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Old July 2nd, 2006, 03:01 PM   #1
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Going Crazy Finding My Way

Just a sanity check on some random thoughts and would appreciate any words of warning, particaularly from people with experience like Charles Papert and Cole McDonald... It's so easy to get out of balance... OK... Here goes.
1) I'm writing the script, learning lighting, angles and setting up the shots. I just watched Ran and was struck by two things: a) almost no use of close-ups/shallow DOF action. b) the sets and framing were exquisite.
Questions: Did the popularity of shallow DOF develop as a cheap cheat to avoid the massive and potential massive money hemorrhage from designing or finding such exquisite sets.
2) Can this be recreated with non-budget by putting 20X the work and scouting even the tiniest of locations for impact and richness (something you generally don't see in smaller independent films)? Or is this a foolish overly time-consuming bit of hubris.
I'm trying to teach myself (OK... actually I have many, many teachers... a lot of them right here) my own way. I'm trying to avoid useless affectation but trying not to cheat viewers of the depth and richness even without a budget. Part of me says, yes... You can spend 6 months to a year scouring for the perfect room and create similar beauty as you might see with people with much more money, but much less time. I am just beginning and thinking that I will shoot each set of scenes as if it were a short film to get my chops down and survive the necessary failures in order to learn.

In short, am I way off here?
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Old July 2nd, 2006, 03:53 PM   #2
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shallow dof is popular purely because people try to emulate 35mm film movies - as 35mm is considered something reserved for professionals. If you used a small aperture (which creates deeper dof) on a 35mm camera, exposure would be useless for video in all but the brightest conditions.
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Old July 2nd, 2006, 04:25 PM   #3
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I was talking about it's prevalent use in film as well as video. If the background is blurry you don't need to take as much care with setting them up, framing, etc.
For example, Kurosawa's Ran (DP - Takao Saito) had nearly zero shallow DOF action, but had breathtaking backgrounds that somehow STILL did not take away from the actors. Wow.
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Old July 2nd, 2006, 04:29 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Howard
I was talking about it's prevalent use in film as well as video. If the background is blurry you don't need to take as much care with setting them up, framing, etc.
For example, Kurosawa's Ran (DP - Takao Saito) had nearly zero shallow DOF action, but had breathtaking backgrounds that somehow STILL did not take away from the actors. Wow.
i dont think the comment about setting up and framing is true actually. DOF is supposed to be used to make something stand out, just like lighting etc. Setting up a REAL shallow DOF is hard to, especially close up, as slight movements move the infocus area noticably.

just my opinion...
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Old July 2nd, 2006, 04:50 PM   #5
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You are certainly NOT being a nuisance by the way (cute sig). You are absolutely right that can be difficult (particularly with DV) to get shallow DOF. What I'm playing with is the possibility of setting up the backgrounds where the wider DOF inherent to our cameras becomes an ADVANTAGE rather than a huge pain only assuaged by such things as soft 35mm adaptors.
In fact, I read here that the shallow DOF may have come from French movies where it was used to cover their less advanced technology at the time. Now how's that for irony?
For those of us without what Rodriguez refers to as the 'money hose', can we do this by just developing a sense of background and perhaps the use of tight background shots in public areas, like that parking lot with that beautiful mural as background? If shot right nobody has to know it's a parking lot next to a restaurant. One advantage we 'independent' types have is we generally don't have a rigid schedule, so we can take the extra time to find the perfect free spots. Just some thoughts...
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Old July 2nd, 2006, 07:18 PM   #6
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Frank,

I think that you are on the right track, regarding DOF. Shallow DOF gives a certain "look" or "style", and it has the advantage of directing the focus of the audience to the area in focus by the camera. I'm sure that you've seen scenes where person A is in focus and says a line, then the focus transitions to person B who responds. It's a neat effect, but it's essentially just an effect.

I think shallow DOF is especially helpful when the background is busy with lots of detail. By maintaining focus only on your character the shot is more iconic and has a stronger sense of depth.

But you could also film your actors in front of smoother areas, like a fairly flat wall lit with a soft wash or pattern. The background is then interesting because of the lighting, but the actors will still stand out, because they own the detail in the scene. Shallow DOF doesn't really matter then.

The funny thing is that filmmakers used to see shallow DOF as a limitation, rather than an advantage. I've heard that Hitchcock wanted an extreme wide-angle foreshortened shot with the gun barrel in the lens and the actors face in the background - and he wanted both in focus. He wasn't able to achieve the shot with the lenses and technology of the day. His solution? He had the crew build a giant gun. The actor stood behind it and the camera could get the shot fron a distance with a telephoto lens. And to think - all he needed was a cheap video camera!

Anyway, I think that you're right. Given the right background, composition and lighting, deep DOF can still give a great look and you can still get an iconic shot with a well-defined foreground image.
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Old July 2nd, 2006, 08:13 PM   #7
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LOL. Exactly. I heard about that Hitchcock scene with the giant hand and gun. Like all techniques shallow DOF has definite advantages under certain conditions, but I have to wonder if perhaps it may be overused by us DV folks in a kind of misplaced inferiority complex, and is perhaps overused?
Although I still believe film/analog may always have a better look to it (like music recorded to tape first), I believe DV, particularly HDV, levels the playing field enough for us poor folks to enter the game. I think that perhaps Rodriguez and Lucas have shown conclusively that DV can used to create beautiful enough output. So I guess that leaves less excuses for ourselves. And maybe it is up to us as filmmakers (even baby ones) to rise to the occasion.
:)

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Old July 3rd, 2006, 06:35 AM   #8
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I think the answer you are looking for is written in your first statement.

"I'm writing the script, learning lighting, angles and setting up the shots."

No single thing will make or ruin your project. They are ALL bottlenecks and all must be considered equally.

I am also interested in this statement:

"Can this be recreated with non-budget by putting 20X the work and scouting even the tiniest of locations for impact and richness (something you generally don't see in smaller independent films)? Or is this a foolish overly time-consuming bit of hubris."

I don't think any amount of work and preparation is too much, as long as it doesn't keep you from making your film. It is all part of the artistic enterprise and persistence should pay off. I am in a similar circumstance. I want my first (first time directing) movie to be visually pleasing and I want to take advantage of the varied people and environment of which nowhere on earth but Hawaii can match. There are other places with a richer tapestry in some ways, but they can't all be found within a one-hour drive like they can on this island.

I have put a huge amount of time researching and testing methods and techniques and I think I have a story that is somewhat interesting to a fairly wide audience. The visuals are a very important aspect to the story as the "hook" depends on a big contrast emotionally. I need to make one part very dramatic in order to accent the end of the movie or it won't have the impact I am trying to get. To accomplish this, I am scouting a lot of locations and have recently found a perfect location (through a friend's help) that was the one I thought impossible in Hawaii. I found a CASTLE! Yes, I can now have my castle/monastery shot without resorting to cheap special effects (the only kind I can afford). Persistence and even a bit of procrastination have paid off.
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Old December 19th, 2006, 04:29 PM   #9
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Were you still looking for information?

I apologize for my tardiness. I found this while looking for another posting of mine.

Here's my US$0.02, DoF is a tool. If you read through your script and see lots of closeups with shallow DoF, shoot that...conversely, if you see big sweeping vistas behind your actors, shoot with your iris stopped down in full sunlight zoomed out as wide as possible to keep your framing without distorting your actors.

Whether you shoot shallow or deep DoF should always be an artistic choice, but you should also scout your locations and compose your frame as if you were shooting with huge DoF, that way the blown out focus of your shot, should you choose to use it, will look that much better.

The goal is always to direct attention and give a sense of scope/intimacy in a given location. If that is best acheived by continuing to show that the characters are in some huge, beautiful vista having a convo, use that. If you can save time/money by shooting an initial establishing shot and then punching closer with a photographed backdrop out of focus, do that...as long as the viewer has that sense of place. Shallow DoF will lend itself to putting the viewer in the conversation/action...whereas wide DoF will make the viewer feel like an outside observer.

choose based on the needs of the script.
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