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3.23.2013

When Cinematography and Sets Don't Matter

I'm watching a film right now that has gorgeous locations, fantastic camera work (full of smooth crane and dolly shots), and a cast of hundreds. It also has some passable CG, which further underscores that there is some money behind this production. They are shooting in the middle of the jungle somewhere--Indonesia(?)--and have wonderful aerial establishing shots. The movie looks great.


Filming on Location

But it's a terrible flick. All the technical production values in the world aren't saving this movie because of two things:

1. The acting is terrible. This frequently happens when you travel to a remote location and pick up locals to play in your picture. As people with zero dollar budgets, that's often what we have to do. But if you can find people who can act, it helps a ton. Of course, bad acting is very common in films with barbarians. I think the biggest reason is that people are told to act "not so modernly" or something. Don't do that. People are people whether they are in a ritzy hotel in London or the ferocious wilds of the planet Garbatron. Let your actors be normal people in extraordinary situations, and the acting should instantly improve.

2. The story doesn't resonate. The fault for this is mostly the bad acting. A character's wife is carried away by dragons. A moment before he jumps to his feet and calls after her. Uh... okay. These missteps in pacing remind us that we are watching a production instead of experiencing a story. The other problem is that the camera work never really tells us anything about what's going on. The shots cover the action just fine, but nothing in how things unfold visually adds anything to the tale. Be sure to change your shooting style, angles, and tempo to keep the audience engaged in the action.

Having a nice camera and exotic locations is great. But remember: those things don't matter if your audience isn't gripped by your tale. Focus on your story, and use technology and film techniques to enhance that. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that good looking shots are what are most important. At best, they elevate your tale. But they don't make a movie.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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