Thread: Filmschool Cinematography Exercises

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  1. #1 Filmschool Cinematography Exercises 
    Senior Member Dominik Muench's Avatar
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    Hi Guys,


    I am currently writing up a new curriculum for a cinematography course I am teaching and was hoping to get some input from you guys in regards to what you would like to see covered in a basic cinematography degree for first year students.
    Specific topics or exercises you would like to see covered.
    But also, what you guys think some short comings are, if any of you have worked with film students. What do you think should be covered and hasn't been taught properly or should be taught. I am purely focusing on cinematography and lighting in my course.
    So obviously based around camera department.

    Would love to hear some suggestions. Thank you.
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    Senior Member Brandon Veen's Avatar
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    I didn’t go to Film School so I can’t speak to what current courses are lacking, but things I think would be good to be covered in a class would be things focused on art direction and composition. If it were available to you during the course, doing something like comparing higher quality glass with average lighting vs. cheaper glass and well-placed lighting might make an interesting exercise.

    Going over Shutter Angles, ND’s, and Depth of Field and building off of that.
    And with Depth of Field, since the industry is headed toward large format, it may be good to briefly cover that, along with sensor sizes in general.

    Lighting primarily with practicals and getting the most out of it would probably be a good piece to cover as well considering how often they may not have access to grip if it’s something small while they’re just starting out, or if it’s something where they’re travelling and couldn’t bring their lights/rent at the place they are.

    And of course storyboarding.
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  3. #3  
    Senior Member Dominik Muench's Avatar
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    thanks Brandon, will definitely work those points into it. the lens comparisons are a great idea.
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    Senior Member Anton Shavlik's Avatar
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    An exercise that I always liked was trying to tell a story in an image, or a series of images. Giving students a small story that they must go and shoot, return and present to class simply as a sequence of images, and then having other students guess what they story is, that sort of thing. It really taught me how to evaluate whether my cinematography was successful based on visual language rather than whether the shot was beautiful or cool.

    A story can be simple, like "Though he tried hard to impress her, their date was still going terribly". Trying to communicate that much story in one image, while not unintentionally misleading with other information, is tough.

    Then you can give a bigger story and challenge them to tell it in a sequence of 10 or so images. They can use the context of one shot next to another to get more across. From there the images just have to move and you have cinematography.
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  5. #5  
    Senior Member Dominik Muench's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anton Shavlik View Post
    An exercise that I always liked was trying to tell a story in an image, or a series of images. Giving students a small story that they must go and shoot, return and present to class simply as a sequence of images, and then having other students guess what they story is, that sort of thing. It really taught me how to evaluate whether my cinematography was successful based on visual language rather than whether the shot was beautiful or cool.

    A story can be simple, like "Though he tried hard to impress her, their date was still going terribly". Trying to communicate that much story in one image, while not unintentionally misleading with other information, is tough.

    Then you can give a bigger story and challenge them to tell it in a sequence of 10 or so images. They can use the context of one shot next to another to get more across. From there the images just have to move and you have cinematography.
    great exercise, one of their first assignments is actually them having to shoot a 30-60 sec. story in sequence without sound.
    Dr. Dominik Münch D.O.C.A
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  6. #6  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dominik Muench View Post
    great exercise, one of their first assignments is actually them having to shoot a 30-60 sec. story in sequence without sound.
    Film student here. That was our main first term exercise too. Shooting a 4 min silent film in black and white. I personally thought that was very clever to remove the complexity of thinking in colour as it forced us to concentrate on composition, tone and chiarascuro first, before moving on to colour exercises in the second term.
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  7. #7  
    It seems to me that there should be more practical tasks in a modern cinematography course.
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  8. #8  
    Yes I agree. I think there should be more practice in the new curricula for filmmakers. This will help keep students interested and show them the real world of the film industry. It is also important to study the legal side of the issue. For example, for which they can be accused of plagiarism. I researched this topic in college with this site https://edubirdie.com/plagiarism-checker for students. And it is relevant now more than ever. It's also important to spend time on modern shooting styles, such as how to shoot for social media. I think these are the main points of what is missing now.
    Last edited by Angela Lifman; 06-29-2021 at 05:57 AM.
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  9. #9  
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    I've done various continuing education courses over the years, but not a film school degree. That said, from my own experience and that of others I've worked with (in the US), it feels like the thing missing in terms of education is a bridge between class and practical time on working sets. I think the theory (and history) is really important to cinematography, and you wouldn't want to drop too much of it; for example, you need to understand the qualities of light on a theoretical level (e.g. soft/hard, inverse square law, color temperature) in order to address novel situations with the tools you have on hand, and you're not going to encounter every situation just by being on someone else's set, nor will you have the knowledge to develop your own vision. And while you can teach people in class how to set a stand and push a dolly, I think it's hard to really understand how to work with a crew and various industry production standards just from a classroom production exercise.

    Don't know if that answers your question, but maybe you have ideas about easing the transition from "congrats, here's your degree" to "welcome to set, now be useful."

    A lot of good ideas above for specific exercises. One great experience I had was a workshop to create a 30-second silent film on a 16mm Bolex, with everything done manually (including editing with scissors and tape). Beyond that, it's helpful for cinematographers to get some editing experience-- on set or when filming documentary footage, a DP is often the person asked to say whether or not footage will cut together, or what angle might be missing. The better a sense a cinematographer has of this, the better the final product, and the less time wasted shooting unnecessary coverage.
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