Art is born from constraint and dies from freedom
However as the saying goes, art is born from constraint and dies from freedom. There is a certain irony in me quoting that, because on many types of shoot we need to forget that we are producing art! The idea that we are making art can be part of the problem. A quick look on sites like Vimeo reveals a vast number of amazing short films and examples of corporate promos. Many of them look fantastic, but they often lack a certain... something.
I am heavily into the outdoors, particularly white water kayaking. There is a large number of people out there now starting to make adventure sport vignettes with extremely high production values. Often shooting on cameras such as the Sony F55 or Red Epic mounted on increasingly clever, and not to mention risky shooting platforms, the shots that are being achieved by some of these productions are often breathtaking, and my hat goes off to them.
So what’s the problem here? Increasingly it seems that the idea of an actual story and the very function of the cinematography has been forgotten. The cinematography is often so good and highly polished to within an inch of its life that any evidence of soul is lost. Quite often the content of the video ends up serving the cinematography as opposed to the other way around.
In order to produce such beautiful shots a great deal of set up must be done. For a documentary such rigid and precise set ups quite often fly in the face of what should be presented. The production becomes robotic and soulless because that spark of spontaneity and character that would otherwise be present isn’t there.
The shots you use must suit the purpose and feel of what you are producing. Cinematography is much more than just making a shot look nice. The shot must serve the story, and it must be a part of presenting the personality and the energy of the piece.
A case in point is the example of a few product adverts that have been made over the years. Some of them look extremely amateur, clearly using a low cost camera in a location such as a shopping centre, while “members of the public” try out the product or give their comments.
As video producers our initial reaction to these adverts is to say how cheap and amateur they look, and how we could have done a much better, more polished job.
What we quite often forget is that such adverts have an expert marketing team behind them. The entire concept will have been planned and thought out via numerous meetings and brain storming sessions. In other words those marketing gurus know a lot more about what works than we do! Such adverts have been made to look like they do on purpose.
It is a clear case of the video shooting style, content, composition, and editing serving the final intention. Like it or loathe it there are cases where making things look cheap works to the benefit of the video. It takes confidence to be able to make such a decision because it is all too easy to try and attempt to make everything look as high end and as polished as possible.