Cinematic look on a consumer SD camcorder

There are many things I have been wrestling with as an amateur film maker. I'm a University student, and am absolutely broke. I gathered up enough pennies to buy myself a decent mic (AT 897), and I'll be building myself a boompole later this week. I have solved the problem of sound with a somewhat affordable solution. Is there an affordable solution to making my films seem more cinematic?

I'm using a Digital8 Sony Handycam that is more than 5 years old. It's sturdy, it records in 720x480, and I really don't see a reason for buying another camera unless it is prosumer . A prosumer camera is not something I can get until the distant future, so I just want to get the best possible results out of the equipment I have.

So here is the question: What can I do to make my movies look more cinematic?

I use the word cinematic, because I haven't been able to really put my finger on what it is that makes a film look that way. There's the depth of field, the crisper picture, wide screen, etc... But there's something else. Something about the colors maybe? I honestly can't say for sure. As you can guess, I was not born a cinematographer.

Is there something (if anything) that I can do to make my shots feel more cinematic, and get rid of that "homevideo" look that comes with SD consumer cameras? Are there some settings I can play with on my camera? Something I can do during shooting? Maybe in post?
 

AgentJonnyB

Member
Camera movements (zoom only rarely, the only movies that really show a lot of zooming are the Bourne trilogy), and lighting. Those would be the main contributors. You should also look into Neutral Density filters, which help in situations (especially outside) where there is an excess of light, and do not use autoexposure. I would look at BHphotovideo.com, there are some lighting kits I found earlier for 100$ and under, and they will make a difference. I will hunt the link down, I am looking into some of these to add to my current lights.

Hope this was helpful, when I have more time, I'll try and give some more specific information.
 
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i agree with Jonny (opps, did i say that)

Camera Movement is important..my dad always said. "its called MOTION PICTURES". this would always make me laugh..and it may not be a big move..but a suttle one...

Stay away from Hand Held...its great for fight stuff and chase stuff where you would want a more erratic feel (im sure i spelt that wrong)..keep the camera on a tripod...when you become a big filmmaker it will be on a dolly all the time...

Composition...this to me is key..even more than bad lighting...poeple should not sit in the middle of your frame...short side them...watch some good films and really look at how things a framed...something else you might want to look into is screen direction...i am sure there are books on this...its important to know where the LINE is drawn in a scene and not to jump it...but it is ok to jump the line if it is a camera move that takes us to the other side of the LINE...ok i will stop here on this subject...

Lighting...this is a tough one too...if we could all light we all would be DP's...i have been lucky to have worked with some of the best...and i watch what they do and have had many conversations with them on lighting...as they are usually the ones that keep me from getting better sound...lol...so when i run into a new DP...i can say"what if u used this instead of that, it would give the same effect, but let me get the mic in"......ok...back to you...there are no major rules in lighting, but a basic you should try to keep in mind all the time is you Key Light...this being the main sourse of light and the direction of light in your scene...it would be bad to light from one side of the room and then when you move to another shot in the scene to move the KEY to the other side...just doesnt look right to change shadows on an actor on a scene...thats called FLIPPIN THE KEY...ok...from you Key light you start to fill maybe...this might be a smaller light closer to set or actors...to fill in thier faces..usually a soft light...then there is the "KILLER OF SOUND" back light...something with a little more edge than your fill...but not as big as your KEY...this will highlight the back of your actors head to bring them out of becomming part of the background...NOW TO BE KIND TO SOUND...you can always get that effect from placing the backlight slightly to the side and still not have the backlight start to wrap around the actor...and sound will have a better chance of not casting a shadow on the FG actor in an Over...oh my..getting too involved NEXT

Sound...when i say sound...i mean dialoge, effects, music...these are all things that take us into the beautifull images you just shot...HEY..you're doing great so far....but number ONE in sound is getting clean Dialoge...forget everything else...that can all be added later...try you best to get the mic close and get clean sound...i am not going to get any further into sound than this...because unlike the camera you will be using..and most HD indy filmmakers...a sound package will outcost anything else on the set...i have over 100,000.00 in sound gear...and guess what! sometimes you just cant get good sound because of a situation you might be in...but maybe try to find a script that lends itself to getting better sound...as this will indeed make for a better film....

and check this site out http://www.twoneil.com/ there is a tutorial on how to make a DOF adaptor...this will help the look of your film too...

ok...thats enough for now

have fun
 

Zensteve

Member
Heh, I still have an old Digital8 camcorder. :cool:

Sturdy beasts, they were. Had threading for small lenses & filters, as well, that any local camera shop could provide. The way the timecode worked was a pita, though.

prosumer camera is not something I can get until the distant future, so I just want to get the best possible results out of the equipment I have... (snip)... I was not born a cinematographer.
Why buy a camera at all?

Network locally, and meet some people with the passion for it. Especially in a college environment! Meet the people with the skills (and equipment) to do it. Could be anything from bored local wedding videographers to college kids looking to start building some experience with their own (or college's) equipment. There is no reason at all, for you as a filmmaker, to have to physically hold a camera at any point... and honestly... you shouldn't, unless you can't find the best suitable person to do so. (or you are training to be so)

get rid of that "homevideo" look that comes with SD consumer cameras? Are there some settings I can play with on my camera? Something I can do during shooting? Maybe in post?
Do a search for "film look". ;)

You can blow tonnes of money on software plugins, experts on post-prod, and a dozen other things.

Basically, it comes down to this:

If you don't want your footage to look like it was shot on home video... don't shoot on a home video camera.

If you want your footage to look like it was shot on film... shoot on film.

:)
 

AgentJonnyB

Member
Lord of the Rings is the perfect example for composition, lighting, camera movement (the camera is moving one way or another over 90% of the time), all keys to modern cinematics, review what Dave said above, make a list out of it, print it out, look for those kinds of things in movies you watch, especially modern ones.

For lighting kits at a low cost, here's a 3-light kit (I have 2 lights like these, but I also set a powerful on-camera light on a tripod as the third). It's not the best, but they do make a significant difference compared to using the natural lighting. If you use this kit, I would recommend getting 2 umbrellas that attach to these to soften 2 of the lights, so one really is acting more like a fill, and the other more like the backlight, and the light that does not get an umbrella is obviously the keylight. There are far better lighting kits out there, but since it seems you are on a tight budget, this may have to do. It's not bad or anything, it's decent, but there are better kits. I'm sure someone else here will have a better one in mind in that price range.
 
Thank you guys so much for the advice!

For lighting, I am pretty sure I can borrow a decent lighting kit from a friend who has recently completed his first feature film. I just need to learn how to light scenes properly. Any online resources that can give me a basic understanding of lighting a scene?

For composition: I've been rewatching two of my favorite shows these past few weeks (Twin Peaks and Lost), and I've been focusing mostly on the composition of any given scene. It sort of kills the mood of the show, but I enjoy figuring out how things are done and whatnot. I don't think I've seen a shot where an actor is in the exact center. It made me realize that even the positioning of a camera can be artistic in nature. I'll be sure to dissect some more movies/shows as time passes to learn more about the craft.

About screen direction: I learned about this the hard way. My very first short opened with a walking scene. The main character unknowingly enters a state of dream, and is seen walking down a suburban street. I tried out all these cool angles, some from the ground, some from high up, from every which direction. I spent a good hour filming what would turn into 15 seconds of walking (not sure why I did that, but hell, it was my first time!). When I tried to piece together some of the stylish angles, I realized that it was disorienting as hell, and that in one cut the character would be walking left, and in another, he'd be walking right. It made no sense, it was confusing as hell, and I scrapped that footage almost entirely.

About sound: I didn't realize sound equipment would get that expensive. I figured that a hollywood production would have a few professional shotgun mics, plugged into a good soundboard, and everything would be set. I got the Audio Technica 897 just recently, and how amazingly crisp the sound is surprised me. I had the microphone mounted on top of my camera (don't worry, I'm not going to have it mounted for shoots ;) boompoles all the way!), and even with the sound of the camera, my computer and PS3 being on, it only picked up my voice -- and very well, might I add. With that being said, I think that as long as I can get the mic close enough to the actors, I shouldn't have a problem with sound. I'm a complete newbie at this, so please don't slap me for being an ignorant child ;) But can you tell me what you'd need all the sound equipment for? I'm guessing some of it is for filming dialogue, some of it is for recording music, and some of it is for recording sound effects. Would I be wrong in assuming that?

About networking: I've been planning on doing this from the get go. In fact, I was planning on starting a film club at my university, and buying some equipment with a grant... However, my University has been on strike for nearly 2 months now, and I haven't been on campus in god knows how long.

Thank you for all your other suggestions! A DoF adapter is a wee bit expensive for me, and I've personally achieved a DoF effect by spending 3 hours keyframe masking a scene with different blur settings. It didn't look amazing, but it looked better than the vanilla shot. I'm not planning on doing this for entire films, but some scenes can benefit from a nice depth of field. Any other physical addons are sort of irrelevant to me at this moment in time. I'll definitely research adapters/lenses when I can fork out/have ample time... But I'm shooting a short next week, and I was hoping there was something I could do to give my film more cinematic merit. Outside of having the right equipment, is there anything I can do in post production that'll help me attain a cinematic feel? I'd be very happy if there was, because I don't want my next short to suffer from homevideo-itis.
 
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Also, as mentioned in this thread, I noticed how much of an impact subtle camera movements can make on a film. Obviously I don't have an expensive dolly or steadicam setup... But is it okay to rotate the camera whilst ontop of a tripod? My tripod is pretty nice, and allows for very smooth rotation, up, down, left, right. Is this something worth experimenting with?
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff member
Admin
Tripod, hi-hat, and baby legs are essential for static shots. Stabilizer and dolly for moving shots.
 
But can you tell me what you'd need all the sound equipment for? I'm guessing some of it is for filming dialogue, some of it is for recording music, and some of it is for recording sound effects. Would I be wrong in assuming that?
Its all for getting dialogue...good gear costs tons of money...my wireless gear alone cost overt 20,000.00 and good mics start around 1500. to 3000.and and i have a lot of them...recorders 6000. and up...my custome little board..14,000... and a million little things that go along with it...i can go ..on and on...and not to mention you need backups of most of this stuff, in case something goes wrong...but its all for recording dialogue

unlike Camera gear on major films that is RENTED...every soundperson owns thier own gear...we all use similar gear. but everyone has something different than the other and uses it a little different...thats why some get calls for better jobs over others...

its a never ending money pit
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
But I'm shooting a short next week, and I was hoping there was something I could do to give my film more cinematic merit. Outside of having the right equipment, is there anything I can do in post production that'll help me attain a cinematic feel? I'd be very happy if there was, because I don't want my next short to suffer from homevideo-itis.
Vlad,

As Dave said, getting that cinematic feel is composition, lighting
and sound. A better than average script and excellent acting also
adds to the cinematic feel.

None of those aspects can be handled in post production.

Take a look at David Lynch’s “Inland Empire”. It was shot with an
off the shelf Sony PD170 with no lens adaptors. It has that
cinematic feel because of the talent and experience of the
director, DP, actors and crew.

Open Water, 28 Days Later, Pieces of April and Bamboozled were all
shot on SD cameras, all released in theaters and all had the
cinematic feel you want.

The look you want isn’t something that can be done simply with the
camera you use or the post production software you use. It’s
years of experience and work and talent.

You ask if it’s worth it to experiment with the tripod you have.
That’s question I don’t even understand. Experimenting with movie
making technique is the foundation of learning to make better
movies. Yes! You will learn a LOT by experimenting with your
tripod for camera movement.
 

AgentJonnyB

Member
There is a manfrotto monopod (model 560B) that would work like a steadycam for those moving, traveling shots, one of these days, maybe I'll be putting up a demo video on some of the tools I use, some higher end, some really low-end like this monopod. But you can get the stable motion from a normal consumer-level camera with this model, it's just the right size, and the weight at the bottom balances almost perfectly with he weight of the camera, perfect for shots that move to or from dutch tilts, and is good for running, dolly-in/out shots, etc.
 
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Thank you for the wonderful tips guys.

@Indietalk: I have a decent tripod (not sure what a hi-hat is), and a DIY steadycam/stabilizer. It's made of PVC pipes and weights, but it works pretty well with my handycam. I haven't gotten enough practice with moving shots yet, but I'm going to mostly use static shots for now.

@Directorik: Thank you for opening my eyes! I guess this isn't a goal I'm likely to reach until I have some more experience. But damnit, I will try :) I guess my biggest problem will be acting (I've only got my friends to use as actors). This is why my next short film will be a comedy... So I can alleviate some pressure, and focus on learning how to set up shots, light them, etc.
 

EvsFX08

Member
I hope this Thread isn't dead yet, but after reading this Thread, so in theory, if I am not ready to jump into a Prosumer camera yet, I can still make a decent film on my newly purchase Sony Mini-DV? I've read up on DV, Mini-DV, HDV, DVCAM, and then the CCD versus CMOS, etc, so since I'm just toying with the idea of crossing over from editor to film maker, as long as I have decent lighting and tri-pod ( I bought one with remote control zoom and all), I should be able to start my foundation of film making on my Consumer Mini-DV? Now, I did buy the model with a higher pixel ratio than most, so just wondering the possiblities of getting "good" quality on mini-DV with a consumer camcorder. Or did I just waste money on a home -use cam? Sure I can do cool stuff with After Effects, but it's much more enjoyable working on quality film without unwanted grain or the White balance unmanageable. Basically I guess what I'm asking is, will I learn anything valuable using a Handycam and can I dream of becoming the next George Lucas? Ok, that last part was a bit of a stretch.
 
I hope this Thread isn't dead yet, but after reading this Thread, so in theory, if I am not ready to jump into a Prosumer camera yet, I can still make a decent film on my newly purchase Sony Mini-DV? I've read up on DV, Mini-DV, HDV, DVCAM, and then the CCD versus CMOS, etc, so since I'm just toying with the idea of crossing over from editor to film maker, as long as I have decent lighting and tri-pod ( I bought one with remote control zoom and all), I should be able to start my foundation of film making on my Consumer Mini-DV? Now, I did buy the model with a higher pixel ratio than most, so just wondering the possiblities of getting "good" quality on mini-DV with a consumer camcorder. Or did I just waste money on a home -use cam? Sure I can do cool stuff with After Effects, but it's much more enjoyable working on quality film without unwanted grain or the White balance unmanageable. Basically I guess what I'm asking is, will I learn anything valuable using a Handycam and can I dream of becoming the next George Lucas? Ok, that last part was a bit of a stretch.
Well, I've been following the advice on this thread. I think you can absolutely, and definitely learn something using a handycam. My camera is older than jesus christ himself, and I've learned SO MUCH using it. Am I going to keep using it when I can afford a new camera? Maybe not. But filmmaking is not about counting pixels. It's about telling a story. If you can tell a story well, it won't matter whether or not your white balance is perfect, or how shallow your DoF is.

Even if you have the fanciest equipment on the market. The best cameras, the best lenses, the best lighting kit, the best microphones -- none of it would matter if the story sucked.

Also, sound is just as important as image. Don't neglect sound! Have you purchased a shotgun mic yet?
 

EvsFX08

Member
No, unfortunately, the camcorder I bought has everything else I wanted (well within a budget) except for a mic Input. However, I'm finding out that the little clip on mic and digital portable voice recorder just isn't cutting it. So, now I have to figure out how to use a shotgun mic and where to hook it up to if my camcorder doesn't have a mic input, any ideas? Right now, I have to admit, sound is my weakest link right now. The camcorder I bought was more for giving me control over exposure, white balance, and other things dealing with the camera settings and control just to teach me the basics of shooting. I wasn't too concerned over sound at the time, oops, rookie mistake.
 
No, unfortunately, the camcorder I bought has everything else I wanted (well within a budget) except for a mic Input. However, I'm finding out that the little clip on mic and digital portable voice recorder just isn't cutting it. So, now I have to figure out how to use a shotgun mic and where to hook it up to if my camcorder doesn't have a mic input, any ideas? Right now, I have to admit, sound is my weakest link right now. The camcorder I bought was more for giving me control over exposure, white balance, and other things dealing with the camera settings and control just to teach me the basics of shooting. I wasn't too concerned over sound at the time, oops, rookie mistake.
There was a user on this forum that had the creative idea of plugging into an MP3 player with a microphone jack. Not sure how well that worked, considering the preamps probably suck. You can always buy an audio recorder with a mini jack, and plug in the microphone via XLR to mini converter. This'll make your life a bit harder, given the need to mix the audio with the video in post... But it's better than going with your camera mic.
 

EvsFX08

Member
Well, it's good to know I'm not alone. The only audio I've been concerned with is with adding soundtracks and cinematic scores for customers, that was easy. But, recently, for audio capture for my organization's documentaries I did, I plugged a clip-on mic into my laptop and used Nero Audio to record the voice track. The quality from the $16 clip-on was well, unusable. Quite frustrating, I then purchased from Sony a $50 "business" mic and plugged that into the Digital recorder I also bought from them, I thought this would work but I need to fabricate a foam cover because it's so sensitive it even pics up movement from the person's collar, oh and according to the User's manual, I can't use it near Fluorescent lights, monitors, or anything that's plugged in otherwise I get a lot of "noise" that makes it difficult to fliter out. Well, I proved the manual to be correct on this advisory! So, I'm guessing rigging up a shotgun mic to the recorder (until my budget allows for a pro audio recorder) will have to do. Fortunately, I'm not trying to film any customers yet, so I have the luxury of experimenting until I work out all the kinks and camera settings.
 

thefilmgeek

Member
Just wanted to throw in my quick two cents on audio... IT IS RIDICULOUSLY IMPORTANT! :)

Take *ANY* hollywood movie, and substitute the audio track they have with an identical one, except shot with like an on-camera microphone. It 'looks' like a home movie now, huh? :)

Professional level audio can be the difference between a professional looking film, and a home video.

A little camera grain, messed up shot, some bad lighting... the audience will chalk that up to artistic expression a lot of times, and just go with the flow. However, if you have some crappy audio, it will snap them out of the fantasy of the movie in a heartbeat. That's also another reason 5.1 speakers are rarely utilized for the rear sounds -- anything that's gonna make the audience stop paying attention to the movie and go "was that a real bird" is destroying the illusion of the film.
 

EvsFX08

Member
Well, fortunately I learned this lesson early on before I started trying to make a living off of filming. I'm still in the experimental and learning phase of film making. I'm comfortable with Post production, but being behind the camera is a whole new world.
 

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