Toronto based Producer/Director James Ridout shares some of his insights into some of 2016’s popular filmmaking trends. Don’t have time to read? Listen to the audio version provided in the header of this page!
Where Did Summer Go?
It is almost October which can only mean a few things; a return of the plaid shirt and jeans combo (which as you know, is pretty much a staple in my wardrobe), Pumpkin Spice overload and of course … new filmmaking trends for the Fall and Winter seasons. Just as you have traded your sleeveless T’s and flip flops for a fall jacket and stylish boots … It’s also time to shelve the bold, vibrant, colourful aesthetic that summer filmmaking often brings with it in favour of techniques that are more befitting to the upcoming seasons. Below are a few of the Fall and Winter Filmmaking Trends that you can look out for as we move towards 2017.
Narrative – Showing vs. Telling:
Now, anybody who works with me knows that I am not a big fan of ‘talking heads’ videos; or rather videos that have interview subjects providing information or opinions on camera and switching back and forth between b-roll and their heads and shoulders shot. I just feel this style of filmmaking tends to over-explain things and subtly tells your audience that you don’t think they are smart enough to connect the narrative dots on their own. So I am happy, to say the least, that three quarters of the way through 2016, clients are asking me to do away with “telling” their stories through talking heads interviews all-together; and rather – focusing on “showing” stories through the use of strong sub-text, engaging visuals, clever transitions and perfectly crafted audioscapes. This technique of show, don’t tell may just be making it’s way into brand videos – but it is a technique that has been around for hundreds, even thousands of years and is most commonly employed by authors. Some of most thrilling and thought provoking books I have read were ones that allowed me to experience the story through action and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition or description. What frightened me the most about Joe Hill’s debut horror novel “Heart-Shaped Box” wasn’t the vivid description of the dangerous ghosts out to kill our lead protagonist Judas Coyne – but rather a simple statement that the ghosts had vibrating “X’s” for eyes and the resulting images that were conjured up in my own head. Wether you are writing a novel, or making a brand video – Showing vs. Telling is the best way to create an impactful narrative that connects with your audience on a deeper level. As they say, a picture is worth 1000 words – so why not do away with the talking heads interviews and frame context through the lens of the camera?
In the Roos’ Brothers short documentary “ARM1”, the story of Chris Ganley and how he was faced giving up the thing he loved or finding a new way to race after a life-changing motorcycle accident is told in less than 150 words over the course of 5:00 minutes.
Cinematography – Handheld Shots & Ultra-Tight Closeups:
As we shift into the Holiday Season and the year comes to an end, we as humans become reflective and emotional beings – we assess the current state of our own lives, put ourselves in the figurative ‘shoes of those around us’ and beat ourselves up for not going to the gym more often. For that reason, it is only natural that we as filmmakers choose to swap out the picturesque, perfectly crafted cinematography seen in summer videos for a more intimate and imperfect style of shot composition; and in 2016 this means pairing the authenticity of hand-held footage (aka. somewhat shaky and imperfect looking shots) with intimate, expressive ultra-tight closeups. For example, if you are locked-on tight to the powerful gaze of a boxer past his prime, an ultra-tight closeups peels back that first layer of the onion and reveals the flare of doubt in his eyes as he enters the 12th round. The subtle movement of the hand-held camera establishes an authentic human gaze, and evokes more empathy for our weary warrior. We aren’t watching a disconnected, documented scene – we are experiencing it, first-hand as it happens. I like to think that we are creating the perfect amount of imperfection by using these techniques. Now, thanks to the advent of new technologies, these aren’t the same jarring handheld shots that made you throw up ten years ago when you saw The Blair Witch Project; rather – we now have tools that help us create calculated, precise and organic looking shots that are pleasant to the eye and don’t feel ‘shaky’ or ‘jarring’ to the viewer. Now, a magician never reveals his tricks – but the gear we use to employ this technique is absolutely fascinating. Simply put – by combining organic looking hand-held shots with ultra-tight closeups – you are able to communicate a level of perspective, authenticity and emotion that just can’t be matched by their Summery counterparts.
Elliot Rausch’s “Some Other Way” is a marvelous showcase of organic handheld shots paired with ultra-tight closeups are used to tell amazing narrative stories.
Lighting – Dramatic Mood Lighting:
Summer videos are often bright, bold, colourful and fun and for pretty much the same ‘Christmas makes you think about stuff’ reason I provided earlier – I’m seeing a shift towards more contrast in lighting ratios and softer more emotive lighting effects that are moody and dramatic. For example, in Patrick Fieleti’s Real Destination, a short documentary that takes you on a journey into the hardships of truckers and their families – one of our protagonists sits on his bed and contemplates life as he gazes out the window. Through clever lighting, he is consumed by shadows which are symbolic of his hardship and depression and the light that seeps through the bleary curtained window is muted and grey; evoking a sense that he feels the future is disparate and bleak. Again, this is the exact same theory that we talked about earlier- but instead of camera techniques, we are using light in a creative way to tell better stories, convey more intimate emotions and to subtly frame context that would not otherwise be achievable through the realistic lighting trends of Summer 2015.
Patrick Fieleti’s Real Destination, a short documentary that takes you on a journey into the hardships of truckers and their families is a great display of how dramatic lighting can convey emotion and drive your narrative forward.
Finishing – The Faded Film Effect:
If you look at the all of the videos referenced above, you will notice one common 2016 Fall Filmmaking trend between them all; and that is a ‘faded’ film effect. The simplest way to explain this is that the shadows and dark tones in your film don’t look ‘exactly black’, but rather … “kinda milky”; and emulate the look of traditional film. Now, don’t get me wrong, lighting can still moody and dramatic; but the image as a whole looks a bit more flat and as a result, more cinematic. Now, this faded film technique does require a bit of extra work to pull off – you have to plan more thoroughly before hitting record, you have to use better camera equipment and it ultimately means a good deal more time in the edit suite – but the end result will be elevate the quality of your video from ‘throwaway promotional piece’ to filmic, commercial grade cinema.
Now, I could go all artiste on you and talk about the change of seasons, and how this reflective time of the year demands for softer, more approachable film-like visuals, but quite frankly – I think the real reason for this new trend is that people are just getting sick of the ultra-saturated, digital style that has been popular since 2012. With the rise of low-cost, consumer grade DSLR’s being able to produce the high contrast images viewers demanded, both filmmakers and advertising agencies alike jumped all-over the opportunity. This aesthetic became the standard, and as we all know, when something becomes the standard, viewers stop seeing it as art – but rather, the norm; and people don’t want to see “the norm – they want to see art”, so instinctively we went back to our roots – ditched the digital look and tried to make everything look like it was shot on film again.
You can check James’ work out at JamesRidout.ca or leave your comments below!