We live in a wonderful age of technology; a time when anyone can pick up a camera and make a movie. It’s amazing, fabulous, incredible… but it has put a lot of focus on equipment.
It seems almost every man and his dog in the low budget filmmaking world is talking about which camera they should choose? Which format or lenses should they shoot with?
Frankly all this BS drives me totally nuts! Guys please listen, stop wasting all your energy on techy camera pros and cons.
Here’s a little secret… Most audiences these days can’t tell the difference between digital or film, they don’t know the difference between a ARRI Alexa or a Box Brownie! What’s more, most of them don’t actually give a damn what the hell the movie was shot on. What’s far more important is whether you are giving them what they really need. A compelling STORY with believable CHARACTERS.
So what’s the most important bit of gear you need to make an amazing movie?
‘Heathcliff… is that shot on 35mm or Digital? ‘ I’ve no Idea what your talking about Cathy… and frankly my dear I don’t give a Damn !’
The most important piece of equipment you need in your arsenal is a good IMAGINATION and what’s more, an understanding of how to translate that imagination onto the big screen. Forget your codecs, forget your lenses and bit rates: stories is what this game is all about and if you can create compelling stories you’ll be on the road to success in no time at all.
Gear can be bought, rented or borrowed, but imagination and creativity cannot.
OK stop screaming at me, I know the visuals are vitally important, after all this IS a visual medium but it’s not just about a little black box with a lens stuck on the front, it’s about the skill of the person operating it but even more importantly it’s the STORY and how you EXECUTE IT that really matters. So go out and there and buy whatever camera you can afford in the HD range, and get on with it. That’s it. End of discussion!
‘Look Michael… I don’t care what you think, it’s here in the script so just bloody read it!’
Ridley Scott once said the 3 most important parts of a movie are SCRIPT, SCRIPT and SCRIPT. At 76 years of age he’s still making incredible movies. He’s a master filmmaker so if you don’t take it from me perhaps he can convince you!
The guys over at the Reel Deal Film School have sent me (as a guest post) these five excellent points that demonstrate what I’m saying. These guys know what they’re talking about (trust me I trained them!) so go ahead and check them out when you get the chance!
5 Reasons A Good Camera Does Not Make a Good Movie
1. Fact: Spielberg with an iPhone – could make a better movie than you could with an Alexa or Panaflex.
Spielberg. What can I say. I know his work isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love what he does. In my humble opinion he’s an absolute genius. Just pick any one of his movies and look at it, I don’t mean watch it, I mean really look at it. How he moves the camera, how he blocks his actors and engineers shots, how he wants a scene lit to create a certain atmosphere, how he directs his actors, how he transforms the words on a page to something an audience can connect with.
But apart from his impressive technical abilities what really sets him apart is that he’s a master storyteller. Without his knowledge and understanding a big budget or a fancy camera is worthless.
So spend less time worrying about gear and more time worrying about building up your cinematic understanding.
“OK that was great but I need to go again… more emotion this time… remember ‘my i-phone loves you’
2. Audiences will forgive a film with poor visuals and a good story but not the other way round
A compelling story is a compelling story, no matter what format it is filmed on. Just think of the seemingly endless pot of money the studios have to play with; ground-breaking visual effects, crazy set pieces… but you can (and often do) find you yourself leaving the theatre thinking… “That was… OK”. Considering it cost something like $150million to make it should be a bit more than… OK!
On the flip side, some of the greatest films of all time have been made on pennies – why is Captain American not held in the same high regard as E.T. (despite having a budget multiple times greater?) Because people love the story of E.T.
Gear and money means nothing if your story is “OK.”
3. Filmmakers Often Get Blinded by the Visuals
As a filmmaker it’s very easy to look at your work and go…
“Phwoar! Doesn’t that look beautiful, look what I did with no money everyone?! I made it look amazing! Don’t you think it’s beautiful?!”
It’s very easy to be blinded by how nice you made it look and how great a job you did in improving production value and ignoring the actual issue which is the strength of your story. Remember, Joe Bloggs in the movie theatre doesn’t know who made the film they’re watching or how much it cost to make (and what’s more, he doesn’t care!!!). All he know is, this story is amazing or this story sucks. Simple.
4. The Gear Debate was more relevant pre-high end Digital Era
Imagine you’re born in the 1970’s. You want to make a movie but you’ve got a problem. You need a camera that is cinema-projectable, 16mm or 35mm film formats are your only real option but they are very expensive. Go back even 15 years and you’re looking at limited options – those guys had a reason to worry about their format; if it wasn’t good enough quality, their movie wouldn’t stand a chance of theatrical distribution.
The Black Magic HD camera. Starts from $750 to about $3,000. Amazing HD Images with interchangeable lenses.
Now fast forward to present day, the world is your oyster, now there are so many affordable HD cameras that could do the job, fantastic digital quality… and in most cases Cinema quality!
For under £2,000 (about $3200) you can choose from probably 50-100 excellent HD cameras that have stunning picture quality and perfect for your needs. Yes, it’s important to pick what’s right for your project, but that’s not the most important factor. Find your camera, make the decision and move on. Don’t get caught up. Digital tech is always moving forward and if you’re always trying to get the best camera possible… you’ll end up waiting forever to shoot your film, because the next exciting thing is always just around the corner.
5. It’s like asking what pencils Disney used to draw with…
I think it was John Lasseter or Brad Bird, who jokingly once said something along the lines of:
“Asking what software we use to make Pixar movies is like asking Walt Disney what pencils he used to draw with!”
It’s ridiculous, Walt’s pencils won’t make you an artist and Roger Deakins’ camera won’t make you a cinematographer. A camera is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Just like a pencil doesn’t improve how well you can draw, nor will a camera improve your cinematic style. The pencil strokes may look a bit nicer and your image may look a bit better, but that’s about it.
Now I’ve got Walt’s pencils…Why… I can do anything!!!
Some great points from the Reel Deal Film School the guys there; so without exception ALWAYS prioritise the story and GOOD ACTING over cameras and all those other filmmaking toys. Sure in the right hands, the right equipment will make your film look and sound better, but they cannot improve the script or the performances and that is, at its core, what movies are all about.
Get out there, come up with some amazing stories and start learning your craft rather than worrying about your gear!
So remember; what’s The Number 1 Most Important Piece of Filmmaking Equipment?… Your IMAGINATION !!!
‘till next time….Happy filmmaking !
By the way… I run a course on Lighting & Cinematography, so click the link or get in touch if you’re interested in coming and learning in person!
Free Spirit Film & TV
Film, TV & Online Video Production.