Directorial Decisions: Camera format
I often used to wonder if it is a case of mistake or design which gives a film its final look, or feel if you will. After several years of working in the film industry, as an Assistant Director, and Director’s Assistant, I had ample opportunity to find out the answer to this question.
The first thing to consider is, there are rehearsed practices and procedures that are adhered to in filmmaking, for sake of ease for those who work day to day, the producers, the co-ordinators, the assistants, diary planners etc. The second thing to consider is, when it comes to the creative element of a film, there is simply nothing that is rehearsed or standardised. It is like creating a new technology with every film.
On the set of ‘Casting’ in 2011
So when it comes to designing a look for a film, picking a camera format is obviously a huge part of this. In my experience, the other key parts are the production design (sets, props), costume design and in some cases, the cast and supporting cast. All these things swirl into a unique and engaging tableau on your screen.
On the Set of ‘Writers Room’ in 2014
My decision, as a director, and I must mention now, I am not, and never want to be a DOP or cinematographer, I am a director, and sometimes when allowed the privilege, a writer/director. My decision as a director in regard to the camera format, is a huge derivative of my original question from all those years ago. ‘Is it mistake or design that gives a film it’s final look?’. This instinctively leads me to ask myself another question about the film which is invariably prompted by that first question, What is the film’s final look?
On the Set of ‘The Three of Us’ in 2015
The film’s final look, to me, is a question of its personality, the façade it wants to present to me as an audience member. Films can assimilate a traditional, innovative, intense, grandiose, ridiculous or terrifying shape. Defining the personality of a project is key for me when deciding on other visual elements, the camera format, the sets and locations, the costumes, the cast and ultimately, the direction.
On location in Spain for ‘In The Heart of the Sea’ in 2013
When I worked on Rush (2013), Ron Howard and Anthony Dod Mantle, were keen to bring the racing and the cars to life, for the audience to feel the mechanic, chaotic energy of a Formula 1 car during the action sequences. They also had to balance it being a period piece, of the 1970s. Their solutions, if I may touch on them in a very simple way, were incredibly effective, with the use of lenses famed for their application on The Godfather (1972), and also, with the use of Indycams. These tiny cameras that we were able to attach to the cars during high speed sequences, and at times even attach to moving rigs, added much celebrated movement to the camera. The personality of the film, a period adrenaline filled story of two rivals, was brought to life for a modern audience as a result. As well as choices with costume, and casting as well. Obviously there is a lot more that goes to creating this finished atmosphere, but for the sake of this piece I’ll keep it prompt.
On location in France for ‘The Three of us’ in 2015
Back to my tiny, minuscule films in comparison, I try and adopt these lessons and attitudes. I sit down, and I first asses what we can afford, I have a look at a budget, and I go from there. I’m not in the position to go around demanding a camera package that costs a few grand a day, and I actually celebrate that fact. Most first time directors simply walk into each project asking what is the best camera out there right now, which are the best lenses out there. That’s great if you want to make commercials for the rest of your life, but in my opinion, an ignorant attitude to have when it comes to filmmaking. In reality, directors should be asking themselves several key questions, what do I want to feel whilst watching this film, what do I want the audience to feel, and what do I want to do with the camera, and unfortunately what can I afford/have access to?
On the Set of ‘The Three of Us’ in 2015
If you can begin to answer some of these questions then you will find a visual space for your film to operate and flourish in. You will find visceral beauty in the most unexpected of places when making films, which is why I love the medium and why it is an art form. So… don’t ask what’s best in terms of camera and look, but rather, what is most appropriate for my film?