Passive Watching or Engaging the Viewer

In 2010, I watched for the first time, Errol Morris’ documentary “The Fog of War”. This insightful film introduced me to an engaging alternative to the traditional interview style of the subject looking off camera.

Somehow I’ve never really felt comfortable with the subject looking off camera – as though I had become a passive observer of a discussion taking place with someone else. 

I wanted to feel as though I was being spoken to – engaged in the dialog directly.

To illustrate my point, below are two frame grabs from the film of interviews done with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

The first image below shows the established looking off camera interview style:

Next is the technique of direct engagement of the person being interviewed by looking into the camera:

To me, there’s a major difference in how I respond to each image – and when watching the film.  The first image: I feel as though I’m a passive observer, almost intruding on a discussion between the people involved in the interview.  The second image: gives me a sense of direct engagement – as though I’m being spoken to directly about the topic being discussed.

As a multimedia journalist and short form advocacy filmmaker, it’s my job to tell my clients story to the viewer.  I have found moving to the looking into the camera lens style for interviewing my subjects in clients projects has raised the bar of quality in my work  – and my clients have commented on how unique and engaging the final project appears to them.

Since meeting the clients needs is my job, I’m content with that.

As a filmmaker, How do you define yourself?

A newsletter from Den Lennie of F-Stop Academy arrived in my email inbox this morning asking this very question.

As content creators of moving images, if our intention is to charge clients for our film making services then this question should be contemplated.

I call myself a “Hybrid Digital Filmmaker” – having originally come from a background as a photojournalist.  I have been telling stories since the late 80’s with still images.  The transition to moving images reignited my passion for the art form.

According to Lennie, How much is there in a name or title? Well, if you read any of the popular film making blogs, it seems that it’s commonplace to call yourself a DoP or Cinematographer.

I have issue with how liberally shooters label themselves with an important title like that given the mediocre quality of their work.

Lennie continues with listing three different definitions within the Digital Filmmaking community:

Definition 1: The Director of Photography is the Cinematographer who is responsible for the process of recording a scene as instructed by the Director. Duties include selection of film, cameras and lenses, as well as selecting the lighting. The Director of Photography directs the Gaffer’s placement of lighting.

Definition 2: A Cinematographer is a person who has expertise in the art of capturing images either electronically or on film through the use of visual recording devices. Also responsible for the selection and arrangement of lighting. The Director of Photography is the movie’s chief Cinematographer.

Definition 3: Cinematography is the art of photography and camerawork in film making.

So, how do you define yourself? And more importantly, how do your clients see you? Do they really care what you call yourself?

Have you heard the phrase ‘Perception IS reality’. Be sure to give this statement pause to contemplate how it can affect your image for others. If you want to be “cool” in front of your peers, then maybe DOP is the right title (just make sure you can deliver what it says on the tin). IMO, too many shooters use the term quite often when in reality they have no idea what it takes to earn that title.

However, here’s a far more important consideration. Ask yourself this, what are clients looking for?

Clients and customers ONLY care about one thing: themselves and their problem and… are you the right solution to fix that problem?

They have on or a mix of the following:

  • A Need 
  • A Want
  • A Desire
  • A Pain
  • A Concern

What they REALLY want is a solution. The question is, can you come up with an imaginative and engaging film that tells a story and addresses those needs and desires the client is seeking a resolution to?

Without the experience to truly tell their story, you are remiss in calling yourself a DoP, Director, etc.  Ego tends to be the driving force in using such titles.  And it seems the more one has gone into debt for in the accumulation of equipment, the more shooters feel entitled to call themselves filmmakers, DoP,’s etc.

Our skills as  Digital Film makers can and should draw on influences from the cinema, and that level of differentiation will impress any client – so long as it delivers the message and answers the question and solves the problem they had in the first place.

SONY Upgrades the PMW-F3 to “Mini-Alexa”

Sony has released details of their paid firmware upgrade for the SONY PMW-F3 and the buzz around it is bring a happy dance to those who use it now or for those looking to move in that direction.

The CBK-RGB01 upgrade for the F3 will allow for 4:4:4 uncompressed output over 3G-SDI (the next-generation of HD-SDI) or dual-link HD-SDI, four pre-loaded look up tables (LUTs), five custom LUTs, and most importantly an S-LOG workflow — essentially it’s more of a RAW workflow, which Sony is claiming improves dynamic range by a staggering 800%!

All of these new features come at a price: $3,300. While this may seem to be alot of money for a firmware upgrade, filmmakers interested in those enhanced features will be working on well-funded projects. As a comparison, a 4:4:4 recorder like the Cinedeck costs $10k alone.

While it’d be nice to have the upgraded features enabled by default, Sony is playing it by allowing shooters to get their foot in the door for a lower priced stock F3 camera, with hopes that those very filmmakers will pony up for the future upgrades.

This upgrade justifies the SONY F3 being called a “mini ALEXA” when you consider the Arri Alexa is a $75,000 camera body and the SONY PMW-F3 body sans lenses with firmware upgrade is $17,000.

IMO, The SONY PMW-F3 is bringing a level of technical quality that is more within reach of dedicated digital filmmakers.

MPEG Streamclip Rocks!

MPEG Streamclip combined with AVID’s DNxHD and SD codec’s has got to be the best solution I’ve found to date to transcode HD & SD footage – even to convert DVD files..

MPEG Streamclip and AVID’s DNxHD codec should be two of the defacto post production tools for any HDSLR filmmaker.  Make sure you have Apple Quicktime Player installed as well.  My blog posting for why you should be using digital intermediates – specifically AVID DNxHD Intermediates – goes into detail as to why this is a near perfect post production workflow tool set solution.

If you’re not using this setup – you should be.

‘Nuff said.