apparently. There are a lot of funny moments and many of the deaths made us laugh out loud because they were absolutely ridiculous. The first victim in the film is a dog called "Pooh Bear" and his death is implied off screen after one of the clowns scoops him up in a net (Why would an advanced alien race use something as archaic as a net to capture their victim?) People who suffer from coulrophobia should probably avoid seeing this movie but it's definitely something to see if you want a good laugh. 6/10 

How Sleep the Brave (1981)

Also known by the more generic sounding title of "Combat Zone", this is a low budget Vietnam War movie, filmed in the UK. Made before similar big budget films like "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket", this film probably won't appeal to everyone. Lots of cheesy dialogue and poor acting but there's something about its depiction of the Vietnam War that feels real. The American troops are too stereotypical and it's hard to feel sorry for them when they die. If you're a huge fan of war movies (like me) then you can probably forgive the negatives and enjoy the film. It's sometimes hard to pretend that this film is set in Vietnam because the English countryside sticks out too much. Full Metal Jacket was filmed in the UK but they did a better job at passing it off as Vietnam. This could have been a better movie but despite its negatives, it has inspired me. 4/10 (Watch it while you're getting drunk with your friends. Drink every time someone say f*ck)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Dead Eyes

When I made my Final Year Project film (Malice) in 2012, I made a lot of mistakes. Despite being at University for three years, most of the stuff that I was taught had been forgotten. I didn't really pay attention to stuff like lighting in Malice especially in subtle things like the eyes. Take this screenshot from the movie as an example.

Look at the eyes. There's no life in them. They look dead. Granted, this could be interpreted as "losing his soul when he was sent to prison" but that wasn't my intention. Now, look at this screenshot.

Look at his eyes. Those white dots from the light are reflected in his eyes and he looks more alive. This guy was the antagonist though so it would have made more sense for him to have the "dead eyes" instead. 

I had an LED panel on the camera for the second shot, the intention was purely for illuminating his face. It just so happened that the light also put those white dots in his pupils. Watch any movie and I guarantee that you'll see white dots in the characters' eyes. This is carefully thought about because it gives the characters life. Remember that old saying "the eyes are the windows to the soul". It should be your obligation as a film maker/director of photography to consider this.

The angle of your lighting set-up might not always allow you to get this result. Ideally, you should have a specific light whose sole purpose is to give your character the white dots in their eyes. This could be a studio light with a diffuse filter on it or a simple torch taped to your tripod. Your audience will notice this and your shots will look more professional and beautiful.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

How to make video look like film

If you want to get the perfect film look, shoot your movie on film. Unfortunately, this isn't always an option for the budget filmmaker so the next best thing is making your video look like film. This is the method I normally use when I attempt a film look. Some might disagree with it but really it's all about what works best for you.

Start by watching a movie and analysing it. It's always useful to take screenshots so you can compare it against your footage as you're grading it. I'm going to show you how to create a 16mm look because I've always loved the way 16mm footage looks. Here's a screenshot of the raw footage.
This is from my 2012 university movie "Malice". I shot this on a Canon DSLR with a 50mm lens during daylight. Picture profile was set to CineStyle so we have a flat sort of look which gives us more room for manipulation in the software. The footage is not very sharp. I can't remember if I properly focused during filming but this is okay because 16mm footage often has a soft look. Aperture was quite narrow (because of the daylight) so there's a greater depth of field. A more shallow depth of field would look more cinematic and help sell the effect better though. I also filmed at 25 frames per second and shutter was set to 1/50. 

I'm using Premiere Pro because there's an interesting effect that I discovered years ago which if useful for creating a film look. In the Utility folder under Video Effects you'll find an effect called "Cineon Converter".
Straight away you can see that this has increased contrast and the shot now looks less flat. Go to "Window>Reference Monitor" and compare the YC waveform before and after.
See the difference? The waveform monitor is a very useful tool so make sure you check it on a regular basis while grading your footage. You can also check RGB values which is useful for correcting wrong white balance (if you ever find yourself in that situation). 

Using the values within the Cineon Converter effect, I increased the contrast until I got this. Notice "Conversion" is set to "Log to Linear", the default setting. 
The blacks in the footage are crushed and overall contrast has been increased. Most film look attempts I see have really high contrast with crushed blacks and blown highlights. This doesn't really make video look like film. From what I can see, film usually has a low contrast look so blacks aren't actually black but a sort of grey instead. Don't worry, we're going to sort this out in the next few steps. You might have to tweak the Gamma and Highlight Rolloff values later to get the desired look since your footage might look different to mine. Try adjusting the other values as well and experiment until you get what you want. Remember, film has more dynamic range than video so you won't be able to get exactly the same contrast in the detail.

Add a channel>invert effect and select "Green". We're going to add an invert effect for each colour channel (Red, green and blue). Set the "Blend with original" to 85% but try playing around with the values to get what you want.

We now have this low contrast shot but it's a bit dark so add a "Brightness>Contrast" effect. Very subtle difference. I set Brightness to 10 and contrast to 25. Furthermore, you might want to apply the "Color Balance HLS" effect and desaturate the colour a little bit. I also adjusted the hue to -0.5 to push the skin tones to red more.
I then added film grain which I got for free off GorillaGrainI just put it on a video layer above my footage and set the blend mode to overlay. Use a Brightness>Contrast filter to make the grain more or less intense. 
I posted a breakdown on YouTube.

So, there we have it. Film has a very unique sort of motion to it though and I have yet to find a way to replicate that. There are hundreds of film look tutorials out there and I really think it's up to the individual to develop their own style. I just keep tweaking settings until I get the look I want and it's not always as simple as copying and pasting the effects to all clips on your timeline. Feel free to comment with feedback or any suggestions/ideas you might have. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Is that a DSLR? You must be taking photos then??

Typical scenario. I have my Canon 600 DSLR setup on a tripod and I'm filming an event. I always get some "expert" coming up to me to say something like "taking photos are you?" or "are you a photographer?" and I always end up explaining (in the nicest way possible) that I'm shooting video. Yes, I know DSLRs were designed primarily for the taking of still images but I just find it so annoying when people can't get their head round their use for video. I do have a dedicated video camera (Panasonic 151) but for certain situations I prefer to use my DSLR to get that particular look.  

I'm in the process of turning my DSLR into a movie camera. I'm doing this for two reasons. Number one, to add a greater level of control so the DSLR becomes a better video camera and Number two, so people know I'm shooting video! They see the DSLR body by itself with a little prime lens and they assume you're a photographer. But, if they see a shoulder rig, big lens, matte box, follow focus, viewfinder, HDMI monitor and a microphone then they'll be more inclined to think you're shooting video. I recently purchased a shoulder rig kit for my DSLR and it came with a follow focus and matte box. The matte box is kind of cheap but it really transforms the look of your DSLR. Once my DSLR movie rig is complete, I'll post some photos to this blog. Ironically, I'll have to take them photos with my phone...