The Democratisation Of Filmmaking: Is It Enough To Have A High Quality Camera?

Originally published by Raindance.

Once the preserve of bearded, baseball cap-wearing men over 40, the notion of what a film director looks like has broadened to accommodate women, amateurs, students and ingénues.

Ultimately, the landscape of filmmaking has shifted to encompass, and arguably champion, the everyman. The average Joe can now pick up a digital single-lens reflex camera and tell their story at a fraction of the price, resources and manpower hitherto required.

 “The digitalization and democratization of the filmmaking process has the ability to bring the power to the people and cultivate new and fresh voices in film that deserve to be heard”. (For full article, go here).

hitrecord (1)The DSLR revolution gave a mass audience a camera capable of producing cinematic images for an affordable price. This process of democratization has made production companies like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ‘HitRecord’ possible. Marketing themselves as an open, collaborative company, Levitt himself purports that “anybody with the internet [or a camera] can contribute” to their projects.

So is that enough? Will the red carpet roll out in front of you as soon as you purchase that digital camera?

Unlikely, but with the quality and accessibility to DSLR cameras constantly improving, and their cost constantly lowering, anyone with the innovation, vision and determination to get their film made can do just that.

Popular-DSLRsDSLR’s boast adaptability, mobility, image stabilisation, and for those of us lacking the strength to schlep around hefty equipment, ease of use! What’s more, because the prices of such cameras aren’t heart attack inducing, eye-wateringly high, if the camera gets ruined while shooting a scene or you want the dynamic feel of several cameras, it won’t dent your budget irreparably.

Interchangeable lenses are also a major bonus for the independent filmmaker, enabling us to achieve that high-quality aesthetic for a fraction of the cost. When shooting video with a DSLR you can mount lenses ranging from ultra wide 14mm to 800mm, as well as specialist lenses like macro, fish eye, and tilt shift. The creative possibilities afforded by this combination of a larger sensor and a wide range of lenses are near endless, generating a cinematic look once reserved solely for the major studios.

Equally, depth of field is an invaluable tool in storytelling; allowing you to focus on or emphasise certain aspects, moments or motifs in your narrative and which give your film a more professional edge. The low-light capability and shallow depth-of-field offered by most DSLR’s allows for softer focus as well as the ability to clearly see objects or people in the background, foreground and anywhere in between.

However, there are some drawbacks to be navigated if you are to invest in a DSLR. While the shallow depth of field offered by cameras like the 5D is impressive, keeping a subject in focus is a considerable challenge. Autofocus is absent from most HD-capable cameras, and a steady hand is needed to control things manually. What’s worse, for professional or independent filmmakers, rendering the output in real-time on an external monitor can be difficult, if not non-existent on most models, making it hard for operators and technicians to evaluate focus, lighting and other factors.

nikon_d810Poor audio quality has been another criticism frequently levelled at DSLR’s and is a feature most new models are seeking to eradicate. The Nikon D810 DSLR possesses a number of enhanced video features, designed specifically to improve the aesthetic of your film. One such improvement is the inclusion of two microphones, allowing it to record in stereo rather than mono, and those capturing audio with an external mic will be able to split the recording into a separate wide range and voice range.

Furthermore, the D810 is able to film in an auto ISO mode that still allows for manual control over aperture and shutter speed, letting those two factors stay locked down while the camera adjusts to changes in lighting. The internet is the filmmaker’s oyster and such rapid development of DSLR technology has made it easier than ever to exhibit your growing portfolio.

And that’s not to confine DSLR filmmaking to the amateur’s playing field either. ‘Like Crazy’, the recent indie offering from director Drake Doremus, was shot on a Canon 7D and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and achieve an acquisition deal from Paramount for $4 million. Doremus praised the snatched feel in the lensing that the 7D provided, lending the film its guerilla filmmaking aesthetic. Other films to have employed the DSLR include Lena Dunham’s ‘Tiny Furniture and the DP for ‘Black Swan’ Matthew Libatique also got on board with digital filmmaking for a few scenes. Not a bad reason to follow suit.

Whilst the marketing and distribution of your film still requires a certain amount of financial backing and know-how to get your product to the consumers, certainly making a masterpiece is more doable than ever.

Nevertheless, cheaper, fancier equipment does not a Christopher Nolan make. The DSLR revolution has enabled filmmakers to proliferate, but to really succeed you still need the directorial vision and capability to realise your narrative in a dynamic, visual and unique way. That being said, there are a plethora of reasons the DSLR has become such a mainstream form of video capture and DSLR image quality will out perform any other camera in that price range.

But when it comes down to it, what should capture the imagination of your audience is the story you’re telling, rather than the means by which you’re telling it.

Review: Breathe In

breathe-in
Breathe In (2013)

Directed by: Drake Doremus. Starring: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis, Kyle MacLachlan

Director Drake Doremus reunites with the star of his film Like Crazy, Felicity Jones, to deliver another muted, melancholic portrait of transatlantic love.

kinopoisk.ruBreathe In seems like the slightly more mature, cynical successor to the wide-eyed naiveté of Like Crazy, yet similarly explores obstacles to a burgeoning relationship. This time Jones takes on the role of Sophie, a British exchange student who shifts the dynamic of her American host family. Guy Pearce is the musically-gifted, but creatively-stifled husband, increasingly suffocated by the dreary sameness of suburban family life (ringing American Beauty bells), whilst Amy Ryan plays the cookie-cutter, cookie-jar-collecting wife who yearns for a bigger house and all the charming perks of stability.

A softly spoken old soul, Sophie comes to America expecting the excitement and buzz of New York City. Instead she finds herself embroiled in high-school drama, repressed desire and middle-class, middle-aged anxieties. Over dinner-time conversation and awkward family occasions, Sophie finds herself drawn to cellist and music teacher Keith, whilst she reluctantly wows him with her performance of a Chopin piece in his class. From the moment Sophie enters the house, and Keith rifles curiously and somewhat intrusively through her luggage, to her doleful eyes watching his participation in the local orchestra, the sexual tension is rife.

However, Doremus prefers to unfurl and simmer, rather than erupt. Breathe In thrives on moments of emotional undercurrent and dormant artistic expression.

The characters tread carefully around one another. Suspicions and resentment brews, as daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) has her nose pushed out of joint by Sophie’s apparent popularity with the men in her life and Ryan’s Megan senses her husband’s weakness. Where the film succeeds is in not overplaying or over-complicating these moments. In one of its final scenes, Megan just shoots a withering stare to a distraught Sophie. Words are scarcely needed. Indeed the old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is never truer than during a family photo, where Keith, Megan and Lauren paste on their smiles of familial happiness amid the betrayal and discontent.

And yet with each tender caress or desiring stare, I couldn’t decide whether the film felt subdued and subtle, or just plain smug. During a torrential downpour, with senses and emotions running high, Keith and Sophie interlace fingers over piano-playing. Chords and keys become the tapestry through which their affair is woven and though it makes for a sensual unravelling of romance, rather than an explosive or rushed bluster to the bedroom, there were times when it all got a bit too dour. Combined with the bleak, blueish-green colour palette and melodramatic musical score, unlike the Chopin piece, it all felt over-composed. Too orchestrated to feel natural. Besides Sophie and Keith, who are seemingly connected by underlying performance anxiety, the characters are hastily and stereotypically fleshed out. Lauren’s jealously is a subplot kept very much to the periphery, whilst Megan is alternatively dismissive or dubious throughout the entire runtime. The performances themselves are incredibly naturalistic and Jones and Pearce do well (as she does equally in The Invisible Woman) to convince us of their chemistry and attraction, despite the age gap. However, the contrivance eventually outweighs the sense of restraint and delicacy.

Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce in Breathe InBeneath the brooding tension of illicit romance and moments, or glances stolen, the narrative is smothered by a been-there, done-that familiarity. Keith and Sophie seek refuge from expectation and onlookers by escaping to a local lake, wherein amongst the foliage and nature, they share secrets, hopes and truths. It’s part heart rendering, part-overwhelming twee. And then it goes full-scale melodrama when the one person who can’t find out, stumbles into the same neck of the woods. What are the chances?! In a Doremus film, incredibly, incredibly high.

I wanted to like Breathe In a lot. Jones and Pearce carry the somewhat flawed narrative with a sensitivity and poignancy, so that, almost immorally, you do genuinely want this fledgling couple to find a way to make it work. But I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen, Doremus seems to be a glass half-empty kind of director…

Verdict: A patchy fifth-feature from Doremus. For all its sensuous slow-burning and talented acting, one can’t help but feel it has a lot in common with the wasted potential of its protagonist.