The Democratisation Of Filmmaking: Is It Enough To Have A High Quality Camera?

Originally published by Raindance.

Once the preserve of bearded, baseball cap-wearing men over 40, the notion of what a film director looks like has broadened to accommodate women, amateurs, students and ingénues.

Ultimately, the landscape of filmmaking has shifted to encompass, and arguably champion, the everyman. The average Joe can now pick up a digital single-lens reflex camera and tell their story at a fraction of the price, resources and manpower hitherto required.

 “The digitalization and democratization of the filmmaking process has the ability to bring the power to the people and cultivate new and fresh voices in film that deserve to be heard”. (For full article, go here).

hitrecord (1)The DSLR revolution gave a mass audience a camera capable of producing cinematic images for an affordable price. This process of democratization has made production companies like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ‘HitRecord’ possible. Marketing themselves as an open, collaborative company, Levitt himself purports that “anybody with the internet [or a camera] can contribute” to their projects.

So is that enough? Will the red carpet roll out in front of you as soon as you purchase that digital camera?

Unlikely, but with the quality and accessibility to DSLR cameras constantly improving, and their cost constantly lowering, anyone with the innovation, vision and determination to get their film made can do just that.

Popular-DSLRsDSLR’s boast adaptability, mobility, image stabilisation, and for those of us lacking the strength to schlep around hefty equipment, ease of use! What’s more, because the prices of such cameras aren’t heart attack inducing, eye-wateringly high, if the camera gets ruined while shooting a scene or you want the dynamic feel of several cameras, it won’t dent your budget irreparably.

Interchangeable lenses are also a major bonus for the independent filmmaker, enabling us to achieve that high-quality aesthetic for a fraction of the cost. When shooting video with a DSLR you can mount lenses ranging from ultra wide 14mm to 800mm, as well as specialist lenses like macro, fish eye, and tilt shift. The creative possibilities afforded by this combination of a larger sensor and a wide range of lenses are near endless, generating a cinematic look once reserved solely for the major studios.

Equally, depth of field is an invaluable tool in storytelling; allowing you to focus on or emphasise certain aspects, moments or motifs in your narrative and which give your film a more professional edge. The low-light capability and shallow depth-of-field offered by most DSLR’s allows for softer focus as well as the ability to clearly see objects or people in the background, foreground and anywhere in between.

However, there are some drawbacks to be navigated if you are to invest in a DSLR. While the shallow depth of field offered by cameras like the 5D is impressive, keeping a subject in focus is a considerable challenge. Autofocus is absent from most HD-capable cameras, and a steady hand is needed to control things manually. What’s worse, for professional or independent filmmakers, rendering the output in real-time on an external monitor can be difficult, if not non-existent on most models, making it hard for operators and technicians to evaluate focus, lighting and other factors.

nikon_d810Poor audio quality has been another criticism frequently levelled at DSLR’s and is a feature most new models are seeking to eradicate. The Nikon D810 DSLR possesses a number of enhanced video features, designed specifically to improve the aesthetic of your film. One such improvement is the inclusion of two microphones, allowing it to record in stereo rather than mono, and those capturing audio with an external mic will be able to split the recording into a separate wide range and voice range.

Furthermore, the D810 is able to film in an auto ISO mode that still allows for manual control over aperture and shutter speed, letting those two factors stay locked down while the camera adjusts to changes in lighting. The internet is the filmmaker’s oyster and such rapid development of DSLR technology has made it easier than ever to exhibit your growing portfolio.

And that’s not to confine DSLR filmmaking to the amateur’s playing field either. ‘Like Crazy’, the recent indie offering from director Drake Doremus, was shot on a Canon 7D and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and achieve an acquisition deal from Paramount for $4 million. Doremus praised the snatched feel in the lensing that the 7D provided, lending the film its guerilla filmmaking aesthetic. Other films to have employed the DSLR include Lena Dunham’s ‘Tiny Furniture and the DP for ‘Black Swan’ Matthew Libatique also got on board with digital filmmaking for a few scenes. Not a bad reason to follow suit.

Whilst the marketing and distribution of your film still requires a certain amount of financial backing and know-how to get your product to the consumers, certainly making a masterpiece is more doable than ever.

Nevertheless, cheaper, fancier equipment does not a Christopher Nolan make. The DSLR revolution has enabled filmmakers to proliferate, but to really succeed you still need the directorial vision and capability to realise your narrative in a dynamic, visual and unique way. That being said, there are a plethora of reasons the DSLR has become such a mainstream form of video capture and DSLR image quality will out perform any other camera in that price range.

But when it comes down to it, what should capture the imagination of your audience is the story you’re telling, rather than the means by which you’re telling it.

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2 thoughts on “The Democratisation Of Filmmaking: Is It Enough To Have A High Quality Camera?

  1. I’ve been studying film for quite a while now and DSLRs are hot topic. I do agree that for the price range DSLR’s are fantastic, they’ve definitely allowed a lot more voices to be heard, and in my opinion the more voices that are being heard the more opportunity there is for exciting, innovating work to come out and change the game. However, I do notice that (especially here in Mexico) because of the cameras being more accessible, a lot more people think they are photographers because it’s maybe fashionable, and this doesn’t necessarily mean that all the ideas we are seeing are new or exciting. Just a side thought though…
    On the whole, I’m all for them 🙂

    On a separate note, completely like your blog. Stumbled across it this afternoon and will be keeping an eye out for more interesting posts!

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree it means you might have to sift through a greater amount of mediocrity, but it also allows for a higher ratio of greatness to shine through!

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