There’s no doubt that the HD DSLR craze is more than just a “phase.” Everyone from mom and pop wedding videographers to major Hollywood studios have embraced HD DSLRs in their productions. The reason is obvious. The imagery you get from these cameras is freaking gorgeous. The other factor is the cost. The amount of money you had to spend just a few years ago to get equivalent looking video was many times now what you need to spend. (Canon’s T2i/550D list for just $799 at B&H).
But I must admit, it’s gotten to a point where you can peg a DSLR film in the first few moments (as opposed to one shot on a Red or other popular format, like, oh, film). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just interesting.
So, if you’re new to DSLR filmmaking, here are some clues to help you know if you’re watching an HD DSLR film (a la Jeff Foxworthy)…
- You MIGHT be watching an HD DSLR film if…every medium shot is completely out of focus except just the eyes, noses and mouths.
- You MIGHT be watching an HD DSLR film if…every other long shot is shot with a tilt-shift lens.
- You MIGHT be watching an HD DSLR film if…the whole thing is cinema verite style with focus going in and out like the focus pullers were drunk or something.
- You MIGHT be watching an HD DSLR film if…there’s a timelaspe thrown in the middle of the film for absolutely no apparent reason.
- You MIGHT be watching an HD DSLR film if…it’s color graded to look like it was shot on 70’s vintage film.
- And, you MIGHT be watching an HD DSLR film if…the full title of the film is The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Shot on My Canon 7D with a Zeiss 35mm T1.4 PL Mount Lens and the Zacuto Mission Impossible ZX DSLR Cage* on the Cinevate Titan 2000*. (whew!)
Come on. You know it’s true. And I confess I’ve been guilty of going a tad too far sometimes with exploring the possibilities of these cameras. We’re like kids in a candy store: all this incredible shallow DoF, high dynamic range, lens choice, etc. Sometimes you can’t help yourself.
But let us not forget that these are all tools to help us tell stories. If a particular lens choice or use of DoF doesn’t help propel the story in some way, but is just thrown in there because you can, then you risk the chance of drawing attention to the shot, instead of the story. Ergo, the DSLR film “look.”
Again, there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself I suppose. But I think one can have their work become less unique if it starts getting that distinct DSLR look. Now, I know what you’re thinking “Every great director develops a certain look.” Yes, you’re right. Guillermo del Toro, the Cohen Bros., P.T. Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock; I could go on and on. But these are all directors who created signature looks that were/are characterized by a combination of factors: stock choice, cinematography, set design, and not the least of which, the script itself. A Cohen brothers film is a Cohen brothers film because of everything they put into it. And more importantly, no other film LOOKS like a Cohen brothers film; and if one does, people will say, “Oh, that looks like a Cohen brothers film.”
The DSLR “look” I’m talking about is a generic, across the board look that is unique to no one. Everybody’s doing it. And that is where it can become problematic.
So, as you venture forth into the world of DSLR filmmaking, start thinking about what will set your work apart from the thousands of other DSLR filmmakers out there. Take a stand to be unique. Go against the grain (pun intended). Dare to be different. Go “Citizen Kane” and use a bunch of DEEP focus shots. Mix it up a little.
What do you think?