How to Choose a Style For Your Film
You have a lot of choices when you start a film project.
And all of those choices, including how you shoot, light, costume, and design the sets of your project, will contribute to the overall feel and emotion of your movie. This will dictate how the audience feels about the action unfolding onscreen.
Maybe you want a bright, bubbly scene featuring upbeat music and a dancing Leonardo DiCaprio. (Don't we all?) That's going to feel a lot different than the DiCaprio featured in the grim, dark Shutter Island.
Whatever you choose for your movie, you want to make sure all the elements of a project work together to maintain the tone you want. Watch this recent video from Matti Haapoja illustrating the various options for stylistic choices in film.
Decide on your project's tone
Start with your script and decide on what atmosphere would best suit the story you want to tell. Don't go with what might be the coolest or most fun way to shoot -- everything should serve the plot.
Are you going for dark and moody? Or do you want a happy, bright look? Maybe you're shooting action and want a more frenetic feel, or the gritty, in-the-moment tone of a documentary. You might even be shooting something like a cooking or beauty video, which requires a totally different set-up.
Once this is established, all the choices you make afterward should contribute to maintaining this tone.
Choose the right gear
If you're shooting action or raw footage, consider going with a natural handheld camera. You don't need a big crew to shoot handheld, which is more affordable and less obtrusive.
Your lenses will also change the style of your shoot. Make sure you know which lenses to choose and how things like focal length change the look of your shots. Here, Haapoja opts for a wide-angle lens, so the audience feels like they are in the room with his subjects. If you're shooting a documentary-style project like he did, we have more information on lens choices for docs.
Choose how to use that gear
Things like shutter speed and frame rates will also change the feel of your project.
Do you want crisp, sharp action shots, or slow-motion shot at a high frame rate? Sharp images are going to feel more real and in-the-moment, while slow motion will invoke more dramatic and emotional reactions.
Finish off the tone in post
What you include in the final edit will also contribute to the style and tone of your project. Haapoja's subject is a person, so he opted to include even the mundane moments from the person's day to show the grounded and everyday elements of his life.
But again, if you want to be more stylistic or dramatic, you might use b-roll to add dimension or flair to your story, giving you an option to show more than just the basics of a scene. B-roll will show more of the environment and can be shot in interesting ways—in close-ups, or in slow motion, or using other artistic methods.
Editing will also determine the pace of your project. Tight, fast cuts will suggest action and tension, while longer, slower-paced editing will be more subtle.
Finally, elements like the sound, the music, and the color grade will all contribute to your project's style too. You can use ambient sound or create foley sound effects. You can have a soundtrack added, which will hopefully support the emotion onscreen, or you can even go with silence.
What's next? Check out some more of No Film School's resources.
These are just a few things that will influence the tone of your project. The video didn't even touch on things like lighting, the basics of tone, and how tone begins in the script. We've also got plenty of discussions about directors and tone, and how tone is established through shooting style.