VIDEO ESSAY: What’s the Theme in Fargo

Hello ladies and gents, how’s everyone doing?

I spent the last two weeks working on the video essay below, and I’m so excited to be finally sharing this with you! Not only was this a lot of fun (though time-consuming), I do see tremendous benefits for you — the future filmmakers and screenwriters of the world. This is a new series and — time permitting — I hope to be able to create other video essays like this one regularly.

The topic I chose for this essay was theme. Though I’ve talked about theme before, I thought it would be insightful to pick one movie and one theme, and show how that movie surveys the theme. The film I chose for this was Fargo, and the theme was… well, watch the video, will ya?

SPOILER ALERT: This video essay spoils major plot points in Fargo

[Read more…]

Shot List


I just finished a 6-month course on filmmaking, and I have to shoot a short film. I  have quiet a hard time coming up with a shot list, please help me on this. How can I come up with a shot? I really want to do it myself and be bold to say I did this… – Peter


Hi Peter, thanks for your question. I hope the following article will help out you, as well as anyone else interested in learning more about the shot list. Since not everyone may understand what you are asking, let’s take a few steps back and tackle this  from the beginning.

If you haven’t done so already, go a head and read the following material:

Now without further ado:

What is a shot list: Definition & Purpose

A shot list is a document that lists and describes the shots to be filmed during principal photography. There isn’t a set format for the shot list, but here’s one way you can do it:

[Read more…]

The Elements of Directing (Directing Index)

Directing may appear easy from the outside. But a film director is a highly-skilled artist who understands in-depth every aspect of film production. It is said that a film director should be the first and last person on a set. Though an exaggeration for sure, the intent behind the saying is to communicate that a director has to be completely aware of everything that is happening on their set.

The ideal film director must be creative, resourceful, charismatic, and savvy of his craft and the business. They understand the story, the camera, and the actors. They know how to delegate. They know how to express their wishes to cast and crew without stepping on anyone’s toes and without sounding bossy or arrogant.

Below are some lessons and tips for future filmmakers:

Articles and Lessons:

Blog Post:

Further Reading:

More lessons and articles coming soon! Want updates, then sign up for the Elements of Cinema newsletter or like our page on Facebook, or both!

If you wanna request a topic, drop us a comment below or send us an email.

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The Elements of Editing (Editing Index)

Editing is the heart of post-production. This is the phase in which the “disjointed” mess of principal photography (aka footage) is sorted out and pieced together. Because so much of the narrative is shaped at this stage, editing is considered the third and final revision of the story (script is first, filming is second, editing is third). For this reason, directors and editors have to become best buds during the process.

The following lessons and articles will teach you some basic and some advanced principles about this craft. I have ordered them based on what (I think) you should read first:

More lessons and articles coming soon! Want updates, then sign up for the Elements of Cinema newsletter or like our Facebook page, or both!

If you wanna request a topic, drop us a comment below or send us an email.

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The Elements of Screenwriting (Screenwriting Index)

It’s been said time and time again that the screenplay is the most important part of a movie. After all, that’s where the story comes from. And it’s the narrative with all its elements that make people laugh, cry, fear, etc. Below you will find some basic, some advanced concepts about the art of telling stories:

Articles and Lessons:

Related Blog Posts:

More lessons and articles coming soon! Want updates, then sign up for the Elements of Cinema newsletter or like our page on Facebook, or both!

If you wanna request a topic, drop us a comment below or send us an email.

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The Elements of Cinematography (Cinematography Index)

cinematography-cameras-lightsCinematography is one of the most involved aspects of filmmaking. Arguably, it also the most important. Writers and directors be damned, without the camera, cinema would not exist. And it’s how the camera is manipulated or utilized that different forms of cinema are created. From documentaries to experimental, style and substance start with the camera.

Cinematography is the art of filming moving pictures. It all starts with a camera, of course, but this department utilizes a plethora of equipment and techniques to create the look of a movie.

More lessons and articles coming soon! Want updates, then sign up for the Elements of Cinema newsletter or like our page on Facebook, or both!

If you wanna request a topic, drop us a comment below or send us an email.

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Automated Dialogue Replacement

automated-dialogue-replacementAutomated or automatic dialogue replacement (ADR) is a process whereby dialogue is re-recorded in a studio during post-production to match picture filmed during principal photography. As the name implies, this better quality re-recording of an actor’s dialogue replaces the previously recorded poor quality audio. ADR is necessary when, for one reason or another, no suitable dialogue was recorded during principal photography. [Read more…]

Elements of Sound Design (Intro to Sound Series)

elements of sound designWelcome to the Sound Series, where together we’ll go over some of the basic aspects of film production and appreciation in relationship to sound effects and music, including gear and industry best practices. Collectively, these elements form the soundscape or sound design of a film.

To kick things off, check out our article on Sound Design, where you will understand why sound is so important, especially when contrasted to the raw, unedited audio:

Sound Design and the Importance of Sound in Film

Once you’ve read that article, you can go more in-depth here:

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Before digital technology came to existence, television programs were transmitted in an analog video format or signal. The standardization of video signal was important for the compatibility across VHS tapes, VCRs devices, DVD players, TV sets, and broadcast.

Each format (either NTSC and PAL) follows a standard of technical rules to ensure quality and compatibility of broadcast. The guidelines include specifications for:
  • color
  • refresh rate
  • resolution
  • (and more)
Different countries use different formats. For instance, in the United States and Japan, NTSC is the standard format for analog video, whereas in the United Kingdom and Brazil, PAL is the standard. (Speaking of which, there is also a third standard known as SECAM, which originated in France and was mostly used in France and its colonies.)

NTSC vs PAL: Specifications


Analog video signal type around the world.

NTSC stands for Nation Television System Committee. The NTSC video signal refreshes at a rate of 25 frames per second. Each frame is made of 525 individual lines.
PAL is short for Phase Alternating Line. It is the video signal used in most countries broadcasting at 625-line / 50 field (25 frame) per second (576i)
The difference between one system and the other are almost negligible. No system is better than the other. These specification simply exist for the practical purpose of guiding manufactures into making products that work together.
Due to the new, superior digital format, ATSC, these old specifications and names are increasingly more obsolete, gradually fading from mainstream memory. Oh, well. Onward!

What is Foley?

Foley sound design

Foley artist Gary Hecker uses a sword and spatula to create the right sound (see video below).

Foley is one of the components of a film’s sound design. Foley effects are sounds recorded during post-production to give weight or oomph to subtle sounds that appear on the screen during an actor’s performance and other scenarios.

As I wrote when I talked about the boom microphone, the sound recordist and the production crew are more concerned with capturing dialogue than any other sound during principal photography. Not only does dialogue carry the weight of the story, but you also need an actor to deliver it, which makes the dialogue the undisputed, most important sound element in a narrative film. It can also be the most expensive, if you need Meryl Streep or George Clooney to perform it, which is why on a set you aim your boom mic at the actor’s mouth.
But in the “full canvas of sound,” as foley artist Gary Hecker calls it, other sounds elements are also incorporated in the film. “Little” sounds like footsteps, water running, or an AC humming, need not be recorded on set because they can easily be reproduced during post by foley artists. Here’s how they do it:

The Craft of Foleying

The artistry of foley comes from an artist’s resourcefulness to create a sound using unlikely objects. As you see in the video above, foley artist Gary Hecker mimics the sound of the unsheathing of a sword by scraping a metal spatula across a prop sword. In the video, he explains that timing is also a pre-requisite for foley artists. In a single scene, you may have to recreate dozens of sounds before the next breather. To make the process smooth and efficient, it is in everyone’s best interest that foley artists record the effects at the right moment (instead of having to rely on a sound editor to synchronize sound bites every time). This is how crazy it gets:

And here’s another video: