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Hulu Summer Film School Week 3: Color Theory & Lighting

August 1st, 2014 by Kelly Lin

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Greetings Hulu Summer Film School students! One of the most powerful tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal is their lighting kit. Through light and color, a cinematographer is able to enhance the mood of a scene and draw the viewer into the world of the character. Even the subtlest changes in light or color can give the most ordinary of objects an entirely new meaning. Explore the role of light and color through the following visual masterpieces. 

Required Viewing: 

1) The Red Balloon

Cinematographer: Edmond Séchan
Winning both an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) and the Palm d’Or for short films in 1956, writer-director Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon is among the most endearing children’s films ever made.  Its elegant and nearly wordless story tells the tale of a young boy named Pascal and his wayward balloon as they navigate the streets of Paris. From early on, it becomes apparent to Pascal (and the audience) that the balloon has a mind of its own — one that is mischievous and surprisingly headstrong – as the pair’s adventure through the city draws bemused looks from adults and the envious gaze of local neighborhood bullies.

Rather than photographing Paris in its traditional beauty, Lamorisse and his cinematographer Edmond Séchan focus on the city’s drabness, highlighting the contrast of dank buildings and alleyways against the vibrancy of the balloon’s deep red color.  Lamorisse composes the action in such a way that the balloon is always at the viewer’s center of attention, bobbing and weaving past glorious backdrops as it hovers above Pascal.  In one memorable and charming scene, Pascal and his red balloon pass by a little girl with her own balloon, a blue one.  As Pascal keeps walking, the red balloon floats towards the little girl and begins to “flirt” with her blue balloon before Pascal ultimately manages to wrangle it back.

The film takes a darker turn when the neighborhood bullies catch up to Pascal and ensnare his red balloon, subjecting it to abuse at the end of a slingshot.  But that tonal shift is essential, as it sets up a magical finale that won’t be spoiled here.  The Red Balloon achieves rarified air, capturing the essence of childhood innocence, heartbreak, and joy in such little screen time.

-Naveen Singh

2)  Eraserhead

Cinematographers: Herbert Cardwell and Frederick Elmes
David Lynch’s first feature film is a surreal meditation on the anxieties of becoming a father, of living in an alienating and dehumanizing world, and of feeling trapped in a life that is fundamentally fated to tragedy. The stark black and white photography and low-key, high-contrast lighting create a world that is apart from reality. Eraserhead might draw formal comparisons to other works and may have influences that inform its technical execution, but the film is timeless in its depiction of Henry (Jack Nance) and Mary (Charlotte Stewart) as they give birth to a child that seems completely alien.

Eraserhead’s cinematography and lighting help create one of the most self-assured, visually-compelling, and visceral portraits of an abstraction ever put on celluloid, and for that alone, it has a place in cinematic history.

-Christopher Rowe

3) Electrick Children 

Cinematographer: Mattias Troelstrup
A critical darling at the 2012 SXSW Festival, Electrick Children 
tells the story of a young fundamentalist Mormon who believes she has been impregnated by a rock song and ventures off to Vegas to find the singer on the tape, whom she believes is her baby’s father. While the plot may seem outlandish to most, the innocent idealism of our main character coupled with the film’s symbolic use of color and light make the whole “pregnant-by-cassette-tape” deal a bit more plausible than it initially comes across.

Throughout the film, a sharp contrast is drawn between the landscape of Rachel’s countryside compound and the urban sprawl of Las Vegas. Cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup capitalizes on the countryside’s natural light, giving each frame a subtle desaturation to reflect a sense of comfort yet also boredom towards the surroundings. The softened grading provides the perfect contrast to Rachel’s subsequent experience in Vegas, a world of bright lights and big personalities. There’s nothing conventionally glamorous about the slacker musicians and the “bummin’ it” lifestyle that Rachel encounters in her Vegas adventure, but through her unexposed eyes, and the subsequent cinematic interpretation from Troelstrup, everything is bathed in a technicolor glow to reflect the child-like wonder that Rachel feels towards this brave new world.

-Kelly Lin

4) Persona 


Cinematographer: Sven Nykvist
“Lighting Persona by Michael Koresky

Supplemental Viewing: 

5) Take this Waltz
Cinematographer: Luc Montpellier

6) Red Desert
Cinematographer: Carlo Di Palma

7) Wild Strawberries
Cinematographer: Gunnar Fischer

Extracurricular Resources: 

1) No Film School – A must-read blog for any aspiring cinematographer, No Film School has tons of great tutorials on how you can achieve the perfect lighting set-up for your own film. Check out these recent articles on how to create a three-point light set up with flashlights and magnifying glasses and the tools professional cinematographers use to light their scenes,

2) If it’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling – Besides having the best title in book history, this book has some valuable insights on how color is used to evoke emotion.

3) Sparkles and Wine Teaser - This music video is a testament to just how much lighting and color can affect tone, mood, focus, and perception.

 

Last comment: about 9 hours ago 1 Comment

A Feast for the Eyes: Dissecting the Cinematography of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

July 25th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school. 

In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, cinematographer David Gelb uses a variety of angles, framing, and compositions to capture Jiro’s world. Let’s take a closer look at the different camera shots Gelb uses to construct the overall style of Jiro and inject deeper meaning into the images.

1) Medium Close Up - A standard for interviews in the talking head style, the medium close-up frames the subject from just below the shoulders to the top of the head.

2) Wide Shot – In this shot, the entire subject is shown as well as their surrounding area. As a result, we are able to see both Jiro’s son, Yoshikazu, and the actions he is performing.

3) Extreme Wide Shot - Gelb uses this extreme wide shot to establish the subject in relation to the surrounding area.

4) Extreme Close Up - This is a tight shot that focuses on a part of the face. The motivation of the shot is to magnify detail.

5) Dolly Shot - In a dolly shot, the camera is placed on a track and moves forward or backwards to slowly reveal parts of the frame.

6) Tracking Shot – In this shot, the camera moves with the subject, making sure to keep them in frame.

7) Fish Eye Shot – This shot uses a fish eye lens to create an interesting visual distortion. Notice that the center of the image is the widest and the most in focus while the rest of the image is slightly blurred and a bit skinnier.

8) Pan Shot - In the pan shot, the camera stays in the same position, but moves on a tripod from right to left, or in this case, left to right.

9) Tilt Shot – In this shot, the camera stays in the same position, but moves on a tripod from up to down or down to up.

10) Cut-In- The cut-in is a shot that focuses on a part of the subject in detail. In this case, the emphasis of the shot is on Jiro’s hands.

Another beautiful cut-in.

Did we mention this film has beautiful cut-ins?

 

If a production team were a kitchen staff, then the cinematographer would be its chef. By employing a variety of shots throughout the film, David Gelb is able to capture the beauty of Jiro and his craft, turning each frame into a mouthwatering delight.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi and learn more about cinematography.

Last comment: about 16 hours ago 4 Comments

Hulu Summer Film School Week 2: Cinematography

July 25th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

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Welcome to Week 2 of Hulu Summer Film School! This week, we salute the work of the Cinematographer with a playlist of films that use the frame as a canvas for evoking emotion and meaning. For this week’s Cinematography lesson, we’ve selected a memorable scene from each of the films and commented on its visual style. 

Required Viewing: 

1) Jiro Dreams of Sushi 

Cinematographer: David Gelb
Much like the sushi that the movie’s lead dreams up, David Gelb’s cinematography in Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a work of art. Throughout the film, Gelb employs several visual tricks to set the scene. A fish-eye lens is aptly employed to add the slightest dream-like blur to the surrounding events. Macro shots transform each piece of sushi into a minimalist masterpiece and slow pans add a level of grandiose to even the simplest of actions.

In this scene, we follow Jiro’s fish dealer as he inspects and selects the superior cuts of fish to bring to Jiro’s table.The camera tracks around the dealer at a low angle, giving him a heightened level of authority, and then expands beyond the dealer to glide through and around the huddles of other fish workers. The constant movement throughout the scene—coupled
with the sights and sounds of the fish auction—build tension and anticipation, transforming the process of buying fish into a tribal-like ceremony. View examples of the different shots featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi here. 

-Kelly Lin 

2) Night of the Living Dead 

Cinematographer: George A. Romero
Casting its influence across the breadth of popular culture, George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” is an icon of horror cinema and the seminal zombie film. In addition to his duties as director, producer, and co-writer, Romero also serves as cinematographer, utilizing stark black and white photography to create claustrophobic tension, while simultaneously emulating the coarse newsreel imagery of the era to engender an unnerving sense of immediacy.

Later in the film, as the disintegration of the group takes hold, the trembling camerawork captures the in-fighting, the desperation, and the outright fear of the survivors through canted angles and high contrast portraits of terror. The battle between Ben (Duane Jones) and Harry (Karl Hardman),in particular, illustrates not only an obvious life-and-death struggle, but also a critique of our worst tendencies: that in times of strife and dread, at any cost, it’s every man for himself. Meanwhile, the undead – shuffling and moaning with vacant gazes – are unified in their inexorable death march on the survivors. And against humanity at-large.

-Naveen Singh 

3) Tokyo Story 

Cinematographer: Yūharu Atsuta
Per Yasujirō Ozu’s direction, Yūharu Atsuta’s cinematography in Tokyo Story is carefully rendered: low angles, hardly any camera movement, and shots that are composed at very square angles. The result is to create a sense of visual order which seems to mirror the quiet drama of the film: an aging couple who visits their grown children in Tokyo, most of whom are too busy to spend any real time with their parents.

Consider this introductory scene in which the parents arrive. The cinematography suggest an orderliness to the way the drama unfolds: perfectly square compositions and low angles in very well-maintained living quarters – quarters that house material things and human beings with equal efficacy. But that same squareness seems to box our characters in, to trap them, and this mirrors the drama of the film. The children of the elderly couple feel as if it’s in life’s inexorable drift that parents and their offspring move further and further from one another. There’s a “naturalness” and “order” to the drift that finds its visual equivalent in the balanced frames from cinematographer Atsuta. But there’s also a stifling, almost repressive quality to the drama and the cinematography. 

-Christopher Rowe 

4) L’Avventura

Cinematographer: Aldo Scavarda

The bored and affluent are delineated through unconventional composition and long still shots in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. As a mystery without clear resolution, it shifts its focus from missing woman Anna to a forbidden affair between Anna’s boyfriend Sandro and her best friend, Claudia. Its quiet pace and and visual artistry is akin to art on canvas: Each still tells a story.

Within the first 10 minutes,  we see Anna in bed with Sandro, whom she hasn’t seen in a month, in the right corner of the frame. As he hungrily blankets her neck with kisses, he is unaware that her eyes drift off in a distance, seeming as if the walls of the room are much more interesting at this very moment. The imbalanced composition combined with Anna’s detached stare makes even the viewer feel somewhat isolated and empty.

Next, the scene cuts to her best friend Claudia, who is waiting for Anna and Sandro outside of the house. Yet she curiously walks in, looks around to take everything in, then closes the door and leaves. Claudia’s curiosity contrasts with Anna’s aloofness, foreshadowing what’s to come in the dynamic between the two best friends.

-Sheila Dichoso 

5) City Lights 

Cinematographer: Roland Totheroh
Sometimes the simplest set-ups can be the most effective. In this finale scene, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp reunites with his long lost love, a blind flower seller who has recently been cured of her blindness. The scene excels in cinematographer Roland Totheroh’s insistence on holding static shots for extended periods of time in order to show the actors’ shifts in emotion.

In one shot, we see the girl’s face shift from sympathy for the Tramp, to shock at the realization that the Tramp was her hero from the past, to concern that he is not the handsome well-off man she envisioned, and finally to compassion that he is in such an unkempt state. This shot is later followed by an equally emotive shot, in which the Tramp peers over at the girl in nervousness and slowly breaks into a reluctant smile. For the first time in the film, the girl can finally see the Tramp for the person that he is, but will she still accept him? Either way, the simple shots of our cinematographer ensure that the true focus of the scene—the acting—is placed at the forefront. 

-Kelly Lin 

6) Pi 

Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique

“This in insanity, Max”  “Or maybe it’s genius.”

Pi is one man’s search for order in our crazy world.  Max lives a life of near solitude, choosing to spend most of his time holed up in his tiny apartment, rarely pursuing human interaction.  The close, intimate shots give us the same sense of confinement Max feels in his world, and in his mind.  Shaky camera moves and jarring, frenetic spinning spiral us out of control, right along with Max.  Additional disorientation is achieved through the black and white film stock, which provides grain, grit, sharp angles, and shadows, reminiscent of the German Expressionist movement of the early 20th century.

In the scene above, Max plays a game of “Go” with his mentor Sol, who views the empty “Go” board as an example of the infinite possibilities of our world.  Max counters with the astute observation that as the game is played, the possibilities become more finite and eventually predictable. The overhead shots of the board give us a godly angle into this vast world. Shots of “Go” stones are repeated throughout the film, calling viewers back to this symbolic imagery.

-Jonathan Katz 

7)  The 400 Blows 

Cinematographer: Henri Decaë
The cinematography of The 400 Blows has a playful but patient quality that reflects the soul of its precocious protagonist, Antoine, who is a troubled but mischievous stand-in for director François Truffaut. What the audience sees is what Antoine perceives, so the world reveals character as much as Antoine’s actions do.

Consider a long take following a group of schoolchildren as they march single-file around Paris. The shot follows as, one-by-one, each child runs away, free from the authoritarian rule of their miserly teacher. The angle of the camera, its precarious position at a high vantage point, and the way it cranes to follow the children all suggest a rough-hewn, homemade quality – the way a child might observe the scene. However, the shot’s length implies a patience on the part of the observer – it’s a long take that, because of deep staging, lets the gag play out all at once, without cutting around. This captures the tragic and comedic paradoxes of Antoine as a character. He’s a child with a playful sensibility who’s dealing with adult situations. He just wants to be a kid, but he’s thrust into a world where there is no escape from the responsibility of adulthood. 

-Christopher Rowe 

Required Reading: 

1) A Feast for the Eyes: Dissecting the Cinematography of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to watch the full-length versions of the films and learn more about this project!

Links and Additional Resources for the Aspiring Screenwriter

July 23rd, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school. 

Want to expand your knowledge of screenwriting but not sure where to start?

Here are a couple extra credit resources to get you on the ‘write’ path.

- Go into the Story’s Script Database – Free and legal copies of some of the most recent and popular screenplays. After perusing the screenplays, check the website’s blog for screenwriting lessons and interviews with famous screenwriters.

-BBC Writer’s Room Guide to Script Formatting – A script about how to format a script.

-Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk - The man behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E gives his take on the keys to a great story.

-Dan Harmon’s Guide to Story Structure- The creator of Community provides his own interpretation of the Three-Act Story Structure, the story circle. See how the structure plays out in Breaking Bad here.

-The ScriptNotes podcast from John August and Craig Mazin - A weekly podcast from the writers of titles such as Big Fish, The Hangover Part II, and Frankenweenie, covering topics such as story structure, character development, and the nuts and bolts of entering the industry. A must-listen for any aspiring screenwriters.

Happy writing!

Last comment: about 16 hours ago 1 Comment

Famous Screenwriters: Not Always an Oxymoron

July 21st, 2014 by Christopher Rowe

Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school.

Screenwriters never get any love. That’s the conventional wisdom when it comes to film. Even the most brilliant writers toil to bring an idea to screen, but their fate is the same: indifference and obscurity for the writer, praise and immortality for the director.

Television and theater are different. Here, writers are seen to have primary creative control and may go on to have successful, respectable careers. But adjectives like “successful” and “respectable” are far too healthy for screenwriters. If you’re not a writer/director, you can be fairly certain that your name won’t even register in the mind of 99% of your film-going audience.

Occasionally, though, a screenwriter flouts conventional wisdom and gains recognition and success for their winning personality, thoughts on cultural issues of international importance, and charming physique. Ok. A screenwriter has never gained recognition for any of those things. But if I said the following writers became famous for their screenplays, you never would have believed me, would you?


Charlie Kaufman is probably the closest thing we have to a modern screenwriting auteur – that is, someone whose authorial voice seems to overpower a work so as to leave an indelible creative fingerprint. Though he’s taken the plunge into writing/directing with 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman first gained widespread notice for his screenplay for 1999’s Being John Malkovich. From there, cinephiles eagerly awaited projects with Kaufman attached as writer. Kaufman wrote for directors like Spike Jonze, George Clooney, and Michel Gondry, but the thread that seemed to most strongly link Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wasn’t that it fit into a particular director’s filmography. It was that it came from the mind of Charlie Kaufman.


Other writers have succeeded in writing movies, too. Nora Ephron came from a journalism background. Ephron reportedly helped in shaping the script for the Watergate-thriller All the President’s Men (she was married to Bernstein). She gained critical and commercial attention for her scripts for movies like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally before writing and directing movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Listen to Nora talk about her experiences as a screenwriter on Charlie Rose here.


Shane Black is a writer-turned-filmmaker who gained attention when he sold his screenplay for Lethal Weapon in the 1980s, thus helping to launch one of the most successful action franchises. Black became a symbol of the confident, financially successful writer and made his directorial debut with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Though Dustin Lance Black (no known relation to Shane Black) had quite a bit of experience writing and directing, he gained notoriety and celebrity after winning the 2008 Oscar for best original screenplay for Milk. In 2011, Dustin Lance Black penned the Clint Eastwood directed J.Edgar, and his name was a selling point in the film’s marketing.

What does this mean? That screenwriters live in a time when they’ll be loved and admired? That it’s easy to write something that gets made into a movie? A good movie? That writers who face disillusionment and rejection will one day be vindicated – an object of adoration in the center of a circle made up of beloved family and friends? No. It just means making it as a screenwriter is hard, but if you’re lucky enough to pursue a dream in writing movies, there are some stars on the horizon to help you out.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to watch films from some of our favorite screenwriters and get a crash course on the classics.

Last comment: about 11 hours ago 1 Comment