Read installment 1 here (on Canon log, waveform monitors & hiring the best documentary DP) and installment 2 here (on lighting dark skin, SLRs and recreating ‘Sex and the City’) if you missed them both.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Before you dive in, here’s a reminder of my initial announcement, to remind you what this new series is about, and, for those who may just be joining us…
Her much-anticipated monthly columns on all things cinematography, have contributed much to this blog’s success in a myriad of ways, since she started penning them in 2012, much to the appreciation and education of the many who read each and everyone – the two most popular likely being "The Art of Lighting Dark Skin for Film and HD" and "A Cinematographer’s Plea to the Budding Film Auteur: Move Your Camera." Cybel Martin’s pieces have been so widely-read, so much that even the late Roger Ebert, before his death last year, shared one of them on Twitter, which we were all incredibly appreciative of, given the many hundreds-of-thousands of followers he has. Needless to say, that specific post was at the top of the most visited S&A articles for that year (2012). Cybel has already covered a lot of ground since her first post, and in order to assist in ensuring that she continues to inform and delight, we both agreed that a bi-monthly column – in which she’ll essentially hold court, fielding specific questions from YOU, the reader – was a great idea! So, you’re encouraged to email any cinematography-related questions (whether you’re a pro filmmaker, or just getting started, or somewhere between) to Cybel at AskCybel@gmail.com. I’m sure she’ll really appreciate it if you kept your questions direct and professional. She’ll then publish bimonthly posts, answering as many questions posed as she’s able to. Obviously, your participation is necessary to maintain this new series; so don’t hesitate to use it, otherwise, it’ll go away! This is something we’ve never done before, so we might make adjustments along the way, if necessary, as engagement evolves. In the meantime, "Ask Cybel" at AskCybel@gmail.com. You can also be anonymous, for those who don’t want their names published.
And without further ado, here’s the second installment of #AskCybel in basic question/answer order.
Jennifer Merchant from Toronto, Canada here. I haven’t started making my movies yet but when I do I want to know how Woody Allen made "Midnight in Paris" look so beautiful? The cinematography is breathtaking, how do I do that?
Thank you and have a great day,
I loved "Midnight in Paris" for the cinematography (and how close Owen Wilson’s idealism resembled my own). When I started film school, I got a subscription to American Cinematographer Magazine and kept every issue. I also ordered back issues to study the tricks of Veteran DPs. My magazine collection took up a sizable chunk of my apartment. Luckily, most of that information is now readily available online. You can subscribe to ACM online or just google a film title and its Cinematographer (search on Imdb) and you’ll find a number articles on "how he/she got that look".
Since you are new to film production, I suggest you keep it simple. Find three elements of "Midnight in Paris" that you love and focus on recreating that. It won’t look exactly the same but you should feel proud of your results.
From Studio Daily: "Khondji [the cinematographer] says for Midnight in Paris, he took inspiration from George Bellows paintings and photos from the 1920s. He shot Kodak film stock in 3-perf Super 35, sometimes pull-processing. He found the right lenses for the 20s scenes, Cooke Speed Panchro Series II and III, collecting dust on the shelves at Panavision in Paris. Khondji felt that the older coatings – or lack of coatings – helped render the right feel. The period images were darker and warmer."
My advice would be, assuming your HD camera has the ability, to
1. chose picture profiles/ scene files that desaturate your colors. That is one of the results of pull-processing 35mm film.
2. Use a camera with exchangeable lenses. Purchase, rent or borrow old still photography lenses. New or digital lenses will feel too sharp and modern. Old Nikons, for example, might be beat up but those aberrations are what create the aesthetic.
3. Light your scenes with indoor / tungsten bulbs or candles. These light sources have a "color temperature" that is warmer than daylight. Warmer light will help recreate the romanticism and whimsy. Diffuse the lights so they are flattering to your actors’ faces.
Bonus: chose locations and set decorations from the 1920s and 30s. Research "Jazz Age" and "Art Deco".
Today I stumbled upon your article "When It Comes to Films and Travel Shows Shot Abroad Who Else Should Be In Front of or Behind the Camera?" on Indiewire. After reading, I knew I had to contact you.
I would love to ask about your experiences regarding working abroad. How did you find opportunities to travel for work? What can I do to create those opportunities for myself? I would appreciate your help as I have a lot to learn.
Thank you for your time
You’ve touched on one of my greatest passions. This is how I’ve been able to work and travel:
1. Teach film. I was able to travel to Nigeria and Belize multiple times as a film instructor. Both countries initiated workshops to happen simultaneously with their film festivals. My students were typically locals who did not have the resources to attend the festival but were eager to be acquainted with that world. I’ve taught both film theory and film production.
Advice: contact international film festivals and see if they are looking for workshop instructors. Several US based film festivals also conduct a festival abroad and should be easier to reach. The great part about working at international film festivals is you’ll meet programmers from other countries who might be able to hire you in the future. The last time I taught in Nigeria, I made friends with festival programmers from Berlin, Burkina Faso and Tanzania.
2. Shooting documentaries. I’ve shot in Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa and Western Europe for different productions. Getting those jobs is often more about your personality, second to your technical experience. Producers are more likely to bring you overseas if you have a track record for traveling to challenging locations, are low maintenance, calm under pressure, flexible and know how to keep a low profile.
Advice: do camera or sound on as many documentaries as possible. Say yes to any involving travel. Share your love for travel until it is synonymous with your name. The beauty of docs is we don’t always know where they’ll go. Recently, I learned that the person I am following for a doc (shooting in the NY Tri-state area) might be going to Sweden. Guess who gets to join her?!
3. I seek out the local film community whenever I travel. This has lead to new friends, work on the spot and being brought back on someone else’s dime.
How to meet film people abroad? My experience is the film and art communities are usually small. Everyone knows each other. Ask at art exhibits or concerts. The local tv stations are a great resource. Don’t be surprised if the tv videographer also shoots weddings, panel discussions, their own documentaries and underwater footage for Hollywood films.
I hope that helps.
As always, I encourage readers to offer additional tips in the comment section.
Email questions for #AskCybel at AskCybel(at)gmail.com. Indicate if you’d like your name published or kept anonymous.