Many young filmmakers often talk about the so-called film look. There are many different views of what goes with it: low depth of field, letterbox and good color grading. But is that all? What exactly is still hidden behind the film look and which elements really belong to it? In this article we deal with the film look and show what contributes to a real film look.
What is actually the film look?
Film look refers to the totality of all elements that influence the overall impression of a film. This relates to both the technical and the design factors. In addition, each film has its own look and film look does not mean a general look for all films.
The origin of the film look comes from the analog era, in that the film look was created through the use of analog film material. Nowadays people try to artificially imitate this “look”. However, this involves much more than a letterbox and a shallow depth of field.
The elements of the film look
Overall, more factors go into the look of the film than most would expect. These mainly include the following 9 points.
1. Image section/setting sizes
An important factor is the correct framing and the use of correctly mapped setting sizes. This may sound obvious at first, but unfortunately this is exactly what many beginners do wrong. A correct framing of every single shot of the film has an enormous influence on the overall picture and thus also on the film look.
2. Image structure/image composition
In addition to good framing, the conscious image structure and the well thought-out composition in every shot, every scene, every sequence and thus in the entire film. An important factor that contributes significantly to a film look.
3. Camera angle/perspective
The third factor that has a big impact on film look is the choice of camera angles and perspectives, which throughout the film go a long way towards how the story is told visually. For example, crane rides, top shots or establishing shots in professional films are only deliberately used at certain points and are not used too frequently and randomly, as is often the case in amateur films.
4. Choice of optics + magnification
One of the most important factors is the choice of optics and magnification. It is precisely these points that are often attempted to be reproduced. More and more amateur filmmakers are also using proven fixed focal lengths, but unfortunately often forget that this is only one of many points and alone is not sufficient for a film look.
5. Movement in the picture / camera movement
The movements are also an important element. A rule of thumb says: either there is movement in the picture or the camera has to move. So movement is an incredibly important aspect. But that doesn’t mean that something always has to move, it’s more about the totality of the movements, so that an overarching style can be recognized that contributes to the film look.
6. Emphasis on image content (recording medium, sharpness, frame rate, shutter speed)
Since many elements such as sharpness, frame rate and shutter speed have an enormous influence on the film look and one could theoretically write a separate article about each of these points, We summarize them under “Emphasis on the image content”. One thing counts above all: a comprehensive technical understanding of these elements. Because only when you know why the frame rate works, how it works, you understand the influence on the film look. Setting the camera to 24fps is not enough.
7. Subjects/Objects Camera
The subjective or objective camera refers to an overarching concept of how the camera is used in a specific scene or setting. This concept is mostly used across scenes throughout the film, making it an important element of any film look. Check for more info.
8. 180 degree rule/axis of action
Conscious handling of the plot axis or 180-degree rule is essential for the film look. This does not mean that you always have to adhere to them exactly, quite the opposite: A conscious approach means that you are familiar with the axis of action and can also consciously break it. But the following applies: only those who know the rules and can implement them can break them.
9. Light and color design (filters, optics, grading)
Other major factors influencing the look of the film are the lighting and color design. These should contribute to a recognizable visual style of the film’s overall feel. This also includes knowledge of various filters, optics and the final grading.
Other important elements of the film look
In addition to the elements listed above, there are other factors that, while indirect, still have a major impact on the look of the film. This includes the choice of motif, the scene design and the make-up/costume design.
At first glance, this may not have anything to do with the film look, but first impressions are deceptive. Especially the aspects mentioned above have an incredible influence on the overall picture of each film.
Above all, the make-up and costume design are usually present in every single shot, just like the framing, the choice of optics or the lighting design. So these factors contribute to a film look just like all other aspects.
Why many beginners do a lot wrong
Many internet forums and video tutorials have people giving tips on how to mimic a film look. This approach is fundamentally ineffective and inefficient.
Because what actually makes a film? A letterbox or the story? Just because a DSLR video looks like a film at first glance doesn’t mean it’s a film. In most cases it is just a video with a letterbox without much drama, dialogue and exciting turning points.
Rather than trying to make a video look like a movie, it’s more about how to make a movie, not how to make a video look like it. Only then do you have a real chance of creating a real film with a real film look.
Film look refers to the entirety of all elements that influence the appearance of a film. So it takes far more than shallow depth of field and letterboxing to make a video appear like a film.
The only real way to achieve a real film look is to shoot a real film and not make a video and artificially recreate a film look.
So if you want to create an individual and special film look for a film, you should know all the elements that influence it and use them consciously. Then it works synonymous with a real film look.