Home Cinematography What Do You Think Film Students Need To Know?

What Do You Think Film Students Need To Know?

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

Technology has exploded since I graduated from Emerson in 1986. I am thrilled to go back to Boston on November 12, and share my passion for Canon 5D Mark II as a game changing tool for student filmmakers. It is an affordable camera for a student filmmaker with ability to deliver images that rival 35 mm film while giving them experience to enter the professional world.

Emerson College Students in front of state house

Emerson College Students in front of state house

I will be meeting with cinematography students in Dr. Harlan Bosmajian’s class to light a set and then guide them with the Canon 5D in shooting a scene, which they will then transfer and edit.

Emerson College Film Students

Emerson College Film Students

What do you think student filmmakers need to know? How can they compete with the stiff competition in commercials and film today? I would love to share your comments and feedback with the students at Emerson to guide them as new graduates.

Thank-you for helping to mentor aspiring filmmakers!

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Nate Weaver November 9, 2009 at 4:43 PM

Messageboards are flooded with students who are obsessed with having the latest, greatest gear. In your shoes, I’d want to impress upon them that the industry has indeed crossed the line where the tools we use are sometimes affordable, and that they need to get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot without waiting for the next big thing to come.

In other words, teachers will always say “it’s not about the gear”, but I think they really need to understand WHY. Unfortunately deep understanding of that may not be possible without the experience of hunting for work for 3 years!

Hopefully maybe you can really drive that home by making the slickest-lit/decorated set for them, and showing them what a 5D can really do (and maybe, but much less important, what it can’t do)

Atom Magadia November 9, 2009 at 5:19 PM

As an pre-digital guy myself, I believe that today’s crop of students are sorely lacking in film/analog training.

Shooting in film should still be a required study in schools, it will not only make the students more flexible (I have always believed that digital is just another palette for the artist, and that film still offers us a wider range of tools and looks), but it will also provide them with a well grounded background and knowledge of the history and techniques of the craft.

Juan Carlos Pena November 9, 2009 at 6:28 PM

I think the most important thing for film/tv students to learn is lighting, composition, editing and story telling.
Students get too caught up with the new technologies and forget the basics. Students need to learn that the most powerful tool is experience and knowledge . Not that new 5D or that new Mac Pro with the latest ver. of FCP. The 5D is a game changing tool, but it’s not a perfect camera. Students should learn it’s limitations and when is the right camera for the job and when it is not.
There are allot of “gotchas” with this camera or any other HDSLR.

Dustin McKim November 9, 2009 at 8:18 PM

Shane, the most important thing students need to learn is how to develop concepts and stories. Having gone through the film school system myself at Art Center in Pasadena, I must say too much focus and time goes into new equipment, having the best rigs and gear, etc. Equipment is more affordable than ever and you’ll always be able to find somebody with the gear or “know how”.

Technical knowledge is a must, but more focus should go into creating the message, theme, tone, and visuals before you ever pick up a camera.

Ultimately, your ideas and execution of that idea creatively is what will separate you from the pack.

Shane November 9, 2009 at 9:42 PM

Nate, Atom, Juan, Dustin, I started out as a grip truck driver, worked my way up, as a Key Grip, then a Gaffer, worked side by side with Herb Ritts, started shooting Music Vids in 1991, shot my first feature in 1998, and to me the story is king. I absolutely agree that you need to teach students composition, exposures, lighting, editing, and how to best assist the story, how to take it higher. But some of the tools that I worked with as a film student in 1984-86 are still the newest technology in film schools. Study your craft, become an artist, look at light, capture still frames in your mind of different light experiences, when reading a script what does the story have to say, how will the light assist the characters arc. But having a devise that can inspire and help you dream is not a bad thing. I feel it is a hybrid of sorts. Not being obsessed with the newest technology, but using it to take your story, character, and the photography higher.

Martin Voelker November 10, 2009 at 1:54 AM

They should watch films from abroad and listen to languages they don’t understand as if they understood them. Just listen. American radio and TV has its deep routines and it would give us all a breather if some young talent broke out of it.

Raji Barbir November 10, 2009 at 1:54 AM

I think the answer is simple and has been said by others: STORY IS KING.

The rest is practice.

Bill Strehl November 10, 2009 at 9:31 AM

I would think some of the students are wondering:
1. What kind of job will school get me, and how much I’ll make?
2. What if I just went out to LA and…
3. What if I bought a some great gear and taught myself through books, the internet, and on the job trainging making movies/videos for less than the competition?
4. How long until “I” am a success?
5. What’s it like in LA/Hollywood?

Gabrielle Paciorek November 10, 2009 at 6:18 PM

I think visual communication is the big thing for film students. They might have a really good story or script but the translation from word to moving picture is always rough. I started off with a graphic design background before I got into film, and I think it helped me a lot in as far as thinking about my audience and what they’re going to understand from my composition and lighting. I also think the students should look outside movies for visual inspiration. They should be looking at everything from fashion magazines to comic books.

I recently graduated from San Diego State as a film major, where if we wanted to shoot film, we shot film. I broke my piggy bank shooting 35mm my second to last semester, and I mostly shot on the 5D my last semester. My experience with film accelerated my cinematography skills like I couldn’t believe. It also made the transition to the 5D easier. It was the first HD camera I used that worked like a film camera. I think students could benefit from using the 5D like a film camera (using a light meter, experimenting with lighting ratios, ISO settings) instead of a video camera (light and look at the LCD, light and look at the LCD…)

Film students also need to think about how a film is going to cut together before they shoot and while they shoot. Think about eyelines, screen direction, camera angle, camera movement. Is it going to be awkward to cut from a smooth dolly to handheld? Does it communicated the story?

Last, but not least…I know I’m long winded…(I’ll go back to lurking on the blog after this post) Be wary of film school cliches, but don’t let anyone razz you for doing it. Just get it out of your system in school and have fun!

kevie November 11, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Story is way more important than the latest gear, its like polishing sh!t no matter how much you try and polish the thing its still sh!t. Just look back a few years ago on what people were shooting with and still telling compelling stories the gear will always change but stories are the key.

David McCarty November 11, 2009 at 9:36 PM

With all due respect to the person above who said they believed it was important to study film, I’m a Creative Director for an international ad agency and I can’t tell you the number of students I see who are forced to spend time going through arcane exercises that have little use in the real world. There’s nothing wrong with film, but it’s not the future. We still shoot a lot of 35mm film for commercials but we shoot 0% film in stills. I don’t see the purpose of going through all the trouble of shooting 8 or 16mm when what they need to learn is composition, story telling, editing and the like. Why kill yourself with film when it’s so easy to shoot high quality footage with a DSLR?

It’s the same thing I saw with students still being taught paste-up long after it had gone the way of the Dodo.

I also think that the greatest thing about youth is that they are unafraid to try new things. It’s great to study the masters, but it’s also worthwhile trying something new. I don’t think you need to know all the rules before you can start breaking them. Be bold.

Dustin McKim November 12, 2009 at 3:39 PM

I agree with David on using the new technology and just shooting!

When I was at Art Center early 2000’s they took our camera’s away, made us study massive theory, work on irrelevant projects, and made us poor students take out million dollar insurance policies so we could rent from Clairmont Camera.

I know a lot of ex students still paying some hefty bills off. The whole mini dv revolution was just starting and the faculty turned up their noses. We couldn’t shoot much back then because it cost a fortune when it’s on your own dime.

I have learned more about blocking, directing, and shooting just by working with people instead of watching a film and taking notes. And with the wealth of knowledge that is on the internet for any particular subject, students are learning at the speed of light.

I embrace the new technology and will never shoot film again unless an agency wants to blow the money. With the new HDSLR’s, footage looks amazing and students now have a cost effective way to experiment with new ideas. They can also shoot with multiple cameras, and if something doesn’t work out, grabbing a camera to finish pick ups or reshoots isn’t a big deal anymore.

I’m 100% on the bandwagon!

Marc Margulies November 13, 2009 at 1:04 AM

Hurlbut Visuals Elite Team Marc Margulies checking in with a thought of learning the basics. When two of my three daughters were in high school, I had the opportunity to teach a cinema class, with the girls in attendance. The class learned composition, lighting and how to edit the finished project, culminating with the airing of their weekly assignment on the local TV station. Several of these students are now pursuing cinematography careers, due in part to the excitement of “Learning the Basics.”

Shane November 13, 2009 at 2:06 AM

Dustin, I just finished my talk at Emerson tonight and I felt very good about it, I feel that we are talking the same language. I discussed everything with them, taught a cinematography class for 4.5 hrs. Really enjoyed the experience. The students were awesome, very eager to learn and for the most part not to arrogant. The facility was very impressive. I would have loved all of that when I was a film student. Emerson blew me away!!!!!

Nick Keating November 13, 2009 at 5:31 PM

Shane, I just wanted to say thanks for coming to Emerson and talking with all of us yesterday, it was a pleasure meeting you and hearing the impact these tiny dslr’s are inevitably going to create. The footage you showed us was incredible and I was blown away by the heli rescue pieces, the way the footy holds up on the big screen is pretty damn exciting! What really sealed the deal was how with the use of twixtor you could alleviate many of the artifacting problems known to plague these cameras. I think your discussion was inspiring and I hope it leads to the school picking up some 5D’s for future student projects. Thanks again, definitely appreciate you making the trip out here!!

Jun Yun November 14, 2009 at 4:16 AM

I wish I was there to hear your thoughts on the 5D and the relationship of new technology and the recent surplus of videos being shot everyday and what that will mean for film students hitting the industry.

I just want to say that I fell in love with 11:14 when I first saw it and have been following your work ever since. It’s good to see an Emerson alumni talk about paying your dues and doing what you love instead of preaching how to become a millionaire before your thirties.

Shane November 14, 2009 at 9:56 AM

Nick, thank you so much for your kind words. It was so amazing seeing how incredible your facilities are. Emerson is giving all of the students an amazing playground to explore, dream, and create. I am glad you liked the footage I showed. I am out their leading the charge. I had a great conversation with the faculty, and hopefully you will see some cameras coming your way soon. I was inspired by all of you. I want to thank all of the students for making me feel so at home and I cannot wait to come back. Pass the word around about the blog, I would love to stay in touch with as many of you as possible.

Shane November 14, 2009 at 10:01 AM

Jun, Yun, I am sorry you missed it. I think with the tools that Emerson is providing you and the amazing talented professors you will rise to the top of all of this video noise that this disruptive technology will create. Keep dreaming, creating and never say die. I started at the bottom and worked my way up, it gave me the depth and the experience to move forward in this tumultuous time of the entertainment business.

Valentijn January 14, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Hey Shane,
I am an Emerson student and was incredibly inspired by your talk on the 5D in November. I use the very similar 7D and have landed a huge project for this summer (shooting in my home country of Aruba) where I was able to convince the producers to let me shoot it on my camera. I have spent the past month researching camera mounts, follow focus rings, viewfinders and the works. However, I’m starting to get overwhelmed by all of the technology out there and the incredible variety of options. Do you have any advice on where to buy? Specifically, I need a good camera mount/viewfinder and follow focus that will help in a narrative documentary style shooting, is there any specific one you recommend? I remember you had one with you at Emerson that looked a lot more mobile and easy to use than some of the (in my opinion unnecessary) shoulder mounted rigs. Thank you so much in advance for your help.

Tony February 4, 2010 at 2:32 PM

How about for people who have been done school and are trying to transition to the industry from another industry (e.g. IT)?
With school being out of the question because of today’s awesome economy the other alternatives to learning are books, youtube, and going out there and making something.

Jeff Kulig September 22, 2010 at 12:38 PM

Hi Shane,
I’m not sure how often your checking up on this thread lately, your visit to Emerson last fall really shook things up and I’m a student who’s actually more comfortable at this point lighting and shooting 16mm film. I’m rapidly approaching the scheduled shoot dat for my thesis project, a short narrative and I’m looking into what’s going to give me the best possible image for the smallest cost. I’m enticed by the shallow depth of field in the 5D, but I’m nervous that the focus is so lacking in precision. I’m also concerned about the highly compressed nature of the files that will come out of the camera, and I’m nervous about finishing to blueray to be projected on a big screen. What can you tell me about how these images will hold up in the post production process.

Shane September 22, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Jeff Kulig, Hi Jeff, I have seen the images projected on a 60′ screen at Mann’s Chines theater in Hollywood and everyone who was there had their jaws on the floor. It holds up huge, don’t you realize that the compression is the best thing, this is what is creating the images that don’t look plastic and fake like all other HD cameras. Canon was set out on a mission in 1976, to eliminate 35mm still film. That was their mission. So they create a sensor that would do that. Not one other HD manufacturer ever had that in the wheelhouse until about 2006. Canon spends more money in R and D then any other company, they spent 3.5 Billion last year. I have shot film my whole life and I am now shooting Digital Film with this new technology. Believe in it,use it, become efficient with it, learn how to focus it, understand how not to show its cons, but perpetuate its pros. It is the wave of the future, not embracing, or understanding this technology will leave you in the dust.


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