In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at [email protected] if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.
How do you draw the line between being stylized and overdoing it?
Experience. Also, knowing the director and their taste.
It’s difficult for me to find the freedom to shoot in a highly-stylized fashion these days. The modern aesthetic is “natural” and commercial work tends not to be very moody. It’s interesting to note that the things that used to be edgy—lens flares and soft focus—are now perfectly acceptable, but high contrast still makes people nervous.
It’s a different story in the color grade. Beginning colorists go overboard on everything. They add colored grads and windows everywhere to create a really obvious look. I remember a spot I shot years ago and, for budgetary reasons, the director and I had to grade it on our own. We did a pretty good job but we worked mainly with overall color, contrast, added a couple of windows, and added a colored grad to a shot with blown out sky to give it some color.
The post house had just started offering grading services and had a rookie colorist on board. He took a pass at it for their reel, and it didn’t look like the same spot at all. Background colors were crazy saturated while people looked like china dolls… it was a completely different look and feel. The worst part is that the look was REALLY obvious. Someone wanted the image to say “Look at what I did!!!”
As one gains experience one discovers ways to create cool looks without attracting a lot of attention. One learns to serve the story instead of simply creating eye candy. I guess that applies to cinematography as well: you do what the story and the director’s vision requires. That drives the look and style more than anything else.