Use Camera Angles to Increase Production Value
By Jared Isham
If you haven’t noticed, there are a whole lot of movies being made and released, and this is even during the middle of a worldwide pandemic. If that’s not enough of an indication that as a filmmaker you need to make something that stands out, then I don’t know what is. For indie films, especially those being produced in Los Angeles, it is a whole lot more difficult to follow the production guidelines that have been put in place due to COVID restrictions. Following the guidelines takes dedicated crew and personnel which costs more money which is something most indie filmmakers don’t have at their disposal. With all that said, whether during a pandemic or not, figuring out how to stand out without gobs of money to create an alien invasion coming through a large portal in the sky to only be defended by a group of heroes with super powers and special abilities is extra difficult. So what are some ways to do it on an indie budget?
I always like to start at the beginning. What is the first thing people see when watching a movie? The image. How one can increase the production value of their movie when they don’t have a lot of money is by rethinking how they frame their image. You always have to think outside of the box and think creatively when it comes to filmmaking, and where to place the camera is a huge part of that. Many innovations across a number of industries came out of the desperation of not having money to solve the problem, so with so many production restrictions currently in place, now is that time to innovate. Besides, there are many benefits when it comes to camera placement that go beyond having just a unique perspective to tell your story.
New Perspectives. Our gut instinct often places the camera in a position that we are familiar with. This happens, sometimes, for a couple reasons: (1) it is easier to come up with, and (2) it is safe — we know it will work. Standing out from the crowd takes risk, so try doing something that isn’t proven yet. Maybe instead of the over-the-shoulder (OTS) shot you put on a wide lens and opt for a wide shot, or the crazy zoom and move the camera across the street shooting through traffic (that is definitely social distancing).
Hide unwanted elements. On my first feature we were trying to make a period western on a limited budget. Our set was surrounded by modern homes, and figuring out how to remove them with a limited budget to build set pieces to cover them up or without a large VFX budget, we had to think creatively. My DP, Kenneth Yeung, instinctively started placing the camera at unique angles and then using set pieces such as a hanging sign or fence post in the foreground to hide objects in the background. It became a technique that got us through production quickly and eventually helped us to get picked up for distribution.
(Photo courtesy of Stage Ham Entertainment. The hay bales were used to cover the town set and increase the usage of the location.)
(Photo courtesy of Stage Ham Entertainment. The sign in the back of the frame, hanging from a C-stand out of frame, covered a large house that was in the background.)
Multi-Camera Magic. We can’t overlook the value that documentary filmmaking provides for not only crafting your storytelling skills but also the value it can bring to the viewers. I have been producing a documentary series with a limited crew and budget. One thing that I wanted the ability to do is piece together the interviews so that I could craft the story together in a compelling and digestible way, removing the “ums,” “uhs,” incomplete sentences or thoughts. There are two ways I know of to do this inexpensively: (1) shoot 4k and finish in 1080p, then use the extra resolution to push in without losing quality, or (2) use a second camera to grab an additional angle. A bonus would be to also incorporate a unique perspective in your setups.
The main thing is to think creatively about how to frame your shot. Using your creativity in a way that helps save you money, better tell your story and stand out from the crowd.
Jared Isham (Bounty 2009, Turn Around Jake 2015) is an independent filmmaker and head of motion pictures at Stage Ham Entertainment (www.stageham.com). He also create videos focused on helping filmmakers to make better films on a micro-budget (www.jaredisham.com)