If you’re just starting out behind the camera or just always looking to improve your craft, there’s no better way to gather knowledge than by looking to those who have been down that road before you. Cinematographers like Roger Deakins and Darius Khondji and filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen are great people to turn to for advice. Below I’ve selected 9 key things to remember when thinking about and working on the style of your film.
1. Get some life experience
“I think it is more important to experience the world, really. You can’t learn cinematography and you can’t copy it. The job is just your way of looking at the world. I think life experience is always more important than technical knowledge.”
2. Understand the importance of lighting
“On the one hand, you need to light a space so you can see the actors – but, more than that, you are creating a mood, you are creating a world for those actors to inhabit and for the audience to get submersed in. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of any great film.”
3. Don’t cut corners
“When you are on a film, you’re often tired and so sometimes the temptation can be to do something a bit quick and cut corners, but then you regret it. What you do lives on forever, as they say. It’s important to persevere, because it’s the people who persevere who go on to create something unique.”
4. Consider the background when framing your shot
“Try to make sure that the background in the shot(s) has some connection with the subject or subject matter or theme.”
5. Go on scouting trips as early as you can
“When I do a movie on location, it’s really important for me to go and scout locations even before the technical scout with my crew. It’s crucial to go with the production designer — and the director, if you can — to figure out how you’re going to make the best out of it for the storytelling.”
6. Learn how to use natural light on interiors
“If you don’t have the money to put up lights, you have to think about how the building is in front of your location and bounce the light into the apartment. Or try to schedule your shooting around the sunlight. I light mostly from outside the windows for daylight, but if you had to light from inside the windows or on top of the windows to reproduce the light, then you have to make sure you have high enough ceilings.”
7. Have one strong thematic idea, not a bagful
“I’ve learned one general thing in filmmaking: to work with one strong idea. One strong concept that pushes you to work in a certain way artistically. Then you can bring it into a family of ideas. Then it’s like a tree: You have an idea for each scene, but one main idea in the film. It’s better to be behind one strong statement or one strong idea for a film.”
8. If it’s cheap enough, everyone’s a winner
The confines of a smaller budget leave the weight to the dialogue, plot and characters. It’s safer for the commerce side, and it’s a positive challenge for the art side.
9. Choose your collaborators carefully
Find people that want to do something on set that you’re not good at/interested in and team up. Create a partnership and a collaboration because talent sharpens talent and you might discover a combination that can last for decades.
Bonus: Keep up with new technology but remember the storytelling
“Technology is changing all the time, but for me nothing has changed in the sense that you are still telling stories by the use of light, the use of a frame, the way you move a camera. I’m still hoping to be part of telling stories about people and the way we are. So, to me, technology is important, but it’s only in the background, it’s a means to an end, it’s like the paintbrush.” – Roger Deakins