IB Film Making Basics
Film-making: the basics
Go to the Studio 101 site: http://www.video101course.com/. Work your way through the sections corresponding to the following topics, and answer the questions as you go along.
Fortunately, we don’t have to do this anymore!
Why begin a study of film making with editing?
If you learn the basic principles of editing you can understand the film making process much more easily. Many film makers start out as assistant editors before they move on.
In editing, why does 1 + 1 not equal 2? What are the implications of this?
Because what is created by cutting together two shots has much more meaning than what’s in those two shots. Our minds create a story that often isn’t there.
How do film-makers use one camera to get four shots at the same time?
By cutting together four shots that were filmed at different times to make them look like their continuous. Essentially, by cheating.
What are the ethical implications of this?
We can change the meaning of something utterly by editing. This means that if we want to convey what really happened, we have to be careful about the edit.
What is a sequence?
A series of several (few or many) shots cut together.
The opening shots of The Shining placed us very certainly in a wild, mountainous environment…
What is a ‘wide shot’ and why is it also often called the ‘establishing shot’?
A wide shot is a shot which gives us a broader picture of the scene, allowing us to see where the action is taking place. This establishes the object of the film in context for the viewer.
What shot usually follows a ‘wide shot’, and what purpose does it serve?
A medium or close-up shot usually follows a wide shot, focusing in on the object of the film.
What is the rule for ending with a wide shot?
Use a different wide shot to the one you began a sequence with.
What is a ‘matched cut’ and why is it so important? Give an example of matched and unmatched cuts.
To avoid continuity problems, the cuts must flow naturally, with gestures and expressions in one shot being the same as the ones in the next. An example may be an arm moving in one direction, a hand in a pocket, and so on.
In the scene involving the cowboy, how did the film-maker establish ‘matched action’?
To ensure the shot of the cowboy throwing the rope matched the one where the cow was lassoed, the film maker cut together two shots taken half an hour apart.
Should you cut before, during, or after the action?
Always cut during the action. (Or, as it usually put, ‘Cut on the action’)
What is a ‘jump cut’?
A jump cut is to be avoided. It happens when two shots that are very similar are cut together, making the object seem like it is jumping.
Why do you often see news presenters nodding their heads during interviews?
Footage is filmed of presenters viewing their interview subjects, and cut in to cover jump cuts. Interviews are always edited, because they are too long to be shown on news programmes.
What is the 180 degree rule, and what does it ensure?
The 180 rule is staying only on one side of a moving object. It is followed to ensure that screen direction is always consistent.
How can you use different screen directions to increase tension?
If you cut two objects moving in different directions (for example, two cars) the different direction will suggest opposition and conflict, as if they are heading towards a collision.
How does letting objects enter or leave the frame help in the editing process?
The point when and where an object leaves the frame is an excellent place to position an edit, thus removing the problem of matching the action.
How should the picture be married to the sound?
Narration shouldn’t describe the image of a shot: it’s not necessary to spell out to the viewers what they can obviously see.
- Shot composition
Is this a good composition for an interview?
Why are 90% of TV camera shots of people’s heads and shoulders?
Because we need to be able to see their expressions, but dissociated heads from bodies would look rather strange.
What are these shots called?
These are close-ups.
What simple principle helps you avoid profile shots?
Makes sure that you can see both eyes of the person you are filming.
What is the other standard shot?
A long shot (also known as the wide shot – or, as we have seen, the establishing shot.)
What is the effect of not using these shots enough?
You don’t build up a context for what you are seeing, which can be quite confusing about the action. The film Con Air is an example of this – it has no long shots.
How have films changed in terms of the proportion of these two shots, and what is the reason for that development?
There are more close ups in modern films because film makers are increasingly conscious that films are watched more widely on TV, rather than in the cinema. This means that we can’t make out expressions quite so clearly, so need close-ups rather than medium shots or long shots.
What are the pros and cons of the medium shot?
They allow a subject to be placed in context, but don’t give as much detail of a person’s expressions. They may also allow in too much background, which can be distracting for a viewer.
… and then we had some close ups of Jack’s face, showing his decline into madness
What is an ECU and why does this shot have such an impact on viewers?
An ECU is an extreme close up. They have impact because we very rarely get that close to other people, so can make us feel that we are uncomfortably close to someone.
What is the rule about zooming? … and the caveat?
Never zoom. The caveat is that you use a zoom to find the right shot – but not whilst you are shooting. This marks you out as a complete amateur, which we want to avoid, even if you are!
Explain this rule in terms of how our eyes work.
What works for your eyes – darting all over the place to gather visual information – does not work for a camera. You should present a shot to viewers that they can then use their eyes to dart around, rather than trying to ‘predigest’ the images for them.
What should high angle and low angle shots be used for?
High angle shots make the subject look submissive and weak. Low angle shots make the subject look dominating, threatening, and strong.
Type of space around subjects:
|Description:||How it should and shouldn’t be used:|
|Head room||The space above the subject’s head||You shouldn’t leave too much head room, or the size of the subject will be diminished; then again, you can’t have too little space, or their head may be cut off.
|Looking room||The space where the subject is looking||The film maker should leave more space here than on the other side of the shot. Failing to do this will lead to an off balance shot.
|Leading room||Similar to looking room, but with action (ie where the action is going)||The same principle applies – there should be more room where the subject is going towards, to increase our anticipation of what will happen next.
Plenty of diagonal lines here
How do diagonal lines help to improve a shot? Give examples.
Finding the diagonal lines in an object makes a shot more dynamic and interesting than horizontal and vertical lines. Examples include a car or house shot from side on – boring – and shot from an angle – more interesting.
How should this principle be applied to moving shots?
Don’t film the object moving across the shot; film them or it moving towards then past you, before they move out of shot.
What should you do to ensure that your shots are ‘more dynamic, more three-dimensional, more involving’?
Get close to what you are filming!
- Camera lenses
What is the difference between a fixed lens and a zoom lens?
A zoom lens can magnify the image, and glide between those magnifications. A fixed lens cannot do this gliding bit (our eyes are fixed lenses).
What are the three basic ranges of zoom lenses?
Telephoto (when you lens is zoomed all the way in), normal (the amount of magnification that your eyes see), and wide angle (zoomed all the way out).
Explain the term ‘focal length’ in relation to telephoto shots and wide angle shots.
Each level of magnification is termed the focal length. With telephoto shots, this focal length is given a high number, like 100. Wide angle shots have a low number, like 10.
What are three characteristics of telephoto lens settings and how can these characteristics be used to the film maker’s advantage?
- Telephoto settings compress distances. You can therefore use them to emphasise the numbers of things – such as a busy street.
- They also exaggerate movement, so a tripod should always be used.
- It’s harder to focus with a telephoto setting. But this can mean that if your subject is in front of a distracting background, that background won’t be as visible. By limiting this depth of field, we concentrate on what the film maker wants us to see.
What difference does a wide angle lens setting make to a shot?
A wide angle lens has the opposite effect in these three different respects. So, distances are emphasised; movement is slower; and things are always easier to focus.
What are the pros and cons of the fact that wide angle lens settings maintain everything in focus?
We can see everything in the shot more easily as a result of this. But film makers sometimes don’t want you to do that, because we don’t focus on the object of the shot.
What effect does a fish eye lens give?
This extreme wide angle setting causes the horizon to curve.
What does the aperture (or ‘f-stop’) control?
This is what controls the amount of light entering the camera – the exposure.
What relation does this have with the exposure of the shot?
The more open the aperture is, the more light that comes in, and the more exposed the shot will be. Too much exposure means a shot will look ‘bleached’.
What is the depth of field?
The depth of field is the amount of the shot in focus. A shallow depth of field indicates that very little is in focus. A deep depth of field means that a lot of the image is in focus.
Explain the three ways (there are two mentioned, and one implied) you alter the depth of field.
- Decrease the focal length. Wide angle settings allow more things to be in focus.
- Use more light.
- Get closer to the subject you are filming.
A good rule of thumb?
Why is it often said that sound is more important than pictures in films?
Because viewers can stand watching poor picture quality, but they can’t stand listening to a film that has poor sound quality.
What is sound?
Sound is air molecules colliding together. These ‘waves’ of sound bang into our ear drums, and the rate at which they do so leads the brain to interpret the sound as high pitched or low pitched.
Why do we interpret some sounds as high pitched, and some as low pitched?
The faster the rate of air molecules hitting our ear drums, the higher the pitch. The lower the rate of air molecules hitting our ear drums, the lower we determine the pitch.
How do we measure this?
The number of waves of sound per second reaching the ear drums is called the frequency of the sound. Each unit is called a hertz (hz). So, 10,000 hz means 10,000 waves per second.
What is the range of sound that humans can hear?
20 to 20,000 hz. (dogs can hear up to 40,000 hz)
What is an omnidirectional pickup pattern, and what are the problems associated with these mikes?
A microphone that picks up sound equally from all directions. Mikes of this type add sound to a shoot indiscriminately, which is not very useful if you are trying to control the sound of the film you’re making.
What are cardioid mikes – and why are these used more often?
They pick up sound from one direction only. As film makers generally want to control the sound that accompanies their pictures, this is far more preferable.
He knew a thing or two about microphones
What are supercardioid (or shotgun) mikes?
These are even more directional than cardioid mikes.
Why do shotgun mikes have a wind shield built around them?
Because of their sensitivity, they need to be protected from the sound of the wind.
What are the pros and cons of dynamic and condenser mikes?
- Don’t need a battery
- Are more rugged than condenser mikes
- Are less expensive than condenser mikes.
However, they are also less sensitive than condenser mikes. Condenser mikes have the opposite characteristics to the above.
Why are lavalier mikes used more in talk shows and interviews than in fictional film making?
Lav mikes are small, clip-on mikes. They are convenient and sensitive, so are perfect for non-fictional films. But as they are visible, they can’t be used in fictional pictures.
What are the pros and cons of handheld mikes?
They are very easy to use, but they’re obviously visible, and you can’t use two hands when you’re speaking into one (unless it’s in a microphone holder).
What are boom and fishpole mikes, and where and how are they used?
A fishpole mike is a shotgun mike on a pole; boom mikes are similar, but the poles are much longer. These require extra crew to operate them, and boom mikes are only found in studios.
Why are VU meters important?
They are more reliable than your ear in figuring out the right level of sound for a film.
How can the automatic gain control feature sometimes cause problems?
They find sound even when there is none, which means that it’s hard to establish silences during the film-making. Professionals never use this feature.
This one goes to 11
What controls the level of the audio?
The fader. Simple stuff.
What is equalization?
Adjusting the high and low tones of the sound.
What does a mixer do, and what is the one basic rule of mixing?
It blends together two different audio signals. The trick, though, is to make sure that one sound (eg a voice) is relevant.
Why do you have to be careful about not getting your mike inputs and line inputs mixed up?
Because the input for the mike is deliberately sensitive, so if you put other inputs into it, your ears will suffer the consequences.
Explain the five (yes, five!) rules of sound recording.
- Get close.
- Talk across the mike, not into it.
- Record and add natural sound to your film to make it more realistic.
- Never talk during a recording.
- Never use a camera mike for interviews/dialogues. Always use a separate mike, because they’re far better than the one in your camera.
How do we know this is a 3-light set up?
How do you ensure that your film has the good quality lighting?
You have to ensure that the film gets the right kind of lighting, rather than enough lighting.
What’s the difference between hard and soft lighting, and the shots they produce?
Hard lighting comes from one source, and emphasises shadow. Soft lighting comes from a diffuse source, so the shadows are not so pronounced.
How do film makers (illogically) measure lighting, and what is the standard size of a studio instrument?
Light is measured by film makers not in terms of its intensity (which is measured in lumens) but in terms of the power of the lighting apparatus. Thus we refer to watts when we talk about lights. A standard studio instrument is 1000 watts.
Give some examples of the colour of various light sources.
Candles have a very red light. The sunlight has a blue tinge to it. Fluorescent lighting has a green tinge.
In what way do our eyes and cameras work in different ways in terms of colour?
Our eyes compensate for these colours, but cameras do not.
In what units do we measure a light’s hue or colour temperature? Give examples.
We measure colour temperature in degrees Kelvin. The number of degrees Kelvin depends on how blue or red the light is, as shown on this chart:
What are the two standardized colour temperatures?
- Sunlight (around midday) is 5600 degrees Kelvin.
- Film making instruments put out about 3200 degrees Kelvin.
What is a ‘fresnel’ (be careful with pronunciation!), and what are its two features?
This is the standard type of studio lighting instrument. Its lens can focus a beam of light on an object, and the sliding lamp can make the light more diffuse (and therefore softer).
Why are portable spots used more than fresnels in field productions?
They are more portable than fresnels, so easier to use out of the studio.
What is the barn door attachment?
These are metal flaps on most lighting instruments that allow the light to be blocked out from a certain area.
What are scrims, and what effect do they give to a shot?
Scrims are pieces of light fabric that are fixed over an instrument in order to soften the light.
Name three common usages of gels.
- Gels can give the same colour to portable lights as sunlight.
- Amber gels can give a healthy hue to a subject.
- Blue gels can give a night time feel to a shot.
What problem does a bounce card solve, and how?
Bounce card reduce hard shadows. They do this simply by reflected the light from the source back on the area in shadow.
What is the foundation of all professional lighting?
The 3 light set-up. This is what helps to turn a 2D image into something we perceive as 3D.
How is this achieved? Mention the key light, the fill light, and the back light. Make sure you describe the relative levels of light that should be used in each one.
The key light is positioned at 45 degrees from the way the subject is facing. The fill light is positioned on the opposite side from the key light. The back light is placed behind the subject. The key light should be brightest, then the fill light, then finally the back light.
List some typical lighting problems that a film maker could face, and suggest some possible solutions for each one.
- An overly sunny day. This can be overcome by using a bounce card, an artificial lighting set up, or just move to a shadier place.
- Large areas to be shot. Bouncing light off walls and ceilings to ‘equalise’ the light in the whole space.
- Mixed lighting. Eliminate one or more of the light sources (eg, by shutting the curtains.
- Camera mounts
It may be a while before you get near one of these
What is a camera mount?
Anything that supports a camera. This can even be a shoulder.
What is the alternative (and indisputably cooler) term for a tripod?
A set of sticks.
What are the pros and cons of the three types of tripod heads?
- Fluid heads. These move the camera very smoothly, because of the liquid used in the tripod head. They are very expensive.
- Friction heads. These are much cheaper, but transfer the jerkiness of your hands into the shoot.
- Cam heads. These are massive, and consist of gears and counterlevers. They are effective and sophisticated, but big, bulky, and expensive.
What is a spreader?
The spreader is a rubber attachment that fits onto the feet of the tripod, and stops it from moving.
Why is the claw ball ‘one of the greatest tripod features’?
You can rotate the head of the tripod in any direction, and adjust its level easily.
What allows you to take the camera off the tripod quickly?
The quick release plate. One part is attached to the camera, the other to the tripod, and the two parts can be clipped together.
Now we’re talking!
What is a dolly?
A dolly is a tripod on wheels, allowing the film maker to follow the action more smoothly.
What are studio pedestal used for?
For raising and lowering cameras to achieve high and low angles.
Why is the body mount always the second choice for film making?
Because of the jerkiness of the film that is produced. Having said that, this can sometimes give an evocative effect.
How are jib arms used, and what effects do they give?
These are arms with counterweighted counter levers that can raise a camera high in the air. They give an interesting effect of raising us above the action, which can emphasise an establishing shot.
Why are camera cranes operated manually?
Because a machine can never do it as smoothly as a person.
Have steadicams replaced tripods in film making?
No. Tripods are still the best type of camera mount. Plus, steadicams are hard to use, and the camera is very heavy to handle even when attached to one.