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How to Make Video Look Like Film

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How to Make Video Look Like Film – By Zero One Entertainment

Getting rid of that "home video" feel.

If you use a consumer grade camera and ever paid close attention to video you get, you’ll notice how it feels like a home video. Even after all that work you put into setting up your shots, lighting, directing your actors, writting a story, it still looks like a cheap home video somebody did in high school. It’s an almost indescribable quality that makes it look cheap.
I’m here to tell you how to get rid of that. For those of you that think it’s a frame rate thing, you’re close…but wrong. The right answer is interlacing!

Understanding interlacing requires knowing a little bit about how video works. When your TV draws an image on the screen, it starts at the top, draws a line across the screen, then shifts down then draws another line until it reaches the bottom. It’s very similar to the way a typewriter draws lines of text on a peice of paper. Your TV does this 60 times every second. But each pass down the screen only draws every other line. First drawing the odd lines, then drawing the even lines. I won’t go into the reasons on why this is/was done. You just need to know that it is done. Probably isn’t true of the new digital TV’s. But while you are still working with NTSC, your world is interlaced.

This method gives you "half" an image 60 times a second, so you effectivey get 30 full frames per second. The image on the left is an interlaced image of the letters A and B. This is what each frame of video recorded by a comsumer camera looks like.
Understanding interlacing and refresh rates explains the jittering you get when you pause video and the banding you get you video tape TV screens and monitors.

The PROBLEM is, movies aren’t interlaced. Movies are really sequential photographs, not interlaced images like video.

It’s this interlacing that makes your video look cheap. The motion is "too smooth." So, you need to find a way to get non-interlaced video. You can do this by capturing the video without interlacing (not available on most consumer cameras) or by de-interlacing it with a program like Final Cut Pro or some other editing package. De-interlacing the video makes each frame a complete image, similar to what movies are.

This will get rid of that "home video" feel and make your video look more proffessional. But this processing is not for the faint of heart. De-interlacing video is a SLOW processing time. If you are using Final Cut Pro, de-interlacing a 10 minute video will take several hours (good over night process). So, it’s something you may want to do only as final pass at the very end when you’ve finished all your editting.

I compared this method to a much more sophisticated method which uses a third party plug in for Adobe After Effects by DigiEffects called "Film Motion" which does an actual 24 fps remapping technique to get TRUE film-to-video conversion frame behavior. I would say it’s marginally better than the deinterlacing technique. I had to compare the video several dozen times before making up my mind, so it’s not an obvious difference. There are tiny artifacts that are either better and worse than simply deinterlacing such that the net difference in quality is nearly null. Only a well trained eye will pick up on the difference and hopefully your movie won’t be so boring that they are looking for these interlacing artifacts in your video.  

Doing this at record time

Higher end cameras ($2000 to $7000) don’t suffer such much from this problem simply because of the quality and resolution of the CCD’s (charged couple device). Something about the way they capture video makes them look like a "new broadcast" instead of home video.

If you have one of the nicer consumer Canon DV cameras ($800 – $2500), they have something called "progressive scan" or "movie frame" which captures in non-interlaced mode. It’s very nice, but you should keep your shutter speed slow unless you know what you are doing. Otherwise, it can cause an unpleasant popping motion when panning the camera. Or more simple advice, don’t move the camera a lot when you have this on.

If you have a digital Sony camera with digital effects (as low as $350-$400), the "Flash" mode captures video in non-interlaced mode too. Just adjust the effect to it’s next to minimum setting. Anything higher, and it’s obvious you are using an effect. The lowest setting is actually no effect. BUT BE WARNED: if you look closely, it actually cuts you’re vertical resolution in half!!! It just doubles the scan line. Not so great, if you care a lot about your image quality. I recommend using software if you really want to preserve the quality of your images.

A Trick to de-interlace in real-time.
The Sony cameras will actually playback any video it has on the tape inside with the digital effects applied even if the original footage was not recorded with it. So, you can record your video onto a tape the camera can read, play it back with the flash filter turned on, and record the playback onto something else. It WON’T apply the effect to the DV output, but will do it for the analog output. Your video will suffer from temporary conversion into analog. But if your playback and recording devices are both digital, the quality loss is negligible and it saves you from the hours of rendering time. But again, be aware that it cuts your vertical resolution in half.

Video quality looks like crap compared to movies.

Some ways to change that. Movies are essentially thousands of really high quality photographs. The images are warm, rich, and soft. Video is captured with electronic CCD’s and generally produce images that are cold, stark, and harsh. Even cameras nice enough to include controls for aperature, shutter speed, exposure don’t match the control or results gotten from a nice Nikon 35mm film camera. But, fear not. There are ways to fix this.

Tip 1: Avoid shooting in low light
Video cameras have an electronic gain which boosts the signal when the light is low. When you shoot in low light, this like turning up the volume on a really bad vinyl recording. Maybe you can hear it better, but most of it is just noise. If you want to do night time scenes, you really need a lot of light to make it look good instead of gritty. You then make it look like night with image controls during editing, and add stuff like a subtle blue tint.

Tip 2: Some filters to Apply (Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere)
1. Desaturation
2. Levels
3. Wide screen
4. De-interlace

The last two, widescreen and de-interlace are optional things. But you don’t have to. If you do use widescreen, make sure to turn OFF field rendering in the render quality. Otherwise, you’ll get some weird cropping behavior and your preview on the computer monitor will be WRONG.
Certain effects require field rendering to be turned on in order to produce good results, particularly changing the speed of a clip. Any filter that works with the individual scan lines of an image will benefit from turning it on. Field rendering works the even and odd fields of a video image more intelligently.
The real image manipulation happens with the desaturation and level filters. Desaturation affects the richness of colors and level (via a un-intutive set of controls) will adjust the black point, white point and distribution of brightness across the whole image. The settings of these filters will depend on the scene and the camera you have.
Set Desaturate to -50. This will boost the colors just a tad. Adjust to taste.
Set the level controls as follows:
input = 0
input tolerance = 100
gamma = 1
output = 50
ouput tolerance = 80

These settings should get you off to a good start. If you need to tweak the image, play with the controls a little bit. The relationship is unfortunately not simple. So, it may take a while to figure it out. I’ve worked with it for a while and I still don’t quite understand exactly what’s going on. I wish the controls where more like Photoshop.
If you like the harsh look…

You may argue that sometimes the harsh look is a cinematographic effect. Sure it is, but this kind of harshness is the "I’m using a really cheap camera" effect. After applying these filters you’ll have a much better image to work with. This lets YOU determine what the image should look like, not what the CAMERA wants it to look like.

Use custom lighting if you can

Natural lighting is not very good for video. It may make dramatic photgraphs, but it’s too dramatic and does provide enough information to work for most movie scenes. You need to help the camera see things that would normally be stuck in the shadows or not lit at all. I highly recommend going to a bookstore and reading over the different ways to light a subject. Then looks for book on how to light scenes either for theater or movies. It’s all about learning how to manipulate shadows and highlights.

You can buy what called a "power inverter" for a standard car that will give you 120v AC outlets. This way you can run lights just about anywhere you can get a car. Buy a 150ft extension cord and you are good to go. But power inverters can only power so many lights. The wattage a power inverter can give depends on the inverter and depends on your car. A 300 Watt inverter costs about $60 at Walmart or at Advance autoparts and will power three 100 watt lightbulbs. The wattage just adds up. So you, can power five 60 watts lightbulbs instead. A 600 watt inverter is available at Crutchfield or online for about $140. Read the instruction of usage carefully before you start plugging things up. You’ll have to learn a little about your fuse box and get comfortab;e hooking stuff up directly to you car battery. Neither of these are bad things, just be aware that you’ll be doing it a lot if you want to use a power inverter.

Besides, these things are cool. You can plug up a small TV and VCR and watch movies on car trips or out in the middle of a field. A smart thing to do is to charge your spare batteries in the car while your shooting so you won’t ever run out of power.

Using other people is hard work:
Using you own lighting setups increases the work invovled in getting a shot by about a factor of 50. It takes a while to steup and breakdown. Not to mention the high degree of planning and manpower required. This is when you defintiely need a crew to help you. If you have somene who has done lighting either in theare or photorgraphy, thier knowledge will be helpful. Lighting is an artform unto itself.

NEVER trying to sophsitcated lighting setups without already planned exactlly what you want to do. If you can come to the scene with schematics for the positioning of your actors, the lighting (including thier intensity, color, hieght, and degree of diffusion) as well as have to your shot well story boarded, that ideal. If you don’t have this done, you be wasting a lot of people’s time while you try to figure it out on the fly and well as irritate them.

Doing lighting setups really starts to move up to the big leagues in terms of production organization and management. You can’t do it with two people any more. You need crew members and a well defined plan. The moment you have to explain your vision to someone else, you going to have use detailed story boards and setup schematics. A story board does NOT mean stick figures in a square. That won’t cut it, especially for light designers.

You need to have a manager who sole purpose is to handle the duties and communication among people. This will take the responsibilities off the shoulders of the people that actually need to be creative and have the visions.

A Handy Guide to Pre-Production

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A Handy Guide to Pre-Production. (A General Overview) Casting, Locations, Blocking, Lighting, Framing, Production information.


1. Weigh the pros and cons of shooting under existing light conditions, artificial light, mixed lighting.
2. Be sure to visit all locations ahead of time with a light meter and framing device (still or video camera, director’s finder).
3. Permission for all locations must be thoroughly secured.
4. Generously over estimate the amount time it will take to perform each set up.
5. Field view charts can help determine if location and lens combinations will permit the compositions required by the script.
6. Estimate necessary lighting fixtures for desired look ahead of time.
7. Make alternate plans should the weather not cooperate with your location and lighting needs.
8. Consider and reconsider any health and/or safety problems that your locations might involve.
9. Limit driving time to and from locations.
10. Where will your equipment be stored? Where will crew eat? break? set up?
11. How will they travel and bring equipment to locations?
12. Are facilities such as bathroom, changing area and telephone available?  


1. Create extensive written background information on your characters to guide your own directorial decisions and to inform your actors.
2. Actors need to know who they are creating on the screen, not just what actions they need to do.
3. Get a sense of your actors’ commitment to your project. If it does not seem firm, reconsider and/or re cast.
4. Be sure to give actors a generous estimate of the time involved in your production. Be sure they understand the amount of preparation and set up time required in student filmmaking.
5. Carefully consider the pros & cons of working with professional actors vs."real people."
6. Do not overlook your social responsibility as a "creator of representation" when you assign character traits to specific genders, races, religions, or sexual orientations.
7. if possible, videotape your casting sessions and rehearsals.  
1. Ideally, final shot breakdown and blocking emerges through a combination of rehearsing with actors and a pre visualized, detailed written description of each shot.
2. Remember that developing your own personal directorial style comes about through discovering your own balance between rehearsal based blocking and creative pre visualization.
3. Adequate pre production involves a key interim planning step between script and "roll camera." This is known as your shooting script.
4. Shooting scripts should take the form of either storyboard, index card, detailed shot descriptions, or pix/sound columns.
5. In a narrative film which uses basic sequence as one of its primary structuring devices, an aerial floor plan with camera positions is suggested. Label each camera position with a letter (so as not be to confused with shot or scene numbers) and cross reference camera positions with the shots in your shooting script.
6. Vertical lines in the borders of your script are helpful to indicate shot breakdown, and in confirming where overlapping action and continuity are required, but do not show exactly where the camera will be placed.
7. Final blocking occurs in the hours and minutes just prior to production. This is when the relationships between actors and camera are finalized by the director. Complete performances are not generally required at this stage.  


1. Lighting design should be pinned down in discussions between director, DP, and Gaffer in the days and weeks prior to production. Equipment needs should be fully assessed ahead of time. Lighting styles (i.e.high key, low key, gradualted tonality, formula lighting, soft edge, hard edge), background considerations, and art direction should be determined during pre-production meetings.
2. Justification for lighting style must be key guiding principle, spelled out by the director.
3. After final blocking on location, while the actors are involved in mental preparation, makeup, and props, the location or set is lit.
4. The lighting crew gives the director time estimates for lighting setup.
5. When lights are set, contrast ratios, footcandles, and f/stops are read and notated.
6. The position of camera, lights, and actor(s) should be precisely notated or marks placed on floor (if possible) in the event that re
shoots are required.  


1. Working from your shooting script (and ideally cards or storyboard) and notes, framing is finalized. Director may describe the shot, and give other information, but most of these decisions should’ve been made during pre production meetings.
2. Generally, directors do not look through the camera, or physically frame the shot. They may, particularly during the early hours/days of your working relationship, wish to check the composition prior to "roll camera." The goal is to develop functioning relationships between directors/camerapeople in which trust and understanding flourish.
3. Key compositional considerations are focus point(s), depth field, perspective, and camera/subject movement.
4. Other compositional considerations include: zooms, clean entrance/exit, headroom, leading looks, rule of thirds, joint frame cuts, circular patterns,horizon placement, straight verticals, frames within a frame, camera height, dolly counter zoom, consistent screen direction, neutral direction movement, criteria/justification for handholding camera, pans, and tilts.  

Final Rehearsal

1. When lighting and composition are set, director and actors run through a short rehearsal.
2. In order to maintain "work flow," technical and other adjustments should be kept to a minimum at this point.
3. Once all details have been approved, director says "roll sound!" ("Speed") "Roll Camera" (Slate) "Action."  
Production Reminders
1. When using basic sequence, continuity will make or break the scene. Be sure to use meticulous notes or polaroids to guide and confirm your continuity. It’s common to shoot master shots first.
2. Remember the strength and importance of THE CUTAWAY.
3. When shooting an MOS shot it is frequently not necessary to shout "Cut!" when a mistake is detected by the director. Consider having the director verbally correct problems and let the shot continue.
4. Camera reports are the most essential tool of learning film production.
5. The human body runs on protein, not coffee and sugar, feed your cast and crew appropriately! Break them regularly.
6. Maintain production etiquette throughout.  

Considertations for Casting

What does the actors physical exterior suggest?
What does their body language suggest?
What are their involuntary movements?
What are the qualities of their voice?
What overall impression do they make?
Do they appear confident?
Do they appear responsive or isolated?
Do they project high or low energy?
Does their personality come across in a quick or slow release method?
Are they approachable?
Is their evidence of their live’s activities?
Do they appear powerful or weak? in what ways?
How do they respond to their environment?
Do they explore their sense of self?
Is their taste evident?
What is their level of experience?
How do they see the actor’s role in film?
What is their sense of craft?
How do they interact with others?
Are they flexible or rigid in approach?
Do they support your vision?
Are they willing to collaborate?
How do they respond to changing direction?
Is their self
image apparent?
What is their level of commitment to your project?
What are their work habits?
Why do they act?
Are they reliable?  

Terms Commonly Used in Storyboard Shorthand

"Point of view" shot. The camera takes the point of view of a character in the scene, it sees what the character sees. Usually follows a shot of the character.
An objective shot. The camera sees the scene from an angle not seen, by a character in the scene.
L.S. or W.S.
Long shot or wide angle shot. Refers to the angle and distance of lens. usually includes full figures and vistas or entire rooms.
M.S. or MCU.
Camera sees actor from waist
on up.
Close up. Often a head and shoulders shot of a single person.
Extra Close
up. e.g. nostrils and one eye
Camera frames two characters in scene.
Also called Cover shot Usually a med. to wide angle shot of a scene that runs the duration of the action.
Often a wide shot of the outside of a location Tells the audience where they are.
All the set ups needed to edit the scene aside from the Master shot
Refers to the position of a camera and the lighting of a shot or shots. "New set
up" refers to the camera moving to a new position.
Often photographed by 2nd unit. A shot that shows details that are often missed by a master or coverage. i.e. a hand opening a purse and pulling out a gun.
Off screen. Also called O.C., off camera. A description of what is heard but not seen on the screen
Over the Shoulder shot. Usually a shot of a character in conversation with second person whose shoulder you shoot over.
A very high angle shot often accomplished with a helicopter or air
Usually a close
up of a character reacting silently to action they have just seen or dialogue they are listening to.
A shot that is 180 degrees opposite the preceding shot.
(also called Hollywood or knee shot). A shot framed to include figures from the knees on up.
A term used in editing concerning a piece of information not seen in the master or previous shot.
Editing term for successive shots that cut in on the same axis. Also successive cuts that disrupt the flow of time or space.
Cutting or dissolving from one similar composition to another. i.e. From a close shot of a wheel to a globe of the world shot so that they fill the same size and position in the frame.
A low angle shot positioned as if it were a hat’s height off the floor

Camera Moves

Also called Tracking or trucking shot. Camera travels on dolly tracks
The camera swivels on the horizontal axis, often used to follow the action.
A very swift pan that blurs the scene in between the starting and ending point.
Any camera position that is mounted directly on a vehicle.
Any moving shot that follows an actor.
The camera travels up and down on a boom arm. Often combines with a dolly move.
The camera pivots up and down from it’s base, which does not move .
Refers to the movement of a zoom lens. Usually used in video.
Any shot where the camera specifically does not move.
A shot taken from a piece of equipment called a crane that has the ability to boom down and track in long distances with out using tracks.
Shot using the steadicarn, a camera that attaches to a hamess and can be operated by a single person in hand held situations, but the resulting footage will appear to be shot with the smoothness of a tracking shot.

Desription of Roles and Credits

Writing: original script or adaptation
Directing: casting, rehearsing, working with actors, pre-production meetings with DP to determine lighting design, scouting locations
Producing: casting, securing locations, props, costumes, permissions, rights, releases, organizing production, logistics, assembling production notebook
Shooting Script: create shot breakdown from script. aerial views, storyboards, estimate production time
DP: collaborate with Director to determine visual style and lighting design, scouting locations, equipment needs, supervising lighting & camera crew, light readings, safety
Camera Operation: light readings, focus, camera movement, camera loading, canning film, camera reports, safety
Gaffer: setting lights, electricals. safety
Editor: creatively assembling the shots to support the intended theme of director, edit "plot point" sound; cut changes to picture after first mix
Sound Design: conceive map of sound design elements in collaboration with director and editor
Sound Recording: location recording, submit for transfer on time, research music and EFX and submit for transfer
Sound Cutting: assemble and cut in audio tracks according to sound designers wishes’, make changes to tracks after first mix
Mix Prep: create, assemble, and cut in remaining ambient and EFX tracks; split and clean tracks’, create cue sheets for mix, consult with mixer