Film & TV

How to Shoot a Film

Authored by Werner Herzog

Director, Filmmaker

People spend way too much time and money in film school, but the essentials of filmmaking can be learned on your own within two weeks. Instead of collecting garbage with your camera, follow these lessons from Werner Herzog to quickly and cheaply shoot a film.

Part 1 of 10

Don’t worry about your gear

You don’t need a state-of-the-art camera to make a film. You just need a camera.

Did you know?

Jean Rouch shot Les maîtres fous with a single-lens, batteryless camera that could only shoot for 24 seconds before it needed to be cranked by hand, and it is one of the finest documentaries ever made.

Part 2 of 10

Set the visual mood for light

If, for example, you are making a film like Nosferatu, which has a lot to do with darkness and shadows and night, consider how to illuminate a face with only candlelight. Consult with your cinematographer, and study the late medieval paintings of Georges de La Tour as opposed to the pastel look of Vermeer.

Part 3 of 10

Be the only one unprepared on set

This keeps the actors on edge, but they know their dialogue and movements and what they’re doing. Stage the scene and choreography while on set to capture the “pura vida”—not the literal translation of purity of life, but its full scope and exuberance.

Did you know?

Storyboards are an instrument of cowards. They might be necessary and useful for digital effects, but otherwise they lead to lifeless days of shooting and stale films.

Part 4 of 10

Set up quickly and on a small scale

Keep your lighting equipment small, especially when making a documentary, as you have to be flexible and quick. Otherwise you lose the moment and intensity. Avoid heavy cables and big reflectors. Sometimes a small reflector—or even just a white piece of paper—will be enough to get some light onto the face.

Part 5 of 10

Aim for momentum over style

Once you are on set with actors, you are there to film the scene, not adjust background lights. Otherwise you’ll lose all the magic and the momentum.

Did you know?

Aesthetics are a natural concomitant of what you’re doing. If you force it, it will come close to feeling kitschy or artsy-fartsy. Let it seep into your film on its own. How it does that, you won’t know, and best of all, you won’t even care.

Part 6 of 10

Make camera decisions on set, not in post

There’s a tendency now to shoot all angles and decide during postproduction which shots to use or where to push in for a close-up. This is devastatingly stupid. Make up your mind when you’re filming right then and there. That’s where you win or lose the battle.

Part 7 of 10

Use your whole body to shoot the camera

When shooting with a handheld camera, tuck your elbows into your body and operate it with your entire body, not just your arms and hands.

Look through the camera, not the flip screen. Weave your movements into the scene you are creating and physically move the camera.

Did you know?

Zoom lenses can be helpful for complicated scenes where there are lots of extras or where you have to shift very quickly from a closer to a wider shot, but in general it’s better to move the camera yourself and not rely on a technical piece or lens.

Part 8 of 10

Shoot in a single shot to save time

This gives your film a sense of urgency and cohesion. Leave everything that’s not important and try to shoot the whole sequence in one single shot. Move with your actors as you do it.

Part 9 of 10

Only shoot a scene three to five times, and don’t shoot much coverage

If the scene doesn’t function after five takes, there’s something wrong with the dialogue or the scene and you’ll need to rewrite it. As for coverage, use it when you know you’ll absolutely need it—for example, shooting a reverse shot for a dialogue scene. On Hollywood sets, it’s all the rage to shoot a sequence in four to five hours, then spend eight to 11 hours on coverage that will never end up on screen.

Part 10 of 10

Collect the remarkable, not the garbage

You are not a squirrel accumulating little nuts with the hopes that by keeping the camera rolling and rolling you’ll have a great film afterward when you find the gems in your pile of footage. You won’t. It’s a waste of material and time. You are not a garbage collector. You are a filmmaker, and you do only the truly intense and remarkable.

masterWiki is
MSCHF Drop #27
is MSCHF Drop #27