Just got your First Video Camera?
5 Easy Steps to Being the Next Steve Spielberg
Whether you want to produce your own independent feature-length film, or you just want to record your daughter’s birthday party, knowing some tricks movie-makers use can make your home videos look more professional.
- Use a tripod. You can pay extra to get a tripod that attaches to your camera, or you can create natural tripods, by placing the camera on a stack of books, on a table or any sort of ledge. If you must shoulder shoot, hold your breath and count to ten before changing the composition of the shot. “Shaky cams” are used effectively in features to elicit certain moods, but most amateur productions look better when they’re shot smoothly.
- Shoot like the eye sees. This means shoot in sequences: wide shot, medium shot, close up. In real life, your eyes don’t pan or zoom, so use these features on your camera sparingly. You can make your audience seasick if you don’t.
- Tell a story. The best directors make sure there’s a beginning, middle and end. As the boy Cole in The Sixth Sense advises the doctor who’s making a lousy attempt at a bedtime story, “You need some twists.” Jaws wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting if the shark were caught right after the first body washed up on shore. Even with your daughter’s birthday party, you can tell a story. The beginning might be the clean house or the anticipation of having guests arrive. The middle could be the cake and presents, and the end could be a messy house with a contented little girl playing with her Hot Wheels and Barbies.
- Watch the lighting. Although today’s sophisticated cameras work well in low light, many novices could do a better job by lighting their subject better. Another common mistake occurs when the action or subject is back lit. This means the light floods the camera, creating a silhouette effect. An easy way to avoid this problem is to make sure the light is coming from the same direction that the camera is pointing.
- Think masterpiece! The great impressionists knew the rule of thirds: more grass or more sky. In other words, the composition of your shot should not divide the frame of your camera exactly in half, but more in thirds. At your daughter’s birthday party, for a vertical composition, you’d want two-thirds of the donkey, and one-third of the boy pinning the tail. For a horizontal composition, you might want to show two-thirds of a huge stack of presents and the bottom third is tissue, wrapping and ribbons from the opened gifts.
Part of the challenge of shooting like an Oscar-winning filmmaker is that the good ones make it look easy. But the skills can be self-taught. One way to learn is to study good cinematography. Watch famous directors and note the differences between Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Frank Darabont, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. Ask yourself questions: What makes that scene breathtaking? How do lighting and shadows enhance the picture? How does the framing of the shot create good composition? How does sequencing advance the action and tell a story?
When you can answer these questions, you will probably not watch a movie or even a commercial the same way ever again. The best part is, you will know how to create your own classics. Get busy and good luck!
Lorri Allen is a journalist and professional speaker married to an independent filmmaker. For more information about her services, call the numbers below or e-mail her at:firstname.lastname@example.org