There are tons of ‘Rules’ for filmmakers. We like to boil the art form down to a few simple steps, and I’ll admit that it’s fun to make these lists. There’s the ‘180-degree Rule’, the ‘Rule of Thirds’ for composition, and even Roger Corman had a list of rules for directors, like ‘Prioritize your shots’ and ‘Wear Comfortable Shoes’.
I’ve got a couple of my own sets of ‘Rules’. When I shot my third Feature Film, a romantic comedy titled ‘The List’, I got some great advice from the Production Manager Terry Spazek. I respected him very much as he had way more experience than I did, and the director and I were fairly young. He gave me some great tips on how to craft good Cinematography on a low budget.
1. Frame in Depth – shoot a person along a wall, not into a wall. Shooting a person standing in front of a wall is usually flat and boring, but if you move the camera 90 degrees and shoot down the wall, you’ll see more depth. This adds production value and offers more interesting lighting options.
2. Backlight — Try and work a backlight in on the talent as much as you can. Backlights create separation between the subject and the background, and can dramatically improve the look of the lighting. They take more work on the part of the lighting crew and they’re not always appropriate, but I often tell people this is where I like to start lighting a scene. Some people like to start with the key light or the background lighting, but I often like to first see the backlight and take it from there. Of course, it could be a really large, strong backlight that I want to start with, perhaps through a window or other motivated source.
3. Keep the Camera Moving – Dolly, slider, handheld, crane, Steadicam. Whatever it takes. Static cameras tend to be flat and two-dimensional.
All three of these tips require more effort on the DP’s part but they really enhance the look of the movie. The most important thing in filmmaking is to tell the story, not just to make a pretty shot. My directors and I break these rules all the time!
Stay Tuned for my ‘2 Rules of Lighting’ and my ‘3 Rules to Set a C-Stand’! 🙂