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Achieving The Film Look

Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 5:57pm

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Viktorious

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This sounds like a basic question and it is, but how do you achieve the film look? I follow the rule of thirds and give my actors lead room when necessary but I still don't always get the shot to look like I wanted it. You can still tell that it's not professional. I know you need light but what if your shooting on location and you can't bring lights? Does editing help make it look professional? Thanks for your help.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 6:17pm

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Aculag

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There are countless things that make film look different than video, and framing is only a fraction of it. Lenses, lights, costumes, locations, post-processing, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Basically, there is no simple answer to this question, because there is no single thing you can do to make your movies look professional. Sounds like you're looking for a quick fix, and that's not going to happen. Maybe it would help if you gave us an idea of what you have to work with.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 6:22pm

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ben3308

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Lighting and grading will help you first and foremost. Good staging, good blocking and good cinematography are the easiest ways to sell 'film look'.

It's not one particular thing. Sometimes my group forfeits a high-concept 'look' for a more cinematic 'feel', which can be a cultivated product of script, the setting, and many other things.

Easiest fix is to overshoot, overshoot, overshoot on your footage so you have a lot to work with; and read books on cinematography. Others will tell you it's not all visual, not all cinematography - but at this level, it really is. It's got to look like a movie for you to believe it, and if not, it has to get at least halfway there.

If you can't bring lights to a location, consider using a generator or car battery. Use the sun and available light where it falls in unique shadows or shapes. My short film Pages, which is I think (in cinematic pacing sense) is the best cinematography I've done in anything, and it was three years ago. Notably, though, Pages uses no lights, all outdoor stuff. Note how I used the underside of a bridge to give the whole initial setting shade, which contrasts with the bright, burning sun out in the floodplain - which sets us up for the brief, blistering walk the protagonist does barefoot across the plain.

It's all about visualizing what would look good, how it would fit into a real movie, then go item-by-item as to what you can improve. No lights? Okay, is there an interesting location you can shoot at to feel intimate? Single location? Okay, is there a way to edit the shots to increase the dramatic tension in the scene? Can the actors do something to change things?

Filmmaking is a delicate balance between many elements, especially in student films. If one domino falls, you luckily can stop the whole chain from being ruined if you compensate enough in one area. But it takes talent and dedication, and you have to know (at least progressively) what you're doing.

Want a film look? Cinematography comes first, then, in my book. Read up.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 7:49pm

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Thrawn

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How dare you ask a filmmaking question on a filmmaker's forum! I'm glad someone gave you a -1, which is completely what you deserve.. (Seriously guys, he's asking a question)

To answer your question, there are a number of things that can make your movie feel more like "film". By film, I'm assuming you mean more "cinematic" rather than looking like literal film*. The most important elements are, of course, cinematography and lighting. Like Ben, I'd suggest reading up on some cinematography techniques that go beyond the rule of thirds. Also, watch some high quality films and pay attention to each shot they use. You'll learn a lot and may find a few that you yourself may want to try. Lighting is also a big part of making a movie feel more cinematic. Three point lighting is a good place to start, but do some experimenting in your free time and see what enhances the emotion your trying to get across.

Though lighting and cinematography are easily the most important in making your product more cinematic, sound can also play a subtle but significant role in selling your video. I know it isn't visual, so it may not help answer your question, but strong audio really helps to capture your audience. To me, nothing screams amateur more than poor audio. (Sorry Atomic wink )

A lot of what I've had to say mimics what has already been said by others, but that's my two cents. I hope it helps.

*If you did mean literal film, a shallow depth of field and some over layed film grain will do (maybe a bit of desaturation). However, this will fail to make your movie/video any more impressive if you ignore other elements that I've mentioned above.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 8:02pm

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ben3308

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I gave the -1, because this is the kind of post that should be skipped. It asks a vague question which solicits answers of all kinds, which don't really help anyone.

Also, totally disagree about sound. It's what sweetens the final mix, but if it doesn't look and feel like a movie, I don't buy it. And as far as I'm concerned, I have way further to go in improving visuals before I worry about sound (which isn't what I want to worry about in my future), so it's a tertiary concern. biggrin
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 8:24pm

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swintonmaximilian

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This is an impossible question to answer, because as has already been mentioned there are a lot of things that make something look like "film" (which I will also take to mean cinematic).

Really you should pay more attention to what looks good rather than what you feel is a cinematic template. Films can look very different, and what I think is the most cinematic look will be different from what Ben or Thrawn thinks is the most cinematic look for example. I like natural light for example, and I don't like heavy grading, I like well saturated, separated colours, a natural look. I hate the look of blockbusters, teal and orange, I think it looks ridiculous and when I see that look it usually looks very amateur.

And the whole rule of thirds thing isn't something you should really be set on following. It's good to know about it, but it's very dull if you approach a shot with the idea that if you use the rule of thirds it will look good. The composition of a shot should be motivated by the story, and the ideas and themes in the film, it should communicate something rather than just look nice.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 9:34pm

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DVStudio

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Seriously guys, he's asking a question
Ehh, the post certainly didn't deserve a +1 by any means, Thrawn...

Swintonmaximilian is right on. This isn't something we can just tell you- "oh these lights will look like a cinematic film" or "buy this software to make your movie better." Rather, it's a combination of your own creative style, video quality, grading, practical effects, proper lighting, and good acting skills.

These things generlaly make a good movie, but there are an unlimited number of elements that affect the quality of a production. It takes years of practice to really figure out what looks good, but I've found that the best way is to really just experiment and think about how shots were composed in other low-budget films and then try to play something off of that.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 9:38pm

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Thrawn

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DVStudio wrote:

wrote:

Seriously guys, he's asking a question
Ehh, the post certainly didn't deserve a +1 by any means, Thrawn...
I knew someone would call me out on that. The +1 wasn't me, actually. But hey, assumptions are cool.

I don't think there should be any ratings on that post. I think Ben was wrong for giving him a negative rating (if he wanted the question to be skipped over, he shouldn't have given an answer in the first place) but it's also not deserving of a one plus, especially when helpful posts that are more deserving get passed by everyday.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 9:50pm

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ben3308

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To give a -1 to someone is to denote that the post should be skipped. In many, offtopic cases it's a punitive action; but here it's really like this:

I want people to skip this question, so I am rating it down. That's the extent of my power there. It's also the reason the -1 button exists, if you read the forum rules. Obviously, people aren't going to totally avoid the thread, as there was already one answer, so there's no reason I myself can't try and be helpful in the thread.

Nothing personal, or punitive, and I'd like to help answer the questions. But when they are vague, lacking articulation, and repetitious of what's been seen here 100+ times, it's the right thing to skip this post. A forum is a commonwealth of thoughts and ideas wherein everyone should be able to learn. My own advice to the original post should also be read as advice to others who may stumble into this thread looking for similar answers. That's why forums work so well, there's a reciprocity of information.

However, because these questions are ill-advised and the responses are half-hearted criticisms at the very nature of the original inquiry, the results, as they were - and my own advice included in this thread - is lacking salience/cohesion, and is thus bad advice.

Because if you entered this thread as a non-member of this website and saw +1s on the top post and some meager advice below it, you may be encourage to believe this is all the information that there is to be had on the matter of 'film looks', and that would be wrong.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 10:55pm

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Thrawn

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ben3308 wrote:


Nothing personal, or punitive, and I'd like to help answer the questions. But when they are vague, lacking articulation, and repetitious of what's been seen here 100+ times, it's the right thing to skip this post. A forum is a commonwealth of thoughts and ideas wherein everyone should be able to learn. My own advice to the original post should also be read as advice to others who may stumble into this thread looking for similar answers. That's why forums work so well, there's a reciprocity of information.
When a legitimate question is asked that you find vague (or "lacking articulation"), I believe the proper response is ask them to modify or present their question more clearly. If the question has been asked/answered before, than link to another thread that has answered the question.

But instead you answered the question in a rather large post. The fact that you did this, in addition to not asking him to expand upon his question, encourages me to believe that you did have an understanding of what he was asking. And yet you still down voted him, which suggest to new members that they should not ask questions. After all, they could be down voted by people that do/don't understand their question.

Before you go on down voting new users with a curiosity in bettering themselves and their films, ask yourself, what would pdrg do?
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 11:16pm

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ben3308

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I have an understanding of what he's asking because I'm smart and have been on these forums for years and know what I'm talking about. New users, and passerby in the forums don't have this same insight. Arrogance aside, that's just how the exchange of information customarily works.

Moreover, because my post is long and kind of all-over-the-place, I negative rated the post because had the question been clearer (or even a question in some objective form) the answer could've been more direct, to-the-point and tailored to specifics; but it wasn't, so the response was long and vague akin to the question.

If it was 'how do I get better angles, lighting, etc' I could link to some books, some websites, etc for help, but that wasn't the question and I felt it may be going too far to assume as much.

I feel like this negative rating is one of the most appropriate I've ever given out, actually. I would genuinely want people to ignore that question, that line of inquiry, and that vagueness; but didn't want to be a dick - so I supplied my own insights after hazarding a guess as to what the original poster meant. It's not a 'reader's discretion' thing at this point, and it's not up to whether or not the viewer adequately understands the question. There's nothing there to be understood. The question has both been answered before and yet, simultaneously, it fails to even be a real question. There's not an answer there, because the inherent premise of any 'question' there is that there are underlying 'truths' of something looking like a movie. Maybe there are, but if the original poster fails to supply articulation or evidence as to what, in particular, they're having trouble with, there's no good way to help them.

"Does editing help make it look professional?"
Like this. What kind of question is this? How can someone not understand? This kind of question leads me to believe that the original poster has some self-discovery to do in their filmmaking efforts before anyone can answer questions for them. There's no starting point here - because editing, yes, makes film more professional. But what about it? The technical precision? The contribution to creative storytelling? The visual tweaking? This, unlike, "how can I color grade something to look like a movie" (which has a few obvious answers), is totally unanswerable.

If someone is seeking truth - which is, in essence, the goal of any question - then it is the obligation of the curious party to supply as much information as they can to get the best answers possible. The original question did not supply enough information, and cannot be adequately answered. By anybody. That's just how it is. And that's what I would like to discourage, hence the -1.

It's pretty straightforward, actually.
Posted: Thu, 24th Feb 2011, 11:47pm

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Sollthar

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There is such a thing as a "wrong question". This is one. There will be no real answer to it because there is none. Hence the vote is absolutely justified in my opinion and I minus oned it as well on the basis of it being skippable for most users.

Also: Please do a search in the forums as this has been debated to the death many, many, many times before.
Posted: Fri, 25th Feb 2011, 12:45am

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RodyPolis

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'Film look' just depends on the person. For some people, if a video doesn't look like a home video then it has a film look.

Some people think that heavy contrast and f'ed up colors make it look like film. A lot of Youtube 'film look' videos fail that way.

I personally don't really pay attention to that whole film look thing anymore. When I'm filming and editing something I never think of making the video look like film. I just film, edit, and color the video so it looks good, not so it has a 'film look'

But to answer your question, here are some stuff I think make a video look more professional:

No hot spots. When you start having too dark parts and to bright parts in your image to me that makes it less 'professional.' I prefer a more even look. Look at movies, rarely will you

Contrast. I say even image is good, but I don't mean flat image. Contrast helps the image pop out more, and makes it feel like edited footage and not raw footage.

24p. Having your image at 24p helps with that film look.

So pretty much if you can have your image be even, contrasted, and play at 24p you'll have 90% of the world saying your stuff look like film smile
Posted: Fri, 25th Feb 2011, 10:12am

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Simon K Jones

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Rating: +1

Viktorious' question was perfectly clear, even if he didn't understand the full ramifications of what he was asking. If we -1 people who aren't as well informed as us and encourage others to ignore their questions, then eventually we end up creating a community in which nobody knows anything except an elite few.

As Thrawn has said, if you don't think someone's question has worth you don't have to go into detail replying - a simple link to previous topics, or even a note to use the search would suffice, so that Viktorious would then know where to continue his research.


Anyway, as to the topic at hand...

It's been covered nicely by people already above, but I just wanted to point out that there's no such thing as a single 'film look'. Analyse any 5 films and they'll all look completely different (well, unless they use that crappy, generic Michael Bay look that swinton mentioned...).

It's about combining all of your efforts to attain a professional quality, which doesn't necessarily mean having glitzy cinematography.
Posted: Fri, 25th Feb 2011, 10:29am

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Atom

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Tarn wrote:

that crappy, generic Michael Bay look
If you're considering the highest-caliber of technical, cinematographic, edited, post-processed, meticulously-orchestrated-and-lit sequence footage by arguably the most-notable and talented technical, visual directors currently living to be a look that is "crappy" and "generic". Well, then sure.
Posted: Fri, 25th Feb 2011, 10:39am

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Simon K Jones

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Even the most amazing style very quickly becomes generic and dull if it's used in every single major blockbuster movie.

I was a big fan of the Michael Bay/Transformers 1 look when it first appeared. Unfortunately everybody else then copied it so much that it's become a bit of a parody visual style.

It's the grading equivalent of the Matrix bullet time shot at the turn of the last decade. smile
Posted: Sat, 26th Feb 2011, 9:48pm

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mercianfilm

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There's been some very sound advice from a lot of members about cinematography and lighting and such(There's even more if you spend time searching the archives and also the film making guide that's at the top of the forum index page- the stuff there is invaluable) One thing i have noticed about low budget films that you would think should be a priority but is often neglected is acting. Sometimes film makers get so wound up making their sfx look top notch that they forget they look like teenagers running around in their back garden with plastic guns. Acting is all about selling a character to an audience, for example if you act and dress like my earlier example people aren't going to take your film as seriously as you want them to- no matter how good your grading or muzzle flashes are. But if you can make your actors appear to be a whole different character and the audience buys it then you would succeed in my eyes. A lot of young film makers films look like it's just them and a bunch of friends having a bit of fun pretending to blow stuff up (Which, of course, it should be, but behind the scenes)they only achieve that 'film look' when all the components are in the right place and i think acting is one of the biggies and should be ranked alongside the more technical aspects of creating a film. Here's Sollthar's acting guide which you may or may not have read yet but it is a real gem :

http://fxhome.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=43183

Also i would take ben3308 advice and read as much as you can on all aspects of film making- be really broad minded as well.
Posted: Sun, 27th Feb 2011, 2:57am

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Viktorious

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Thanks for that guys. What I was trying say is, sometimes you have the look of a generic movie or a generic shot that looks dull, boring and just plain generic. So how do you fix it? Sorry that I'm not as "intelligent" as ben3308 and for the very unclear question from a stupid beginner.

I'll try and restate the question. What sources will guide me in understanding how to frame each shot? Whats's interesting?

Thanks Tarn for the kind words. I think you are my favorite member on here. Not trying to kiss up just complementing you on your choice of words. Thanks
Posted: Sun, 27th Feb 2011, 4:48am

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DVStudio

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Viktorious wrote:

Sorry that I'm not as "intelligent" as ben3308 and for the very unclear question from a stupid beginner.
Mhm, that's what I'm talking about. wink

Kidding aside, perhaps checking out some of Ben and FCRabbath's work, as well as that of the other users on this forum will give you an interesting idea of how to combine angles and compose shots to look good. I would steer clear of making it 'look like film' and concentrate on actor/camera/ placement and lighting. This isn't really something we can just tell you, but perhaps looking for some books- Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, Practical DV Filmmaking- or reading the film making guide here and here, would really be a step in the right direction?

I wouldn't commit yourself to the books though, but rather, use them as a starting point and work from there. I know a few people who have tried to go by the book entirely, and it hasn't quite worked out. wink Rather they take the words by one person and think that's the only way it should be, but honestly, experience is everything in this field. So get out and practice, practice! It’s the only way you’ll learn and improve.
Posted: Sun, 27th Feb 2011, 12:40pm

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Pooky

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Viktorious wrote:

Thanks Tarn for the kind words. I think you are my favorite member on here. Not trying to kiss up just complementing you on your choice of words. Thanks
Hey! Quit kissing up!
Posted: Sun, 27th Feb 2011, 7:52pm

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Viktorious

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Thanks DV. I'll check and see if any libraries have a copy. I read Solthairs posts a while ago and just now to refresh my memory. I think what I'm missing in my shots is the light. I filmed a spy action short movie with some friends two or three months ago and some of the shots looked cheesy but some (the ones with really nice lighting) looked very good.(if I say so my self)smile

How do you guys personally set up lights? If the sun isn't available how do you make the lights look like the sun and not like lights?
Posted: Sun, 27th Feb 2011, 11:01pm

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DVStudio

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Use reflectors and diffusers to bounce the light on your actors and set.

If you're going for a cheap, DIY solution, often times parchment paper or a shower curtain liner works well when tacked to a wooden frame. For a reflector, card board with tin foil taped on or a large piece of white poster board ought to do the trick.

Hope that helps man! wink
Posted: Sun, 27th Feb 2011, 11:25pm

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RodyPolis

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There is no reason to go DIY on reflectors when you can get this: http://www.amazon.com/110CM-Multi-Disc-Light-Reflector/dp/B002ZIMEMW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1298848830&sr=8-2

I picked up two of those last summer and they work great. 43 inch covers a lot, and you have 5 different sides!
Posted: Sun, 27th Feb 2011, 11:28pm

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DVStudio

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Compared to the good ones that I seen used (and that were featured on FilmRiot) costing over $100, DIY is a better route. wink

But those are a good buy...
Posted: Mon, 28th Feb 2011, 12:56am

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RodyPolis

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Better how? Buying a shower curtain, wooden frame (guess you'd have to make that), aluminum foil... then you have to put all that together is better than just spending 12 bucks?

Or are we talking about different kinds of reflectors here? Lol I'm talking about the kind someone holds to bounce light.
Posted: Mon, 28th Feb 2011, 1:07am

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DVStudio

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No, no. What I was saying was that the ones you linked are better than DIY, but if the OP didn't care to spend $100+ on a reflector, he could easily make them at home... You see, I hadn't been aware of the $12 reflectors at the time.

Dunno where the confusion was, heh wink
Posted: Mon, 28th Feb 2011, 4:15pm

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Viktorious

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Thanks I'll do that.