Production tips 2010

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Production tips 2010

  1. 1. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>Although there are some notable exceptions, in the majority of fiction films, not much happens in dramatic terms in the first couple of minutes. So your job here is to establish character and narrative context for the audience and to set up some degree of enigma (a question that the narrative will answer in time). </li></ul><ul><li>Rather than show the titles first and then some action, it is preferable to observe the convention of cutting between title/action, title/action. This can either be done by selecting the ‘over black’ option on the editing software you are using in the titles menu, or by positioning the titles over the action, which is usually preferred if actors‘ names are to appear alongside their characters. </li></ul><ul><li>Some of the most memorable film scenes are opening/title sequences. Some famous examples from different genres are: Once Upon a Time in the West (in which diegetic sound is amplified with a total lack of dialogue to create audience anticipation); a Bond film (the Bond opening sequence has become a recurring motif; an established convention expected by the audience); Goodfellas (in which we hear the lead character narrate 'ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster ', thus situating us firmly in the mind of the anti-hero for the duration of the film); City of God (in which music, fast edits and clever narrative techniques introduce two inter-connected storylines and take the audience back twenty years in the process a strategy shared with Goodfellas); Four Weddings and a Funeral (in which the main character, Charles (played by Hugh Grant), and a friend swear a lot while rushing around getting dressed, thus establishing Charles as a likeable, though chaotic figure). </li></ul><ul><li>This list could go on for at least the rest of this book and all the examples would contrast with one another as there is no fixed approach to an opening sequence. Your sequence does, however, need to observe the one rule that every example follows: your job is to establish character and/or setting and to create enigma - to help the audience understand easily where we are, who is involved but, fundamentally, why we should be interested. It is likely that the time and resources available to you will determine a fairly economical approach to this. </li></ul>
  2. 2. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>Camera work and framing </li></ul><ul><li>Holding a shot steady is not as simple as you might think and mostly you should be using a tripod unless a hand-held realist/documentary effect is required. Most of your shots should be filmed with a camera that is not moving, so movement becomes an effective exception to the norm. Zooming is rarely used in film so it is best to avoid it unless you want the appearance of amateur footage. </li></ul><ul><li>As you are working in the medium of film, select a widescreen framing if you can, and remember that film uses fewer close-ups than TV (simply because the viewing screen is much bigger). You can select long shots, extreme long shots, mid-shots, close-ups and extreme close-ups. For film, it is suggested that you mostly use mid-shots and long shots, with close-ups used sparingly. </li></ul><ul><li>The 'rule of thirds' principle is useful for framing your shots. Imagine the frame is made up of nine squares (three squares by three). The off-centre areas are where the eye is drawn to, so it is best to avoid the central square and position objects and people just off-centre as this aids concentration on the image. </li></ul><ul><li>Combining shot types and distances is essential to the 'language of film'. Effective combinations include going from long shots to mid-shots and then to close-ups. This enables you to establish action, emphasise location and then move to detail and cutting between two-shots, over-the-shoulder shots and point-of-view shots to situate the audience during a conversation . </li></ul><ul><li>As far as camera angle is concerned, you need to consider power and neutrality. High-angle shots reduce the power of a character and low-angle shots increase it. A simple principle of framing is to ensure that characters have room above their heads and are not made to look strange by objects behind them and have space around them to show direction if they are moving. </li></ul><ul><li>Here are some simple tips that will help you avoid 'unforced errors': practise moving shots several times before recording, shoot far more footage than you need to make editing easier, test microphones are working before filming so you don't end up with a silent movie by mistake, ensure you have switched off the date and time on the camera, be prepared to film several takes of each shot, be a perfectionist and re-film a shot if the camera shakes or someone walks through the frame in error and make sure your batteries are charged! </li></ul>
  3. 3. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>Diegesis </li></ul><ul><li>A moving image media text creates meaning for the audience through the combination of diegetic and non-diegetic material, and particularly sound. </li></ul><ul><li>Diegetic material is that which exists in the world of the text itself, so that the characters are aware of it. Examples are dialogue, sound effects which are heard by characters (like thunder), background music which is heard by characters and dialogue between characters. Non-diegetic material is added purely for the audience, for example, atmospheric music, soundtrack music, voice-over or narration. </li></ul><ul><li>Some types of sound are both—for example, a character's thoughts in a voice-over are diegetic in that the character is aware of them, but non-diegetic in the sense that other characters are not. A good example of this is the film Taxi Driver, in which the non-diegetic music creates a haunting atmosphere while a voice-over of the main protagonist's thoughts situates us in the mind of a character losing his sanity. This technique (by the director Martin Scorsese) makes highly effective use of diegetic and non-diegetic elements placed deliberately in a state of confusion to defamiliarise the audience. </li></ul><ul><li>Another interesting example of the difference diegesis can make is the film Blade Runner. The studio inserted a film-noir style voiceover narration from Harrison Ford against the wishes of the director Ridley Scott, and it was only years later when the 'Director's Cut' was released without the voice-over that the audience realised the original has a less anchored, more ambiguous narrative. In the meantime the film had become a cult classic with the voice-over, featuring lines like 'I didn't know how long we would have together, but then again, who does?', a major aspect of the film's popular appeal. </li></ul>
  4. 4. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>Micro and macro origination </li></ul><ul><li>In order to shoot material that is appropriate, you need to adopt the micro-macro strategy. You may decide your fiction film will follow the conventions of a particular genre or style of film, in which case the micro elements—types of camera work, music, style of titles, dialogue, setting and pace—will add up to a macro theme and set of representations. For this reason it is important not to dive straight into filming the main task. </li></ul><ul><li>Make sure you spend time with storyboarding and ideas development first, so you can ensure that your approach to filming is not out of step with the conventions of the type of film you are making. </li></ul><ul><li>Put simply, if you are making a romantic comedy you need to follow a three-stage process. First, study romantic comedy conventions using the micro-macro strategy. Second, spend time developing a romantic comedy narrative that will be instantly recognisable to the audience for that type of film. Third, spend time planning to shoot and edit material which looks right for the genre, not only in terms of what is on the screen but also how it is filmed, edited and put together with sound and titles. </li></ul>
  5. 5. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>Mise en scène </li></ul><ul><li>Working as a student without access to the expensive resources and amounts of time that the film industry enjoy, mise en scene is the most difficult element of production to get right, but probably the one that reaps the greatest rewards for those that do. </li></ul><ul><li>Essentially it is about detail. Carefully choose costume, lighting, locations and props to create the kind of 'feel' and verisimilitude (believable world of the text) that is required. Then ensure that this is maintained shot by shot. </li></ul><ul><li>Simple mistakes that lots of students make are costume changes or haircuts mid-sequence, poor lighting or drastic contrasts in lighting mid-sequence, poorly chosen and unconvincing props and— as performance is another element of m/se en scene—bad acting. Although not part of the assessment, poor acting skills will undermine the overall flow of the narrative and the realism of the mise en scene, so try to use students who are more comfortable with performance (preferably those who are taking Drama as well as Media) for the leading roles. </li></ul>
  6. 6. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>Lighting </li></ul><ul><li>Most Media students do not have access to industry standard professional lighting equipment and this can undermine their creative intentions. However, there are a number of ways that careful attention to detail can overcome this problem. Here are five tips, which are informed by an article by Michael Massey (2004) for Media Magazine. </li></ul><ul><li>Use natural light—sunlight, in shadow, in mist, through rain—depending on the effect you need, and bearing in mind that you will have to be flexible about time if you need to wait for the right conditions. </li></ul><ul><li>Use cheap and cheerful artificial light—as long as you have carried out risk assessments, you can make use of candles, firelight, torches, car headlights, security lights, neon signs and street lighting. </li></ul><ul><li>Create colour filters—you can easily shine light through coloured liquids, vases, ornaments. </li></ul><ul><li>Position the light source for effect—lighting a scene from above, below or in an obscured way will create different kinds of atmosphere (m/se en scene), so experiment with this using the kinds of light source listed above. </li></ul><ul><li>Ultimately, lighting a scene is a scientific process. Massey describes the equation in helpful, clear terms: Once you have explored what your light sources can provide, experiment with the interaction of light with the objects in your frame. </li></ul>
  7. 7. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>Combining sound, image and titles </li></ul><ul><li>It is harder than it might seem to put footage together with appropriate sound and titles. You need to make very careful decisions about titles, choosing the most appropriate font, colour and size from the vast array that your software will present. In addition you must, though trial and error, end up with the most pleasing timing of titles for the audience. </li></ul><ul><li>You will need to make creative decisions about where to place each title, whether to place it over black between shots or over the action and how long each title stays on screen. You also need to understand what contribution each title is making to the audience's understanding of the narrative, the genre and the representational aspects that you need them to grasp quickly since this is an opening sequence. </li></ul><ul><li>In addition, you will be using music to add ambience to the start of your film. Here you must think very carefully about the semiotic function of music and ensure that what the music suggests to the audience is in keeping with the tone and pace of the drama you are unfolding. It is a good idea to test this out with audience members at an early stage of post-production so you can make changes if they do not respond as you expect. </li></ul>
  8. 8. PRODUCTION TIPS <ul><li>The grammar of non-linear editing </li></ul><ul><li>You will be using a non-linear video editing software package for your post-production work and you will be assessed on how well you can edit the material so that meaning is apparent to the viewer. To achieve this you need to observe the rules of grammar that apply to editing, creating continuity and the right rhythm and pace. Choosing the right kinds of transition is essential and the software you use is likely to offer an enormous range of effects. </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid choosing transitions that are exciting to use but do not reflect the conventions of the type of film you are constructing. Most editing is simple—hard cuts. You should be using hard cuts for at least 90 per cent of your sequence. The exception is where you place a transition between a title and images, but you should still be consistent—do not use a different type of transition for each title. </li></ul><ul><li>Your job is to make the editing invisible, so that the viewer believes in the reality of the fiction that is unfolding. A fade might be used to portray the passing of time, and if you are establishing tension or action early on in the sequence, you may choose to use a greater number of edits. Editing is all about the manipulation of time and space. You will manipulate space by editing between two simultaneous pieces of action, and manipulate time by editing between two shots to move the narrative forward and bypass unnecessary time that is not interesting to the story. A standard industry technique is to cut from one shot of a subject to a different subject and then back again, rather than moving immediately to the same image. </li></ul><ul><li>Editing allows you to do things that you can't in real life. The careful execution of these forms of manipulation without distracting or confusing the viewer is what we call the 'grammar of the edit'. </li></ul>

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