Rules Of Filmmaking



EYE-LEVEL FRAMING

Framing your subject at eye-level creates a sense of equality. As Nerris puts it, this is how the DP tells the viewer “this person is your friend.” Eye-level framing is the most common way of framing the subject, but there are a few ways and reasons to break this rule.

You can film the subject from below. It makes them look bigger than the viewer and gives them a sense of power.


The opposite angle creates the opposite feeling. If you film the subject from above, you a create a feeling of the subject being powerless, vulnerable and smaller than the viewer. You can go even further and go really high up, creating a bird’s eye view of the subject. This sense of distance between the subject and the viewer creates a “voyeuristic” feel.

You can also combine the high and low angle within the scene, to tell your audience who’s in command.


SUBJECT LOOKS TO THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE FRAME

The general framing rule is to place your subject on the left side of the frame and to make them look to the right. This way you show that they’re looking at something out of the frame. But if you want to create a different mood, you can break this rule.


Your subject can look in the same direction as the side of the frame in which they are positioned. That is, they’re on the left side of the frame and they are looking to the left.This will create the sense of being trapped, not knowing what the future holds.


RULE OF THIRDS

The rule of thirds is probably the first thing we all learned on photography/cinematography 101 courses. Nerris suggests two ways to break it.

The first way is to center your subject exactly in the middle of the frame. Depending on the context, this can create a calming effect and offer a balance, or add tension.

Another way to break the rule of thirds is to go with the Fibonacci Sequence or the Golden Ratio. It can be highly aesthetically pleasing and is commonly seen all around us, too.


ADEQUATE HEADROOM

For framing a medium shot, the rule requires you to leave a tiny bit of room above the subject’s head. For close-up shots, you can cut off a tiny bit of the subject’s forehead, but you should leave their chin in the frame.

If you want to break this rule, you can go for two main framing techniques. You can make an extreme close-up of the subject’s face. This will give an extremely intimate and even uncomfortable feel, so be very careful and intentional with this.

Alternatively, you can leave too much headroom. This will make your subject appear small and depict a sense of a lack of power.


THE 180-DEGREE RULE

As Nerris puts it, this one is simple and complicated at the same time. The 180-degree rule draws an imaginary line that connects the characters in the scene. The camera should be on one side of this line for every shot in the scene. This way, the first character is always frame right of the second character, and the second one is frame left of the first. This rule helps with continuity and eye lines.

This rule can sometimes be broken to convey shifts in power, confusion or the passing of time. But make sure you are fully intentional about breaking the rule, otherwise, it will just look amateurish.

When it comes to art, I believe that the rules are meant to be broken. Of course, we shouldn’t do it all the time and at any cost. Before we break the rules we need to master them, and I believe that’s one of the points of Nerris’ video. Only after you’ve learned them will breaking the rules serve a purpose and give additional value to your shots.


1. You have a choice of being “in the business” or of making movies. If you’d rather do business, don’t hesitate. You’ll get richer, but you won’t have as much fun!


2. If you have nothing to say, don’t feel obliged to pretend you do.


3. If you do have something to say, you’d better stick to it. (But then don’t give too many interviews.)


4. Respect your actors. Their job is 10 times more dangerous than yours.


5. Don’t look at the monitor. Watch the faces in front of your camera! Stand right next to it! You’ll see infinitely more. You can still check your monitor after the take.


6. Your continuity girl is always right about screen directions, jumping the axis and that sort of stuff. Don’t fight her. Bring her flowers.


7. Always remember: Continuity is overrated!


8. Coverage is overrated, too!


9. If you want to shoot day for night, make sure the sun is shining.


10. Before you say “cut,” wait five more seconds.


11. Rain only shows on the screen when you backlight it.


12. Don’t shoot a western if you hate horses. (But it’s okay to not be fond of cows.)


13. Think twice before you write a scene with babies or infants.


14. Never expect dogs, cats, birds or any other animals to do what you’d like them to do. Keep your shots loose.


15. Mistakes never get fixed in post!


16. Final cut is overrated. Only fools keep insisting on always having the final word. The wise swallow their pride in order to get to the best possible cut.


17. Other people have great ideas, too.


18. The more money you have the more you can do with it, sure. But the less you can say with it.


19. Never fall in love with your temp music.


20. Never fall in love with your leading lady!


21. If you love soccer, don’t shoot your film during the World Championship. (Same goes for baseball and the World Series, etc.)


22. Don’t quote other movies unless you have to. (But why would you have to?)


23. Let other people cut your trailer!


24. It’s always good to make up for a lack of (financial) means with an increase in imagination.


25. Having a tight schedule can be difficult. But having too much time is worse.


26. Alright, so you’re shooting with a storyboard. Make sure you’re willing to override it at any given moment.


27. Less make-up is better.


28. Fewer words are always better!


29. Too much sugary stuff on the craft table (or is it Kraft?) can have a disastrous effect on your crew’s morale.


30. Film can reveal the invisible, but you must be willing to let it show.


31. The more you know about moviemaking, the tougher it gets to leave that knowledge behind. As soon as you do things “because you know how to do them,” you’re fucked.


32. Don’t tell a story that you think somebody else could tell better.


33. A “beautiful image” can very well be the worst thing that can happen to a scene.


34. If you have one actor who gets better with every take, and another who loses it after a while, make sure they can meet in the middle. Or consider recasting. (And you know whose close-ups you have to shoot first!)


35. If you shoot in a dark alley at night, don’t let your DP impose a bright blue contre-jour spotlight on you, even in the far distance. It always looks corny.


36. Some actors should never see rushes. Others should be forced to watch them.


37. Be ready to get rid of your favorite shot during editing.


38. Why would you sit in your trailer while your crew is working?


39. Don’t let them lay tracks before you’ve actually looked through your viewfinder.


40. You need a good title from the beginning. Don’t shoot the film with a working title you hate!


41. In general, it’s better not to employ couples. (But of course, there are exceptions!)


42. Don’t adapt novels.


43. If your dolly grip is grumpy or your electricians hate the shot it will all show on the film. (Also, if you’re constipated…)


44. Keep your rough cut speech, your cast and crew screening speech and your Oscar speech short.


45. Some actors actually improve their dialogue in ADR.


46. Some actors should never be forced to loop a single line. (Even Orson Welles wasn’t good at that.)


47. There are 10,000 other rules like these 50.


48. If there are golden rules, there might be platinum ones, too.


49. There are no rules.


50. None of the above is necessarily correct.