Let the camera create the atmosphere. The DSLR revolution has not only come in the field of light, optics and speed, but also in size. With such small cameras you can shoot much smaller, in different spaces and create a much more intimate atmosphere. They are less intimidating to the actors and you can shoot with several at the same time without disturbing each other. All this has been key to the filming of our feature film and thanks to which we were able to shoot such an ambitious movie in such tight times and with as many locations as we had.
Glasses are the key. Find a good cinematographer who knows them well and invests in having good lenses. Use the one you need at all times, even if they are from a different brand, but try to give the film uniformity. In any case, after the multi-year impasse of digital cinema in which everything was quite similar to television, cinema has returned. Knowing what narrative effect each lens produces with its diaphragm and shutter aperture variants is one of the most important tasks for a director.
Location. Location. Location. If you don’t have the money to have a lot of lighting or camera equipment, choosing a suitable location, that already has an atmosphere, that tells something, that allows you to add layers to the story, is almost 50% of the film. Tarkovski talked a lot about the importance of creating the right atmosphere on set because all of this was later transmitted through the actors and the technicians to the negative. It is one of the reasons why I decided to shoot in Latvia and Russia instead of Spain and I firmly believe that it is what has made the film look how good it looks, that it is 100% credible. No matters how much time you spend locating or how much you spend on a location scouter, it will be worth it.
Neutral strip. This advice given by PJ Raval, which refers to shooting in the most neutral way possible to have more options later in post-production is one of the few with which we only partially agree. My director of photography Luis Enrique and I decided to look for a fairly final look on camera, and leave as little as possible for post-production. Partly because we were shooting with 5D and 1D, which have less range when it comes to post-production and grading, partly because we feel that the magic that is created on a set is hardly equal to what is experienced in an editing room, so we wanted to let the image soak up what we felt in those moments regarding the light, our mood and our environment. (On the other hand,
Embrace your limitations. Which is the same as the classic: If you can’t beat your enemy, join him. It is, I believe, the advice that every director and PDO should keep in mind over and over again, and not only apply it to their work but try to get their team to understand it as well. In The Cosmonaut, for example, we had a severe budget limitation, which limited the possibilities of the art team, the possible lighting and the costumes. One of the main decisions we made was to shoot all the interiors with long focal lengths (never less than 50mm and usually 85mm and up). The result is spectacular and cinematic and in almost no time the lack of means is noticed.
Keep it simple. Bresson, whom I consider to be the best film theorist that ever lived, has a phrase from his “Notes on the Cinematographer” that I carried in my pocket every day of the shoot: “The ability to make good use of my media diminishes when your number increases”. Focus your attention on one problem at a time and give it 100% of your attention. Try to reduce the problems to the minimum amount possible. Make things easy as much as you can to be able to do better what you have to do. May the circumstances not overwhelm you. This particular tip is the fruit of EC’s experience. We are planning a very, very ambitious film (shot in another language, for 11 weeks despite having a tenth of the budget of a conventional film, with more than 80 different locations, sequences with dozens of extras, science fiction … and being our first feature film). Luckily, everything went perfectly thanks to the team, but it could have been a disaster too. The effort and the risk were worth it, but you have to be careful and try to tread safely as much as possible.
And I add one last homegrown tip: Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong. To fail. Not to make it perfect. That your first movie is not a masterpiece. Not knowing something. To discover it along the way. To change your path if necessary. All of that is part of the process of creating and that is how memorable films emerge. When the uncertain is realized. Of course, try to surround yourself with people who support you in that emotional roller coaster that is to make a feature film and do not get carried away by technique. Because of the “but it is that in the cinema it is done like that”. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid.
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