Shooting Advice: Let Go Of Reality

By: Andrew Seltz

Image Sequence from Under Surveillance, by Dave Campfield

It only needs to look real!

Reality is an artificial limitation in the world of film and video production. When you let it cloud your judgment you make unnecessary compromises and miss the opportunity to raise your work above your budget.

I once worked on a shoot where the director wanted to create a visually dramatic sequence where one character was looking out a window through the verticle blinds. He would then turn away revealing another character standing in the doorway across the room. A quick rack focus and we would have a nice opening to a scene that created a little tension.

One Little Problem

The trouble with our situation was, we were shooting on location and the room we were in just happened to be on the second floor. There was no way to get the camera up high enough outside to get the shot. There was also no way to get a light up high enough to create a moonlight effect on the outside of the blinds.

If you have not already picked up on it, that is the voice of reality talking. It is the one leading you through conversations about how you will need to build a platform outside or that the shot is impossible and you must cover the scene with more conventional camera placements.

It is important that you learn to tune this voice out of your head. Making movies is not about respecting reality, it is about manufacturing the illusion of reality to dramatically tell your story. You need to find the voice that says, “who said the blinds have to be on the window?” That voice will steer you to creative solutions.

Robert Rodriguez makes the point in Rebel Without a Crew that lazy filmmakers throw money at a problem. Creative filmmakers invent solutions. When you don’t have money you spend creativity, and that is what we did.

Our Solution

Realizing that the blinds easily unhooked from the window was the first key to solving this shooting challenge. The blinds were the visual clue that told viewers that the character was looking out the window. We could move them 3 states away into a garage and, if the rest of the visible set looked similar, the audience would accept the shot as being ‘at the window.’

To solve our challenge, we hung the blinds from 2 light stands. They were placed about 5 feet away from the actual window to allow room for the camera and a light (we needed a blue gelled light for our ‘moonlight’ effect.

In order to keep the visual feeling that the characters are across the room from each other, we used a slightly wider angle lense which exaggerates the distance.

One light with a blue gel helped create the illusion that the blinds were being lit my moonlight, and the rest of the room was lit the same way as it had been for the scene.

The actual setup for this shot took about 15 minutes and the finished product blends perfectly with the rest of the scene and provides the dramatic effect the director wanted. It ‘looks right!’

Image Sequence from Under Surveillance, by Dave Campfield

Don’t Let Reality Box You In

It is easy to feel boxed in by the reality of the locations you are shooting in. Walls and ceilings and furniture can feel like very real boundaries. But, ‘cheating’ is a tool as much as your camera and lights. Good filmmakers use it all the time.

The next time you find yourself trying to solve a complex problem on a shoot ask yourself, “what does the audience need to see to believe this scene?” The answers will surprise you and your movie will be better for it.

Andrew Seltz

Andrew was born in Michigan, raised there and in Tennessee, and has since lived outside Orlando, in Chicago, New York City, and now Birmingham, Alabama. He produces videos and websites for a living and is married to a beautiful, generous, loving woman who also happens to be a talented actress and writer - They have two daughters.

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