“We want the film look” says the client or producer. Many budget conscious filmmakers, notably students, independents, documentarians, and television networks, use low cost digital video cameras but desire the film look. We’ve all seen the scratchy, old timey film look applied after the shoot or used software to produce a supposed film look. But what exactly is the film look and what’s the best way to get it when you shoot digitally? How do you advise clients and producers?
What are your experiences? I would love to hear them.
As production and post overlap more and more in this area of perfecting a show’s images, these questions continue to crop up. The topic has been coming up in FCP and other users’ groups for awhile and here’s the common wisdom: To get the film look, shoot for it during – surprise – the shoot! Here’s how:
Understand film and digital cameras
Video is what the eye sees and film is what the mind sees.
Keep this axiom in the back of your brain when you shoot film style or advise others.
Film and digital cameras capture images in two distinct ways. Film capture is a photochemical process which produces the grain (texture, fullness) that we’re accustomed to seeing. Digital capture relies on electronic signals which result in non-grainy images that are cool and crisp and often described as harsh.
Since the ability of digi-cams (both motion and the new DSLR still cameras that are starting to be used to shoot videos) to capture images that mimic film is continually improving, get the best digi-cam you can afford. As of this writing however, the best HD camera does not approach the look of 16mm film, let alone 35mm. So, to achieve a film look, address the differences between the two mediums using the following methods.
Six methods to achieve film look with digital camera
- Set the proper depth of field (DOF). Since video has an infinite DOF and film a shallow DOF, you need to narrow the DOF to approach film. Do this by allowing enough room to separate camera from the set, using film style lenses, zooming, adding a digital adapter, and changing the F-stop to widen the aperture.
- Light film style to avoid the harsh, cold video look. Go beyond “room lighting” and use key, fill, and back lighting in different scenes.
- Adjust the white balance to mimic the photochemical color timing possible with film.
- Be aware of how you block the camera – allow enough room for zooming – and talent – have them move forward is preferable to moving them sideways.
- Pay attention to what the audience’s focal point will be with every set up. What will they notice first? Catch in their peripheral vision? Gravitate to next?
- Finally, because sound is vital to viewers’ acceptance of visual images, record high quality audio to bolster your film image look.
With future technology this all may be moot, but for now, this is the best way to go.