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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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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NTSC and PAL

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

NTSC and PAL

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:

Music in Film

sound-design-film

The iconic Jaws theme is a classic example of music that unnerves viewers.

Music is one of the elements of a film’s sound design. It is different from dialogue and sound effects in that usually it does not have its source as part of the filmic space. Gunshots and door slamming, for instance, are heard when they happen on the screen (diegetic sound).

But music, on the other hand, is often an “additional” component of sound design, written by a composer during post-production. Like most elements of filmmaking, the goal of music is to augment emotions and manipulate viewers. More often than not, the source of music, or score, is not produces by a source in the filmic space (non-diegetic sound).
This clip from FilmRiot illustrates how different types of music can invoke different emotions in the audience:

When Should You Not Use Music?

Too much music can be overwhelming. Sometimes it is preferred to let the audience hear the dietetic noises and sounds of the film world. In the documentary The Cutting Edge – The Magic of Movie Editing, it is discussed how music implemented over a specific scene of Dante’s Peak made the scene less effective because the music disguised the eerie sound of settling dirt in a mine shaft about to collapse. In this scene, music was a distraction that minimized the audience’s reaction.

Remember: as a filmmaker, your goal is to immerse the audience in your film. Music usually does just that. But if the sounds of the film world can achieve a similar effect, then you should ask yourself if you need music at all. As a general rule, you should never replace a visceral sound, like a woman screaming or a building exploding, with music. Maybe you can use music to augment the emotional beat, yes, but don’t let it overwhelm your sound.

And then there’s contrapuntal music, which goes to other extreme, countering exciting, sometimes even explosive scenes with mellow music.

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sound

Diegetic

diegesis

The iconic intro of the James Bond movies has a diegetic sound effect because we hear the gunshot as it happens on the screen.

Sound is called diegetic when its source is visible or implied in the world of the film. Common diegetic sounds present in most films are:

  • actors speaking to each other (dialogue)
  • sounds originating from any object on the screen, like footsteps and police sirens
  • music that comes from a sound system or orchestra
Diegetic [di-a-JE-tic] comes from the greek word diegesis and it means to recount a story. Diegetic is also known as actual or literal sound.
Diegetic sounds can further be categorized as source-connected or source-disconnected depending on whether the sound source is visible or implied on the screen. A visible source is shown on the screen, while an implied source is still part of the film world but not shown on the screen.

Non-Diegetic

Sound is said to be nondiegetic when its source is not present or implied in the narrative universe. Common instances are:
  • music or score, used to augment emotions
  • actor’s commentary or narration
  • any extra sound added for effect
Non-diegetic is also known as commentary or nonliteral sound.
Below is an extra credit video assignment I did with a couple friends. It’s about sound in a broader sense, but at 3:27, we discuss and exemplify the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic sound:

Combining Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds

In the textbook Sight, Sound, Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics, Herbert Zettl explains:

diegesis definition

In Rocky, the punches and crowd cheering is diegetic. Rocky’s fanrare, the musical theme, is non-diegetic.

“Most often literal and nonliteral sounds are combined in the same scene. Assume that we see a mother and her son walking along the beach. We hear their dialogue (literal, source-connected), the pounding of the surf (literal, source-disconnected). When their conversation turns to the recent funeral of Gradma, music comes in to underscore the sad memories (nonliteral). Such a mixture of literal and nonliteral sounds communicates what the event is all about and also how it feels. It “shows” the outside and the inside of the event simultaneously.” (Zettl, page 337)