When working on our short Lovecraft inspired film “The Crawling Chaos” I had a lot of ideas for how I wanted everything to look. Storyboarding was important of course, and I made detailed storyboards for the whole film, many including shadows and lighting. At the end of the day though, especially when producing a film without a huge budget, you are going to be making changes on the fly. Sets might not be laid out the way you pictured, weather and schedule may not be what you hoped, and some shots may not be practical without the proper equipment.
The basic idea behind our cinematography was to keep it engrossing and non distracting. If it were an action flick or something with epic sweeping fantasy, stylish camera work could lend a lot to the overall experience. For comedy, the camera work isn’t going to matter as much and can be more static, since the situation and the dialogue are going to be creating the laughs. For horror the goals are different, and often what is not on camera will be creating the fear. We wanted to find the best shots to create tension and convey the proper mood, but keep the camera work from being distracting so that the viewer stays in the scene and gets absorbed in the mystery.
I utilized a combination of camera techniques to try and achieve this, from tight shots on a wide angle (handheld and stabilizer shots, bring you close to feel the emotion but slight distortion from wide angle is unsettling) to longer lenses on a tripod or shoulder mounted rig with wide apertures that separate the subject from the background, creating that bokeh (blurry background) that we commonly associate with film. We used a slider and a tripod for many of our shots to add that cinematic quality, while keeping the pace tense right up until the action starts. With strange angles and extreme close ups thrown in to help with the unsettling mood, most of what we set out to do has been accomplished.
Some of the shots, such as an establishing shot of a forest, definitely need some more polished movement to make them look cinematic and professional. For this reason, one of the things we are hoping to purchase with Kickstarter funds is a jib or small crane (or if we don’t meet stretch goals, we can just rent them with the crowdfunded money. Buying would be better for future films though!). This will allow us to do several shots that are in the storyboards but that we haven’t been able to shoot yet. We also hope to add a dolly for a few long tracking shots where it is essential to keep the shot moving to keep the tension building, not cutting away to give the viewer a breather. These shots will add huge production quality to a movie that already looks great, and bring us one step closer to finishing this film. Once that happens, you can check out the camera work for yourselves, and we can take what we’ve learned and apply it to our next film!