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Peter Ralph
film conventions
on Oct 30, 2007 at 4:48:29 pm

great magazine articles on film-look.

One quibble - Kim Segel insists that film conventions are based on "organic human experience" and resurrects the argument that we shouldn't zoom the lens because our eyes can't zoom.

The same argument can be used against crane shots, narrow depth of field, music beds, tripods, and extra wide or long lenses.

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Tim Wilson
Re: film conventions
on Oct 30, 2007 at 8:31:04 pm

I don't remember if Kim mentions this in his article, but when he's not shooting, he's teaching in colleges and high schools. That said, while his advice re:zooms is aimed at youngsters, it's something that pros understand. The higher up the skill and experience ladder, the fewer pointless zooms you see. The lower down, the more. Especially given the magazine's distribution into schools, I think it's a point worth stating aloud.

I agree with him that, in general, a cut is more natural than a zoom. I wouldn't say that our eyes don't zoom, but our primary visual style is usually cuts. The example I use with the same kinds of youngsters is driving: look out the window, check the speedometer, look in the mirror -- cuts. Look at the monitor, look at the keyboard, look for the mouse -- cuts.

Zooms work best I thinkas a dramatic device within a shot, like dissolves between scenes. Frame the shot. Cut to another.

Same with crane shots: a storytelling device. Budding cinematographers shouldn't plan on shooting a whole feature with nothing but cranes....although I've never seen one before, so why not?

While they can certainly do things that our eyes can't, the original reason for long and wide lenses is to provide something like the different ways we look at the world. The way we naturally change focal lengths make it easier to meaningfully illustrate depth of field WITHOUT a camera than with one. Look out the window. Now look at the screen in the window. When you look one way, the other is out of focus.

Tripods? Called the neck. :-)The fact is that I've been in conditions where my neck wasn't enough to stabilize my visual platform, and all I have to say about that is, kids, don't do drugs.

In context, I think Kim very much covers these bases -- the use of bridal tuile to create depth of field in shots that have none, chiaroscuro lighting (hardly natural), and so on.

But to your first point, Peter, I'd rather see youngsters learn HOW to cut and WHY to zoom. And I'd rather see work where the cinematographer knows the difference too.

And thanks for the kind words on the magazine. We think this issue came out especially well.


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Peter Ralph
Re: film conventions
on Oct 30, 2007 at 10:37:54 pm

agreed - but my point is not that zooms should be encouraged, rather that "film look" has little do with "organic human experience".

Zooms are not part of traditional film language in large part because zoom lenses are a relatively recent innovation. Likewise with shallow depth of field - for Citizen Kane Orson Welles chose Greg Toland precisely because of his experience achieving extreme depth of focus.

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Re: film conventions
on Jan 6, 2008 at 9:09:44 pm

Just for the record-
I never said that you COULDN'T use zooms, I said:

"Most of the great film conventions are based simply on organic human experience... ...A dolly move always feels more organic than a zoom move because, after all, our eyeballs don

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