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Andrew Spain
by Andrew Spain
Jan 8, 2016
All Posts by Andrew Spain

The Five C’s of Cinematography

Though it may seem obvious to point out, the camera is one of the most important parts of telling a visual story. There are so many nuances involved with cinematography it’s difficult to know where to start when explaining it’s significance. As Gus Van Sant said, “…I can’t think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography.” Even if you’re not trying to create high art, it’s vital to know a few things about cinematography. Luckily for us, Joseph V. Mascelli wrote the Five C’s of Cinematography back in ’65 and his advice is still as relevant as ever. Mascelli compiled a list of the five most important aspects of cinematography that will contribute to the strength of your video project. Let’s unpack them here, shall we?

The Five C’s of Cinematography

1. Camera Angles- This refers to the position of the camera while filming. While that may initially seem straightforward, there are numerous ways that the camera angle can influence the narrative significance of a scene. For example, a low-angle shot means that the camera is essentially looking up at the subject, which in turn makes the subject appear bigger and more dominant.

Darth Vader low angle shot

Darth Vader is consistently shot from a low angle, making him all the more ominous and threatening. Conversely, a high-angle shot is taken from above the subject, making them appear smaller as exemplified in this next clip from Psycho:

That scene is a masterpiece of cinematography from one of the masters of the art, Alfred Hitchcock. The high-angle camera in addition to the vulnerability of the location terrified audiences in 1960.

2. Continuity- Continuity refers to shooting things in a manner so that the scenes all interconnect and flow well, presenting a fluid sequence of events. Though mise-en-scène and editing contribute to the success of continuity, the camera is of equal or greater significance. Let’s take a look at one of the most amazing scenes in film history (Goodfellas) that demonstrates (along with an absolutely brilliant director) the camera’s role in continuity: 

This is a wonderful example of a tracking shot or more specifically a Steadicam shot. The camera rolls for over two minutes without cutting once, all while demonstrating the nuances of storytelling at which the camera is so exceptional. We get a true insider’s glimpse of the world, mirroring the way Lorraine Bracco’s character must feel upon her introduction to Mafia life. The result is a truly immersive piece of filmmaking and a testament to the narrative power of continuity. More recently, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), and Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) have used similar techniques to great effect in the films I listed here. Birdman, in particular, takes continuity to a whole new level, by being carefully shot and edited to suggest that the film itself is essentially one long take.

3. Cutting- Cutting is putting together scenes in such a way that they become more than the sum of their parts. Continuity is important to keep in mind while shooting so that shots flow well into each other. Action at either the beginning or the end (or both) of each shot ensures that editors have a wealth of material to work with and produce the best possible cut. Here is an exhilarating example of continuity from The French Connection: 

Conversely, you can use cutting to disorient the viewer, fracturing their perception of time within the film to make for a more challenging viewing experience. Jump cuts, so very favored by the French New Wave, is no better or worse than continuity editing, it just dramatically changes the flow. Here’s a clip from the film Oldboy that makes excellent use of jump cutting:

Through this non-linear presentation we as viewers get a sense of the ennui and boredom that the character Oh Dae Su is experiencing as he sits in jail. Regardless of implementation, cutting is paramount in presenting an engaging narrative.

4. Close-ups- Close-ups typically consist of the subjects face and draw the viewer’s attention to what the character is feeling in that moment. It is a useful device for showing the viewer rather than telling them. Joan of Arc (the classic 1928 film, not the Mila Jovavich snooze-fest) is shot almost entirely in close-ups. Granted, this decision was likely born out of the limitations of cinema at the time it was made, but it’s still an effective example of the narrative weight that’s possible when using close-ups to portray emotion and motivation:

Poor Joan, having to deal with those mole-y clergymen. And who could forget this famous close-up that now mostly adorns white plaster walls in college dorm rooms across the country:

Photo credit: The Shining, Warner Bros., d. Stanley Kubrick, dp. John Alcott

Just look at the madness on that face. There’s no mistaking his state of mind. Close-ups are invaluable in orienting your audience to character pathos and emotions.

5. Composition- Composition refers to the arrangement of actors and props in relation to the camera’s view of it. There are two shots, three shots, four shots, etc. referring to the number of character’s onscreen in a scene.

There are “dirty” shots, which generally refer to over-the-shoulder shots in which part of the subject is obfuscated by another character’s body in the foreground.

“I’ll ask you one more time, where’s Coral?”

There are wide shots, mid shots, reverse and cutaway shots, static shots, etc. Far too many to list and they are probably due a dedicated post. So let’s get to the meat of composition and watch a masterful scene that is both beautifully filmed and demonstrative of the narrative importance of continuity:

I know, I know, everyone is tired of talking about Citizen Kane, but at least I’m not bringing up D.W. Griffith. “Deep focus,” you say… “I already know where you’re headed.” Well, you’re right. Developed by Gregg Toland on Citizen Kane, deep focus allowed for both the foreground and the background of a shot to be in focus. This in turn led to some significant developments in using the camera as an active storytelling tool. In this scene, we have poor young Charles Foster Kane in the middle, literally and figuratively, of an argument between the people determining his future. He’s framed within the window, which is thematically significant as the film is a window into Kane’s life. The deep focus and composition make this struggle visually apparent, enhancing the themes and storytelling. 

So there they are: the Five C’s of Cinematography. The reason this list is so renowned is that each “C” is important to filmmaking but, when taken as a whole, they are invaluable in describing the camera’s role in telling great stories. The camera is to film as the brush and canvas is to art. Without the camera we wouldn’t have the cinema, and then we would all be forced to read or talk to each other or something. Surely I can’t be the only one to find some comfort in that. 

Andrew Spain
by Andrew Spain
Mar 26, 2015
All Posts by Andrew Spain

The Power of Visual Storytelling

Welcome to the age of content overload.

With social media at our finger tips, it is hard to find a way to market your message without getting lost in the sea of crowded "News Feed" updates. Marketing professionals are struggling to find a way to stand out and have their message heard. It's crucial to be different. Audiences across social media platforms, like Facebook, will take a few minutes to scroll through their feeds and most likely, they'll skim past anything that appear uninteresting. 

That means, in order to be sucessful in your marketing efforts and have your brand recognized, you need to find a way to engage your audience for an extended amount of time. 

Visual storytelling is a strong tool - use it. 

There is nothing new about visual storytelling. It is a key element in brand engagement, older than capitalism and consumerism alike. This method of communication strikes an emotional balance between showing your message and engaging your target audience. Effective audience engagement results in greater traffic and sales.

It's a simple as this: 93% of the most engaging posts on Facebook include images. That's compared with those containing statuses, links and videos. 

Videos on Facebook are shared 12 times more than text posts and links COMBINED

Integrating story-depicting visuals into your content will increase consumer interactions even if your target audience is short on time. 

Gaining Facebook attraction through visual storytelling

In order to gain a better understanding of the best way to employ these techniques, here are a few simple suggestions to get you started:

1. Find an atttractive way to show off your association's culture and personality. 

Show your audience what it's like at your company. Post photos and videos that show the way your business operates and the people behind your brand. It is a great way for customers to understand your values and gain their trust. To show off inner culute, post videos and images that demonstrate employee happiness, company achievements, and things your customers are excited about like green initiatives, charities and social responsibilities. 

2. Get a cool mascot!

Mascots get so much attention on social media! They also do wonders for your organization by becoming the personality for your brand. Your customers will remember and relate you to your brand's mascot much more easily than they might to a simple logo or text block. Mascots are especially important and effective if your brand relates to children!

A study by Business Rockstars, found that mascots can be even more enticing than celebrities in creating a last impact on the internet. Think about the Geico Gecko, the Aflac Duck or even Tony the Tiger! The Aflac Duck has successfully transitioned from television and radio to social media and gained over 600,000 followers.

3. Let your audience tell your story.

Reaching out to your audience for content suggestions and submissions is a great way to not only engage your audience, but to learn from them about what they would like to see and hear. Posting content that was created or suggested by your fans shows that you appreciate them and creates a deeper relationship between your company and the people who keep you in business.

Connecting your audience to their content submissions acknowledges their imput and thanks them, this will also improve your connection with them so be sure to tag your fans!

This is also a form of free advertising as fans will promote your business through word-of-mouth. The most reliable and effective form of marketing available!

4. Share your successes!

Sharing positive reviews and testimonial from your supporters shows your audience that your brand has had an impact on the lives of others around the world. This will make your audience more inclined to be involved with you in the future. 

Showing obstacles that you've overcome and the changes that you've made sparks true emotions. This will make your audience proud to be related to your brand and excited about the adaptations your business has made over the years. 

5. Videos are powerful!

8/10 most shared content on Facebook last year included some form of video. Let that sink in. 

Visual storytelling through video is the most powerful source of engagement you can employ in your content marketing strategy. By creating videos that depict a story, you are giving your audience something share and comment on. Onscreen action shows the audience the benefits of working with your organization and get them excited about your message. 

Video adds another dimension to your marketing strategy and helps you connect with your audience more deeply while driving traffic to your website and social media accounts. 

Have a great example of visual storytelling? Share it with us!

Andrew Spain
by Andrew Spain
Feb 25, 2015
All Posts by Andrew Spain

Tips for Better Video Edits

With all types of media competing for an audience, it is more important than ever to know your audience and employ effective strategies to hold their attention. In past blogs, we have discussed rules for corporate video and holding attention in web video, so now we are going to share some of our favorite tips for better video editing that will help retain your audience, improve cuts and make videos easier to watch.

Give your audience a little room to "breathe."

While keeping your videos short and concise is certainly an effective way to hold your audience's attention, placing a pause or pauses strategically throughout the video can make the videos easier to watch and in turn, maintain viewers for longer periods. 

By adding 3-5 seconds of b-roll between interview audiobytes and bringing the music up to full then lowering it before the next speaking section you create what we call "breathing room." A pause between sections can indicate to your audience that a new thought or subject is about to begin. Adding changes or hits in music will improve the flow between interview sections and your audience will appreciate the mental "break" in information.

Lead the eye naturally during transitions.

This tip pairs well with our discussion on "breathing room."  Just as editors will use edits like pauses to trigger an understanding from the viewer, editors often use cross disolve, fade to blacks, or even wipes when starting or ending a scene. The intention with cross disolve and like techniques is to create a natural segue between scenes.

When begining or ending a scene, consider whether you have a clip that "leads the eye" into the new subject matter. An example of this would be, setting up a simple pan up at the begining of a clip or pan away at the end of a clip. This indicates an upcoming scene change and feels more natural than a forced cut. Combining the two is a great option for aesthetically appealing transitions.  

Balance the J-cut.

A J-cut refers to the shape of the letter J, where the lower part of that letter form goes further left than the top section. It's function as an edit is having the audio from the incoming clip play before the corresponding video begins. 

This is easily overdone, a second or two works best. This is a natural sensation for the viewer because in real life, we often hear a noise shortly before we see it's source. A Master of the J-cut can create an effect that emulates our own "mental cut." 

Ummmm, clean up that dialogue. 

A dialogue chocked full of "ums" and speaking errors is distracting and more importantly than that, it add seconds of precious time to your video. At times, people can slur their words making it impossible to separate one word from another, but whenever you can cut out a long breath, an "ummm" or other speaking errors: do it. Just do it. 

By using very short audio fades, and a lot of patience, you can achieve this. By cutting out 8-10 of these in a single interview you are saving at least a few seconds, seconds that would add up in the course of your video and impact the viewer rentention

Mark your music tracks to show edits.

When working with clips on a sequence that has music, editors will have the waveform of the audio displayed, and try to match some edits to where the mucis hits a beat or crecendo. This is a solid technique, however if you play the music back in the viewer first and add markers, those markers will appear in your timeline. That makes it simple to line up your edits to the markers and snap them right into place!

All of these tricks are simple, but they may come in a handy in saving you time and holding your audience. What are some of your favorite editing tricks?