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Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Oct 11 / Darryl Shreve

The Rookie

In regards to video and film production, here are the three tell tale signs that you are a wet behind the ears, entry level, amateurish, born last night, babe in the woods, fresh out the womb Rookie. Eh too much…Let me preface this by stating that a good film is denoted by its balance: Balance of shot composition, color grade, lighting, script, acting and audio. When one of these elements is amiss, the audience notices. They may not be able to articulate what they find wrong, but they are aware that something isn’t quite right. It’s like listening to music, if one instrument is out of tune, the listener knows it even without formal training from Julliard.
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After teaching production courses for five years and observing quite a few low budget feature length film projects produced locally and nationally, one cannot help but to notice some striking similarities…in their failures. Or should I say, similarities in the choices someone new to the business makes when it comes to how they treat the core elements within their films.

THE WIDE SHOT
When a filmmaker is first learning to tell their stories, their focus is slanted toward having every scene covered. So there will be an abundance of wide shots(angles) in their pieces. The lack of close-ups and medium angles, can make the viewer feel less apart of the film’s dynamic. Changing angles is a way of creating depth and conveying emotions that play upon our own built-in set of assumptions.

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When a shot is tight, we assume it’s a serious moment. When a filmmaker racks focus from background to foreground or tracks/jibs from one direction to the other, we feel pulled into that direction with purpose. Filming upward shows vulnerability and downward denotes power. I could go on, but the point is that without these methods, the film will feel hollow and less meaningful.

THE CLOSE UP
Once a new filmmaker discovers the power in a nice close-up, they tend to forget about the wide shot. And when said filmmaker discovers how to create a shallow depth of field, it’s over…for the viewer that is. After watching these films, you leave the theater (television or computer) trying to wash the over-abundance of close-ups from your brain while making an appointment with the eye doctor to make sure all those “in your face” blurred shots are not a symptom of glaucoma. Now, one reason for this phenomenon is that when one is filming and editing, the video display is much smaller than when compared to a large screen television or movie theater screen. So would-be filmmakers fail to realize that a medium shot on the big screen is more like a close-up and that a close-up is more like an extreme close-up.

Please take note that the last “actor” in your film is the LOCATION itself. Your background helps to ground the viewer to your piece. So compositionally speaking (yes, I invented that word), there may not be enough emphasis placed on the MEDIUM and MEDIUM WIDE shot.

Ghana_wide  Ghana_Med  Ghana_Close

THE AUDIO
The last tell tale sign of a rookie, and arguably the most important, is the treatment of audio. You cannot use the camera mic as your source of audio.

Camera mics are omnidirectional and pick up everything. You need a directional mic that is relatively close to the mouth.

Omindirectional mics have a wide pick-up pattern:

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Directional mics have a narrow pick-up pattern:

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This could be a lav mic or a boom mic.

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Recording ROOM TONE and laying a base track is my final piece of advice to avoid “Rookiedom”. In a poorly constructed film, you will hear SHHHHHHHH in the background audio on one angle and zzzzzz on another. A base audio track of the natural room “sound” will help hide audio discrepancies when changing camera angles. So always record about 2 minutes of ROOM TONE for each location in which you record. This way you avoid making “The Amateurville Horror” (it’s the Halloween month, had to do it).

Just sayin.