Right now I’m in pre-production on a new short film that I’ll be directing for The Memphis Film Prize. Hangry is a comedy about one elderly man’s attempt to right a lunchtime wrong. The shoot is scheduled for May 4-5 in Collierville, TN. In addition to an actor to play the main role of The Reverend, I will need extras to portray staff and residents of the nursing home location. If you would like to participate, please use the sign up link below or send an email to email@example.com.
I had an opportunity to attend this month’s Shoot & Splice, a monthly filmmaker forum presented by IndieMemphis and Crosstown Arts. The guest speaker was cinematographer Gabe Mayhan, whose reel includes shorts, features, documentaries, and broadcast projects. During a Q&A session, Gabe showed samples of his work while discussing his approach and thought process on each project. Here are some of the takeaways from his presentation that hopefully will help you on your next film project.
FILMMAKING IS COLLABORATIVE - There are many people on set who all contribute to the final product. Gabe was quick to point out how he couldn’t have done his job properly without a solid production designer who made sure that each set felt authentic.
HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DIRECTOR EARLY IN THE PROCESS - Go through the script with the director. Get an idea of his/her vision. Gabe pointed out that with the feature Antiquities, the director wanted the entire film to “feel like Grandma’s pillow.” That led to a very warm look overall. It also meant that Gabe couldn’t rely on the existing fluorescent lighting at the antique store location. He needed practicals to motivate his tungsten approach. And so he discussed his needs with the production designer (see #1 above) and they were able to secure low-hanging tungsten fixtures and add them to the set (see image below).
DIAGRAM EACH SET UP - Gabe admitted that this technique doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s something he does for each project. He will go through the shot list and plot a diagram for each camera set up, noting the placement of actors, the camera, and all G&E. That way, on the day of the shoot, there will be no questions as to what gear is coming off the truck. Gabe noted that for low-budget indie features, you will be working on a tight schedule (somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 days; sometimes 10-12) and diagramming each shot in pre-production will save the crew a lot of time on set.
EYE LINE SAYS A LOT ABOUT CHARACTER AND RELATIONSHIPS - For Antiquities, Gabe kept the main character’s eye line very close to camera, but always kept the eye lines of other characters further away from camera. Although it drove the Script Supervisor crazy, Gabe said this was a conscious choice on his part to subtly bring the viewer more into the main character’s head space. If you want to read more about eye line in the context of documentary filmmaking, read this post.
USE MORE WIDE ANGLE LENSES - Gabe said that he rarely shoots on a lens longer than 40mm. He touted the benefits of using wide angle lenses, like how they can help the cinematographer create great reveal shots (For an example, see the shot at 7:23 below). Wide angle lenses are also great for establishing spacial relationships between characters and communicating a sense of place. They put the viewer directly in the world that the characters inhabit.
CONSIDER SCREEN SIZE WHEN USING CLOSE-UPS - With today’s digital distribution models, people are watching more films on their personal devices, meaning that filmmakers can get away with super tight close-ups. However, if your film screens at a theater, bear in mind that a close-up that looked good on a TV or tablet might feel uncomfortable to an audience on a 50 ft. screen. Therefore, consider how your film will primarily be viewed when making your shot list and frame accordingly.
USE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE - Apps like Helios are invaluable tools for predicting where the sun will be at any given time of the day. This will help not only your exterior setups, but also interiors where outdoor lighting is an important element in the scene.
Overall, it was an excellent Q&A session with a lot of valuable information for current and aspiring cinematographers.
The Memphis Film Prize is back for its fourth year and I’ll once again be participating in the competition. Currently, I’m in pre-production on Hangry, a comedic short that I wrote which focuses on one old man’s attempt to right a lunchtime wrong.
If you would like to stay up to date on this project and find out how you can get involved, be sure to follow Hangry on Twitter and Like the official Facebook page. Right now I’m working on casting and crewing the film. Here are the roles I need to cast:
Audition sides are available. If you’re interested in submitting a video audition, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the script and the instructions on where to upload your audition video.
The Memphis Film Prize Launch Party is Thursday, February 7 at the Cove on Broad Ave. at 6:30pm. I’ll be there to discuss my film and to garner interest and support.
People who work in video production want two main things from every video they produce:
High production value
Emotional response from viewers
The first can be achieved with the proper equipment and the proper technical training. The second, however, can be more elusive.
How do you create a story that stimulates a meaningful, emotional response from viewers that inspires them to act?
Obviously, if there was one tried-and-true answer to that question that I could bottle and sell, I could retire now. But the following episode from the podcast Revisionist History provides some fantastic insight on human emotion. I think if you work in video production it’s worth a listen. There are some important lessons to be learned and practices to implement that will help your next story illicit the kind of emotion that you want.
Here’s the episode. In it, Gladwell explores the country music industry and why its songs feel so much sadder than any rock ‘n roll ballad. If you can’t listen to the full 45-minute episode, here are a few sections you can skip to:
Rather than provide you with my own take-aways, I’d like to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the Comments section. What stood out to you? What can we all do as video production professionals to ensure that our stories resonate with viewers?
And if you haven’t subscribed to Revisionist History, I encourage you to do so. It’s a fantastic podcast.