What is it that they don’t say about film in Italy? I’m Adele, a milanese filmmaking student now attending University of Arts London and in this article I’ll try to give you my top tips I learned about film in the UK.
As a former Liceo Classico student, I arrived in London with a theoretical and philosophical approach to cinema; as the Italian school system always focuses on concept, much research and only later on the practical aspect. As you may know, the British school system is based on a much smaller study of literature and art history, but on the contrary gives more space to topical debates and a hands-on approach. This shift of perspective is what I was particularly interested in when I had to chose where to accomplish my higher education and now I’m learning to combine the two approaches in order to form my very personal idea of what doing film means.
Ready to find out these 3 revelations?
1. THE EDITOR AS A STORYTELLER – QUESTION/ANSWER EDITING
The first and most important finding to me has been this approach to editing fiction. It is based on the idea that the succession of images, their order, the cuts, transitions, titles and anything you will do in post production with your film is not just part of the process of finishing up but it’s its very meaning and beating heart. For example: when do you cut from shot 1 to shot 2? You shouldn’t rely on the continuity of the action shown in the frame almost at all! The key aspect of this approach to editing is setting a conceptual pace that connects the crew with the audience. You are supposed to cut when your audience is ready for it. You basically construct you whole film following a question-answer structure, by showing a bit of the action and letting your audience ask themselves: “Why is he sad?” only then you cut to the reverse shot. “Who is she talking to?” /“Where are we?” /”What is he looking for?”. So if before editing for me was just a necessary process I had to go through before my film was ready to be shown, now I see why they insist so much on the editor being a storyteller.
2. THE GEOMETRIC COMPOSITION OF THE FRAME: SHAPES AND VOLUMES
The second surprising discovery I want to explore is how framing can convey much more than we are used to think. Every film lover has googled “framing rules” at least once, and I was well aware of them before starting university. But those rules are absolutely not enough to make of you a good cinematographer. The real unspoken magic is how to use those rules to enhance your story. There are three aspects of it that helped me a lot develop my thinking.
First: The shot should serve the story not vice versa
This statement, trivial as it may appear, is what the majority of amateur filmmakers get wrong. We have to abolish this tendency to decide to shoot a close up because we want to show the expression of our character or because we absolutely want to have that super fashionable shallow depth of field. What we really need to ask ourselves in order to chose the right shot is “what is the most important action that is being portrayed in this scene, how is the story progressing and what is the best visual option to show it”. This is how you storyboard, this is how you decide shots.
Second: Overturn the image to balance volumes
Every image, in film as well as in painting, has to bear a balance in its volumes. Since we tend to see actors as something different from props and furniture, a winning tip to compose your image is to look at it upside down and possibly out of focus as well.
Third: Shapes of object convey emotion
Something that made me think of set design from a different point of view is a workshop we had on the fact that shapes appeal to the human mind and they actually evoke a different feeling, from confidence to anger. So starting from the Greek “golden section” to basic geometric shapes like triangles, circles and squares; having objects on set will affect your audience! It is not just objects that can be played with, but also actors’ positions! As an example, look at this composition from Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” where the actors bodies form several sharp corners to give an idea of danger and unease.
3. THE ART OF COLOUR GRADING
I recently attended a colour grading course with a professional colorist. I went there expecting a full explanation of softwares and technology involved but instead I found myself listening to a much deeper and more interesting discussion on what colour grading really is and how much it can affect the very meaning of film. So basically there’s a huge difference between “colour correction” and “colour grading” where the first is just an esthetic adjustment of the tones of the image to enhance the original raw file, whereas grading is a complete art of helping the story and conveying emotions using particular gammas and shades. Therefore, colorist are considered digital painters, artists who can actually change the beauty and meaning of the film from crap to Hollywood-like quality.
Color grading is essential and whoever wants to make a jump from amateur short films to a higher level should consider studying the art of colour grading BEFORE they start playing with the software.
The more I write the more topics pop into my mind asking to be written down but our top three discoveries list is complete so I’ll have to leave you here =)
I hope you enjoyed reading this and you learned something new. After all filmmaking is all about collaborating and sharing, so any comments or questions are appreciated.