July 13, 2015

These Cinematography Tutorials Will Help You Put Some Brains Behind Your Cinematic Choices

This 3-part tutorial series by Julian Melanson entitled Thought Experiments delves into the psychology of cinematography, namely how to speak to your audience through framing, camera movement, and editing. You can watch all three videos below:

Framing

Camera Movement

Editing

Melanson's series gives quite a lot of information to digest, especially if you're new to cinematography and editing. In the first video, he talks about framing, and we've certainly talked at great length about aesthetic theories of composition. Probably the most important concept to understand when you're preparing to set up a shot is that all images have the potential to give off aesthetic energy; a value that can be raised or lowered based on your cinematographic decisions. Compositions that are sloppy -- too much head room, "outgrowth", inaccurate frame size -- will decrease the amount of aesthetic energy of your image (i.e. make it boring). Conversely, compositions that are well thought out and clean will increase the amount, making your images exciting and beautiful to look at.

Camera movement works the same way. Camera movement will increase aesthetic energy (as will subject movement). A slow pan, tilt, or slide can engage your viewer so much more than a static shot. That's not to say that every shot has to include camera movement; knowing what your scene needs to communicate will help you discern whether or not you even need camera movement. Remember: your cinematographic choices should never be arbitrary; they should always be motivated.

Finally, Melanson talks about basic concepts of editing in his third and final tutorial, like the Kuleshov Effect. This is the basis of editing as a storytelling technique, as explained by the contributors of the Soviet montage theory (Kuleshov, Pudovkin, and Eisenstein). Their theory expresses that editing itself -- two or more shots cut together -- can communicate ideas to an audience. Here's Kuleshov's original experiment to demonstrate this concept:

Eisenstein formed his own theory that focuses on 5 "methods" of editing, which help give meaning and motivation to each cut. For example, one method he mentions is "rhythmic" editing, which we see all the time in music videos when each cut is made to the beat of a song.

In the end, editing, just like framing and camera movement, has to be motivated. If you find yourself cutting a shot for no reason, then you might want to go back and figure out why you're making that cut.

Do you have any advice for making cinematographic decisions? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

8 Comments

Hi, thanks for the post. I found very interesting all the things related with the effects that the image and sound can produce in the viewer mind. Every time I start with a project I try to think what kind of emotions or thoughts will cause a particular moment inside the mysterious spectator mind and I ask myself what I want the public feel or think when they see the movie. But you can never know for sure.

Thanks!

July 13, 2015 at 3:39PM

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Mateo Baldasare
Filmmaker
233

Some random thoughts...

Framing -- I liked the idea that rule of thirds creates dynamic eye movement; I think this is probably true, but that there are other factors in play as well, like sheer image conventions. By the way, nothing wrong with centre framing, of course.

I thought his more creative framings were interesting, but not convinced that the framings conveyed what he thought they did -- thinking, empowered, etc.

Camera movement -- not sure there's too much that's interesting in this video...

Editing -- found this to be the most interesting. Liked the information on "eye trace" at the end. I think eye trace connects with the idea that rule of thirds creates "dynamic" movement, the idea that every image should have a focal point, and that what's usually wrong with boring images is that they're missing one (from an earlier NFS article on composition), and the idea that you should sometimes use horizontal flips to control screen direction (NFS article on how to edit a montage to music, or basic ideas of continuity). Books on cinematography sometimes talk about shapes in an image, including the shapes the eye makes as it travels around points of interest in a frame.

One thing that struck me about the editing video was that practice exceeded theory. People always talk about Kuleshov effect and cutting on action and moving from wide to close. But I think this is partly for the lack of any other well-formed editing theory they can appeal to to try to explain what they're doing. There's a ton of interesting edits in the editing video itself, but I don't know that any of what he theorizes about explains why and how his edits work, or would give inspiration for arriving at them.

July 13, 2015 at 4:20PM, Edited July 13, 4:21PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
1217

I'm entertained by the guy's constant swinging from one side of the frame to another. I felt like I watched a ping pong game :)

July 13, 2015 at 11:09PM, Edited July 13, 11:17PM

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Einar Gabbassoff
D&CD at Frame One Studio
1333

dude's V neck isn't deep enough. he's lost all credibility in my book.

July 14, 2015 at 12:23AM

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abfsc
90

Such a powerful medium to be creating in.

July 14, 2015 at 3:31PM

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Donovan Vim Crony
Director, DP, Editor, VFX, Sci-Fi Lover
610

I liked the post and comments. Regarding framing, the rule of thirds is not the rule. With a wider shot, there are more elements in the frame, and more vertical lines to work with, so the grid can be larger (5ths, 7ths, 9ths), there are less to work with in a close up (often only one vertical line), so halves or thirds is more appropriate. Interestingly, some silent films, such as Borzage's Street Angel have shots where the foreground is in thirds and background is in 5ths/7ths, an interesting counterpoint. Going up and down the screen is usually split, in thirds, or quarters. Diagonal lines can look really cool if their trajectory lands on the grid lines. With a frame within a frame shot, the grid often is found in the inner frame. Many newer films have an offset where the grid has been moved slightly to the left or right.

July 16, 2015 at 9:47AM, Edited July 16, 9:54AM

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David Barrington
Videographer
264

Amazing article. Thank You!
The "eye trace" is an effective way to keep the cut smooth and tell your story more artistically.

July 18, 2015 at 2:13PM

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Aashish Kumar
Filmmaker, Digital Magician & Engineer :')
149

Wonderful wonderful!

September 2, 2015 at 1:57PM

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Mike Murphy
Film maker
102