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Canted Angle Media (Everything Relatively Applicable) is the brainchild of Jed Nichols. As a cinematographer, director, writer and actor, Jed's passion for art finds itself most drawn toward the world of narrative filmmaking. On this site, Jed shares stories from his adventures as a short film creator, purveyor of the arts, and reviews of popular films and other artistic mediums. 

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Shooting for Maximum Film Quality (and not sacrificing your abilities just to tell the story)

January 27, 2018

 I feel like I have to apologize for wanting to make movies at a professional level that's difficult to achieve. I mean, I don't apologize. Or, I try not to apologize for the inherent me-ness of the films I want to make. I am of the notion that many times, the things I apologize for (in terms of filmmaking) become the things my audience now sees because I brought it to their attention via my own apologetics. I don't want to do that. And, as a filmmaker, you should stand behind every sloppy bit of editing you've done because you decided to work on a crunch and spent 16 hours in front of a computer (did that, not proud), you should be able to survive 15 takes and maintain your dignity and respect for the actors (did that, kind of proud), and you should always up-sell your film like it's dessert after an expensive steak (do this every time, highly proud). I hold the keys to my film's successes, and ultimately its failures, to some degree. 

 

I'm not limited by tenacity, that's for sure. I'm not limited by the studying of films I do when I'm in preproduction. I don't feel spun out when I can't use the exact camera I had in mind. I can make a film look great on a cheap DSLR camera. I'm not limited by these things, but I can be limited by others. I started writing this blog to talk about films that are made on a local level that look cheap and have confusing narratives. Instead of wagging my finger at people who have their own shortcomings, shortcomings like when I've thought too much about a shot and started feeling like yelling at the crew who's dedicated themselves to "my vision", I'm going to talk about completing a film's vision, and maintaining a set life that works for everyone working for you, and what happens if you allow negative behavior to commence and run rampart on set because you're worried about the consequences of firing someone. We all learn how to better our environments through these challenges to our individual character. Filmmaking is no different. Here we go!

 

The experiences I've had in film have been numerous. I tend to work for my own projects, or only for the people I care about and know who care about me. The notion of working for experience is a little lost on me. I'm not the type of person who needs a lot of practice doing something new. I've never been that way. My stating that isn't a declaration of my awesomeness, it's a self-awareness of a blessing bestowed upon me by my parent's DNA and both of their abilities to learn and adapt rather quickly. It's in my blood, and I'm so grateful. Where I do lack in experience, I have more than often faked my way through tasks I knew I could do with a little book studying and confidence. I've also never taken on a task like Photoshop for poster design because I simply have zero training in that. In other words, I don't bite off more than I can chew if I'm faking my way through things. I do what's within my means.

 

In theoretical and perception-based film work, I can do that. Lighting? Check. Directing? Check. Cinematography? Partial check. Does this "feel" like a good shot/lighting diagram/direction? Yes? Then, I totally just made that up because it made Spidey Senses tingle, and no one around me is the wiser to me playing the moment as it lie. Cinematography has consumed much of my studying life. Composition is a little bit perception, a whole lot framing and vector skill. Rogers Deakins is god-tier in terms of balancing psychological meaning of a frame and the mathematical prowess of vectoring. When I was supposed to be learning editing techniques in class, I was watching the framing of a shot for the psychological impact it has on the context of a scene and my psychological understanding of that scene.

 

"Does this look pretty? Yes? Does the framing make me as sad as the conversation it's capturing? Yes." That kind of thing. That took practice, as well as years of studying both films and my previous field of study, psychology. I had a leg up on that before I got into it. It was not without practice and some understanding. Books turned my basic understanding into technique, leading me into becoming a cinematographer. Television and film gave me visual aids to create my own compositions.

 

Yet, as soon as someone declares to the director they've directed before, and then insists on a scene being changed, but they're the makeup artist who has no right to make such demands, throw all of my training and skills out the window. Not only do I have to employ a new type of psychology to the ebb and flow of working intimately with a dozen or so people for 48 hours straight, now I have to contend with jealousy, disrespect and simply overstepping a boundary setup by workflow needs. And, let me tell you, I failed miserably at handling this woman. I wasn't sure how to approach her demands to change the film, despite, yet again, her being the makeup artist, having no affiliation with the script, shooting process or the directorial workflow. The best I could've done was tell her to remember her position. Given what I know of her, I felt this would have sent the entire production into a grinding halt, with her demanding everyone's attention. I opted to hear her out. A stupid decision, that was.

 

I played damage control and I failed miserably. This was one instance where simply firing all parties involved would have been the most lucrative asset I could've employed during that shoot, but I feared the repercussions. And, to get to the backbone of this article, my film's language, intention, and execution suffered greatly, becoming something lesser, less influential, and certainly less beautiful than I had intended. And, it stems from one person directly. I wholeheartedly see the negative impact she had on my life during that weekend, and it actually ruined relationships with other friends because we couldn't reconcile the issues she stirred up in the conflict of her taking on a role I don't believe she ever intended to fulfill outright.

 

Because of her continued berating of my workflow and taking liberties with the makeup and actor's character arcs (unbeknownst to me) while she had them in her makeup seat, and because I didn't immediately cut her out of the filming weekend, I couldn't get across to my cinematographer what I wanted without being on the verge of panic attack each time he did something I didn't ask him to shoot. When it came to editing the film, I couldn't make sense of the script enough to get across to the editor, also my cinematographer, some scenes he left out during assembly told the story better than the fight he edited toward the end of the film. He had spent so much time trying to hear what I was saying, he shut himself out of my dramatics. All of this took place because I couldn't contain a free radical, my makeup artist, and didn't have the courage to tell her he workflow was no longer needed. The film itself became a shell of the script that had been written, and when I see the film, I am embattled with a tremendous sense of disappointment and regret. 

 

Now, going back to a point I made earlier, not many people will be able to discern which film I'm talking about. I provided no descriptors of the film, and won't apply any links for you to watch the film. You see where I'm going with this? Because, all of what I said might be true to me, and it has no bearing on the outsiders, the audience members, the consumers of the product. It's about what I see when I watch the movie as much as it is about what the audience sees when they see the movie. So, I started this blog post to lambaste nominal films. And, in true "me" fashion, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for attacking other hardworking people because I remembered an experience where, no matter how hard I tried to give the film the quality and grain I sought to have, I was influenced by my own trepidation to not say what everyone else had been thinking, "she should have been fired". It didn't matter how hard I tried to smooth it over during filming, there was no way the film would ever be what I'd hoped, and it was all under my control.

 

Maybe the people I originally sought out to write about had similar issues on their film. Maybe they're not cut out to be notable filmmakers. Maybe they have weaknesses in their script, cinematographer, director, etc., and just need the right person to get their film to a higher level. It doesn't matter, and it's not for me to decide. I suck to someone who's at a different level than I can achieve right now. I'm just here to make stories as best I can. No one should have to apologize for doing the best they can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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