For a different kind of filmmaking blog

The constantly updating blogs culture has a narcotic like effect. I know I’m not the only one who feels the need to periodically revise a slate of blog and news site for that mild-endorfine releasing sensation of something new and noteworthy “happening”.

The gear fetish blog

Couple this with the very potent gear-fetish and you have a pretty strong cocktail. The most prominent blogs I know related to film-making are principally gear related blogs, constantly bringing updates of the ongoing “permanent revolution” of technology. Everyone, me included, seems to be in a long-term transe state of awe over how fast the “industry” is moving, and how everything is changing to the better, cheaper and easier. However, the actual changes to the art of cinema or video are not as obvious and revolutionary (although they certainly exist in a sense) as the constant increments of numbers and marks of the latest Canons and Reds.

The fantasy of effortless storytelling

I understand. We have a fantasy of the effortless, democratic storytelling. Where you can go into Life with a small device and tell visual stories with it – free from the big crews, complex equipment and scary budgets. I suspect most creative people have this fantasy, except, of course, if we’re one of those who spent a lot of effort investing into technical know-how or positions within the “industry”. Then we are annoyed when “everyone can do it” – like the desperate snobbery of people who had to endure some medieval style ladder-climbing system to learn how to load film magazines and the proper etiquette for fetching tea. They are now annoyed other people didn’t have to do that to shoot nice pictures.

The funny irony is, that the single biggest clishé of most of the blogs, whether in their posts or comment systems, is a variation of the phrase: It’s not what camera you use but how you use it. It’s funny, because despite this, where are all the blog posts about how to use the cameras? They’ll all repeat this mantra, religiously. It’s the go to phrase to appear to have the bigger perspective. There’s red-carpet events for the announcement of new camera body models and meticulous camera tests are winning TV awards!

What makes a shot evoke emotions?

Anyone who knows anything about filming something – say filming a shot of – curtains being gently moved by the wind to evoke a sense of nostalgic melancholy to a scene – will, conciously or unconcously apply a lot of insightful knowledge about how to best approach that shot. What shot size will he use to evoke the emotion? What framerate? Might the shutter speed be changed to direct our experience of the movement. How high og low do we place the camera? How to should we manipulate the lighting coming from outside and balance it with the inside? Can we use colour temperature here to evoke a sense of temperature or time of day?

I know there are hundreds of more questions. Especially when you start digging into related crafts like production design and directing. I’ve only been trying to answer these kind of questions for a short while and I’m not even sure these are the most important questions. What I’m sure of is that the gear-spec and pixel-peeping focus, while having a limited importance, are not the most relevant to producing emotion impacting images. And when this has taken the form of brand-factionalistic gear fetish – it is definitely counter productive.

Why this balance in favor of gear and technology?

The next question to answer is: Why such prominence of gear-specs blog posts v.s. more general arty and crafty thoughts on film making? I want to offer a few explanations, some more relevant than others:

Artsy stuff is more subjective, tech specs more objective: It requires a different kind of mental capacity to have a constructive discussion about the techniques of framing than i.e. the measured resolution of a censor.

To talk about the art and craft of filmmaking, you need to be making films: Despite all the cheap cameras out there and the creativity surrounding Vimeo and Youtube, I don’t think there are that many people out there who have really dwelled into the art of filmmaking long and deep enough to say anything besides the basics about it – let alone be active in blogging about it.

Capitalist fetishism of production: This is really the main point and it arrives at our theme from many different angles. First of all, in our consumerist ideology, we are costumed to think in terms of products. We will be something because of what we buy. Something has value because of the price that is paid for it. It is easier to believe in an object than yourself (Excalibur!). We then have more consumers of camera gear than users.

The perversion of “free content” in the “free market”
And then we must consider the skewing effect advertisement has on “free media”. Blogs are free. But to be able to put effort into maintaining it- I mean fill it with real original and meaningful content – before long it becomes hard if it’s not paying at least part of your rent. Many bloggers get paid for promoting certain brands, sometimes through simple adverts or discount codes and I’m sure sometimes coverage is simply bought. I don’t know if that is common, and although it matters in an ethical context it does not change the fundamental picture, which is: To get money from product vendors, you need to supply them with buyers. In other words, you need to reach the people who are buying stuff, and lots of them, and need to get them to buy. If you aren’t doing that either consciously or not – you are not sexy for advertisers. Who wants to advertise on the blog where all the people who are happy with the suff they’ve got go to?

All right. So if I have the drive and patience to continue this blog – you’ve probably began to guess that I want to try to do it differently than what I’ve described. I want to try to talk more about the art and craft and less about the gear. But it will be a blog of someone who is constantly learning and venturing into new territory, not of a seasoned master who already knows it all.

I want to make clear that I think knowing the advances of technology are important. Sometimes investing in it is also important. And understanding the subtleties of different tools, even pixel peeping, is important to a degree. And I also want to make clear that this post is not meant as an attack on any particular blogs. First of all, because most blogs aren’t completely the stereotype of the gear fetish blog I described and also because even ones who are are have their uses. I’m simply stating what I think there should be more of and what I want to try to do.

And now for something constructive …

First bit of usefulness I’ll attempt, is to share a few of the more helpful non-gear content that I’ve found online. Most of this is pretty basic and does not go very deep into it subject matter, but are still a step in the right direction in my humble opinion. They happen to be mostly about camera/lighting, because that’s what I’ve been mostly researching in the last few months.

The technique of lighting for “upstage”
Video tutorial on the effects of the direction of your keylight from Light Film school
Lighting Basics Series I: Where to place your KEY LIGHT
Hotshot cinematographer Shane Hurlburt on a similar theme
180 Degree Rule and Other Shot Sequence Tips
Another basic but well done video tutorial from Light Film school on blocking.
Fill Light: The Underdog of Lighting
A pretty comprehensive article on fill light.

I’d also like to point to an excellent forum: Personal View run by hacker Vitaliy Kiselev. It’s not by any means one of the bigger forums, nor do I think it has the most knowledgeable or professional audience, but it’s moderator has taken a very firm anti-gear-fetish stand (at least the brand version of it) and aims for a higher signal to noise ration.


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