Learning
FILM TECHNIQUES - LEARNING AND PHYSICAL

I'm a cameraman. I normally work in betacam, DV, etc. [but] now
I'm planning to work in film. How much difference is there between a cine
camera and a video camera? Will I be able to learn it from the industry by
assisting a cinematographer?

best regards, BP

The scary thing for people in your position is that whilst you regard
yourself as a "cameraman", you are in reality a video cameraperson. This as far as I am concerned has a marginal relationship with Cinematography. The good news is that your lighting skills that you have already developed will only have to be modified: the tough news is that you have to learn Photography.

I am glad you are considering assisting a Cinematographer, as I would consider this essential as a first step: the other possibility is to go to a film school where they still shoot on film (a diminishing number!). To become a Cinematographer you have to learn about the following topics in detail, and this will take some years.

1. Film emulsion: it's chemistry and characteristics.  You don't have to know about this in detail (like a chemist) but you have to understand it in principle, otherwise the processes at the lab will be a mystery to you, as well as how to figure out the exposure.
2. Film cameras: types and uses.  Different film cameras do different jobs: you are the one hiring the camera, so you have to know what you need.
3. Lenses for film: how to make a 60ft wide image look good. Lenses on a video camera have little demand made on them optically as the resolution of the system is so low they don't show up the bad lenses so acutely. This is why video cameras have 20x zoom lenses and get away with it.
4. Lighting. This is different for film than video, though the chances are that it's an easier transition than the first three things as film is more forgiving than video. Having said that, lighting is the key to all movie image making, whatever the recording format.

Another good learning tool is Super 8mm and Stills: anything that teaches you about what film does, and makes you better acquainted with the idea of not seeing the result until tomorrow (or next week).

Mr.Stapleton,
My most agonizing problem with cinematography is understanding
completely the scientific and chemical aspects of light and film. As
a videographer I do pretty well, but when it comes to film, I rarely
hit the mark. Would you suggest any particular books, publications,
courses, or exercises that concentrate on these issues? Thanks a
bunch,
Doug

Thereís several ways to learn about film.
1. Books. For technical matters involving exposure, chemistry and film thereís nothing better than the Ansel Adams series of books for stills photographers.  Thereís several complex books published on Cinematography but I couldnít recomend any of them because I tried to read a couple of them years ago and found them very dull.
2. Courses.  The country is littered with courses both long and short: start with the AFI if you are in LA or NYC is you are in NY. Their websites probably have lots of links.
3. Take b/w Photographs and develop and print them in a darkroom.  This will teach you everything you need to know. (use a separate exposure meter).
Why? Because you learn about the relationship between exposure and the print, and about contrast.  Colour can come later, and is quite easy to master once youíve sorted the basics out.

Iím from Malaysia. I want to know that if there is any foundation that offers a scholarship or provides financial aid to students that are having financial difficulties but are intend to choose film as their future career?

-Steven

Each college has itís own scholarships and financial aid packages.  After trawling through the internet and deciding on places you might like to apply to, you can e-mail them and ask them.  There may be places like the Ford Foundation that have more general help, but I think asking the relevant institutions is your best bet.

I'm 26 and I plan on directing and shooting a film myself in the near future. I read on your site that you started learning cinematography at age 27 and 5 years later eventually became a professional. How long did it actually take you to become confident as a d.p.? Did it take you those 5 years to learn all your essential skills or did you already learn everything you needed to know during school and it took a couple of years before you found steady work?
-Bill

There isn't really a point at which you say "Now I am a DP and know what I'm doing!" It's a continuous learning process (which sounds a bit hippy when you write it down), but...it?s a continuous learning process. I didn't actually start learning Cinematography when I was 27 (did I say that?), I went to film school when I was 27, but I had learnt a great deal photography/cinematography by teaching myself more or less continuously from the age of 10. Having confidence is not essential: as long as it looks like you know what you are doing! I guess I just gained confidence as I went along: but even now sometimes a particularly difficult set will cause a few moments panic ? I'm just good at hiding it. As for finding steady work, I was one of those lucky people who just started being asked to work by my fellow graduates the moment I left the film school. I initially spent 6 months trying to be a director, but kept shooting docs and videos for film school friends to pay the bills. Directors have to go through a lot more hellish meetings than I have the patience for, so I opted for shooting in the interests of a sane life.

I'm currently doing a video project as a part of my film degree. The piece is based mainly upon a key sequence in which a fight takes place. Myself and the production crew have had loads of trouble covering the fight, and I was wondering if you had any handy tips or sites I could visit. (I've searched high and low!!!) It needs to be gritty and dirty street fighting. So far we've mainly been using handheld shots, but unfortunately we're having big problems with making the punches look realistic. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!??-David

Unfortunately I'm sure you finished your fight scene a long time ago but here is some advice for anyone else doing the same thing.. The trick is to shoot angles that don't show the relationship between the fist and the contact point: in other words don?t show that it missed! The hardest angle to achieve would be the classic profile shot where the person punching hits the other person in the face. The person being punched has to react at exactly the right time and person throwing the punch has to do it "very close". This is why you have stunt men because they train for a long time to make this stuff look good and then advise you on angle to make it look good. When an actor in a film does a fight scene they take them away and practice a great deal until it looks authentic. If you shoot behind the person being hit it is easier to disguise the fact they weren't hit and the use of longer lenses also helps this by compressing the space. A realistic "hit" is always a combination of the actors timing it right and the angle of the lens: remember also that until the sound is added it will always look pathetic!

I've read every one of your columns, and you've really been an inspiration; if I ever make anything of myself in this industry I'll definitely owe part of that result to you. Quick question: I know you're of the school that shooting film is the best, if not only way to learn the craft, but if you had to pick a few texts that are helpful to one's apprenticeship what would they be?
Akai

I studied still photography so would recommend the series of books by Ansel Adams, titled The Negative, The Print, etc. I don't seem to be able to derive anything from looking at lighting diagrams in books about lighting -- but that may not be the same for everyone. I would encourage you above all to take photographs and learn Tai-Chi. Photographs will teach you about framing and chemistry, and Tai-Chi will teach you how to move in balance -- an essential requirement for hand-held cinematography and operating. Video cameras are obviously another good tool, but beware the "ease" with which they make an image.

The technical side of Digital cameras is a real "bog" and the detail of it is probably only of interest to technicians.. having said that, the "artist Cinematographer" can certainly scratch the surface by subscribing to the numberous blogs and chat rooms where the uber-geeks get their thrills discussing the latest 4:4:4 workflow idea. I have devoted considerable amounts of time and energy trying to get to grips with this world, only to realise that, like a slippery eel, the moment you think you have it, it is gone: replaced by the next big thing. For those of us more interested in focussing on the business of making the film and lighting it, it becomes really important to hire assistants who really understand the camera and how to set it up as this makes all the difference to the manipulation of the image in post. I am yet to shoot my first Digital Film: however I can feel the ugly chill of it creeping over the horizon!

I was wondering: What are some good cinematography schools to look into?
JP

In the UK there is the National Film and TV school. This is now a 2yr MA course, but is still probably considered the best "hands-on" school in the UK. For the US, I asked cinematographer Cris Lombardi to reply and this is what he wrote:

The idea of having a Film Studies or Media major has become a very popular idea at many colleges and universities here. However there is still a short list of "big names".. UCLA, USC, AFI, and NYU. This is the "Ivy League" of film schools. Nearly as prestigious are Cal Arts and Art Center College of Design. Another school dedicated to film studies was recently founded, Los Angeles Film School, which might be worth looking into. An internet search will get you more info on any of these programs. Like any scholastic pursuit, all of these programs come with a big pricetag.. It's worth noting that, unlike many other professions, a college degree is not a prerequisite for getting hired in this business. Before committing yourself to the time and expense of going to film school, you should take a long hard look at what the potential benefits of such a pursuit would be. It could be argued that the best education in this field is a practical one. Start by going to work at a camera rental house. Get trained to be a prep tech. There's a dual benefit to this; you get familiar with the tools of the trade, and you'll meet and establish relationships with camera people who work in the business when they come in to check out gear. These are the people who will be in a position to hire you.

At film school, chances are that you won't get a chance to get your hands on state-of-the-art camera gear, and you won't be meeting people who are in a position to hire you. So what's the upside of film school? If you're really talented, and you can step up to the plate and hit a home run on your first try, this may be the route for you. A really well-shot student film coming out of a reputable film school can make enough of a splash to get you hired to shoot more films. Thus, you can skip the process of working your way up through the camera department, and proceed directly to the top. The caveat; you'd better be ready when you get there! There's a lot of savvy and politics involved in running a big crew which a student film might not prepare you for.

It's up to you to decide which route to take, but don't just assume that film school is the best way to go.

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