Shooting a scene for a movie can be a daunting task. There are many things that need to be arranged in order to get the perfect shot. From the actors’ performances to the lighting and camera angles, it takes a lot of skill and coordination to make it all look seamless. Of course, all of it comes down to the collaboration between the cinematographer and the director, and how they bring their vision to life. There’s a lot that goes into shooting the perfect scene, and not all of the variables are under the artist’s control. A cinematographer’s job is to be aware of all the factors that can affect how your final product looks. Thus, coordinating and having the right tools and equipment on hand is crucial, in order to create stunning visuals.
Let’s take a look at the basic requirements for a cinematographer to shoot that perfect scene.
Assessing your tools
Before you can begin work on any project, it helps to have an idea of what you want to create. To do so, one must familiarise themselves with the tools and resources available to them, and figure out how to use them best.
Find your artistic vision for the project
The first and most important thing is a clear vision. You need to have a good understanding of what the director wants, and how you can best achieve it with your team. This means being able to communicate effectively with everyone involved, and collaborating closely with the director to make sure all the pieces come together correctly.
Getting to know your resources and crew
Secondly, you need to be well-prepared for any situation that may arise. This includes having a variety of camera angles and shooting setups at your disposal, as well as knowing how to use them in order to capture the scene exactly as intended. It’s also important to be familiar with your equipment and know how to troubleshoot any problems, technical as well as professional, that may come up on set.
Thirdly, you need strong organisation skills. This includes planning the shooting schedule in advance, making sure all the necessary equipment is on hand, and ensuring that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.
Creating an effective filming process
Once you have your plan in place, it’s time to put it into action. This means being able to work quickly and efficiently under pressure, while still maintaining high standards of quality. You also need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances, as things rarely go according to plan on a movie set.
Prepare for the vision you want to see in the film
Before the film can be shot, it helps to familiarise the cast and crew with the tone and texture a cinematographer may have in mind. To that end, creating a shot list, utilising storyboard techniques and basically forming a visual roadmap for the film can be immensely useful. Collaborating with directors, actors and technical crew on how certain scenes should look and feel goes a long way in creating a rich language and atmosphere for the film.
Assess your environment
If the film is being shot on location, making oneself familiar with the area, and getting a firsthand experience of light, angles and spacing greatly helps the cinematographer plot camera placement in such a way that each shot has the maximum impact. It will also allow you to create a highly expressive mise en scène that will complement the story, while looking visually sumptuous.
Visuals should complement the storytelling
Colour palettes and lighting should always go hand in hand. Cinematographers must be very particular about the colour temperature of light and how it will affect not just the actors but also the overall tone of the scene. If the surroundings are not conducive to the colour palette of a particular scene, it could take the viewer out of an immersive experience. Staking out set-pieces and locations before shooting commences is a good way to avoid any clash, or figure out feasible alternatives.
Plan an effective workflow – Block, Light, Rehearse, Tweak, Film
The key to success lies in the tried-and-tested five step method for filming a scene. Blocking, lighting, rehearsing, tweaking, and filming. With the preparations detailed above, the idea is to ensure a smooth process between one step to the other.
While blocking, lighting and rehearsing will lend authenticity to the scene, tweaking according to the needs of the actors and director is extremely necessary to get a polished final product that is ready to fire on all bases.
Collaborating and finding a creative middle ground
In a project as massive as filmmaking, things are bound to go wrong on set at some point. This is where your ability to compromise comes in handy. Cinematographers need to be able to work with what they have, and make the most out of every situation. This may mean shooting scenes using less than ideal lighting conditions, or improvising when something unexpected happens. It’s all about being creative and resourceful under pressure, and making sure that no opportunity for a great shot is missed.
Filmmaking is a process and not an end goal
No matter how well you plan or how talented you are as an artist, there will always be some problems that will need fixing along the way. This could mean working with limited resources, or accommodating last-minute changes from the director. Roll with the punches and make the most of every situation, even if it’s not exactly what you had in mind.
Know when to let go
It is crucial to have a sense of flexibility and allow oneself to take advice from crew and cast members. Total artistic control may sound fantastic, but timely input from actors and technicians can improve a scene tenfold. Even when it may not seem to fit with your sense of style, it’s necessary to keep an open mind.
Take control of the resources available to you
Many professionals in the industry often advise filmmakers to plan their shoots around natural light, and not the other way around. While that remains up for discussion, the idea is to accommodate the filming process in a way that you can take advantage of simple elements like natural lighting, optimal weather, etc. These tweaks may seem insignificant, but in the end, they will make a huge difference to the final look and feel of the film.
In the end, shooting a movie is a complex, creative process, and not a simple task to be crossed off a list. There are many elements that can and will go wrong, and there will be some creative liberties that will have to be taken along the way. That does not mean that you have failed as a cinematographer. Any improvisation underlines the importance of originality, and is an integral part of the process. With careful planning, strong execution, and some compromises along the way, you can create visuals that will stun audiences.
These tips, tricks and tools may seem like fairly obvious steps to be undertaken before filming. But the devil is in the details. By fine-tuning these few elements, you’re all set to capture that perfect shot you need!