If an actor gives a bad performance, we can see it! If the sound is bad, we can hear it! If your shots are lifeless and stale, the audience might sense that something is missing, but not know what it is. You might be right there with them, scratching your head, and asking the question. “Why do my films still look so amateur?”
This might be straight from the Robert Rodriguez 10 Minute Film School, but it bares repeating. For you indie filmmakers out there who are looking to create higher production value on lower budgets, the first “hack” is to simply go hand-held!
What Robert doesn’t explain is that this can be a double edged sword. It’s true, a handheld camera might create some raw energy, but only if done right!. Good handheld looks candid. Bad handheld looks amateur. That’s the problem, you gotta know the difference and don’t be fooled by those in Hollywood who still use stabilizers when creating a “handheld look”. Use a monopod or something to counterbalance the camera and completely avoid any “boat-rocking” movement. Otherwise, please title your film “Amateur Hour” so everyone knows what to expect.
My second “hack” addresses the need to find creative angles when shooting your indie films– Highly overlooked for the same reason as above. People watch your great story with great acting and excellent sound, but your angles are dull and safe. Your imagery is flat and void of artistic energy. What’s missing? Who knows, who cares? It ain’t there!
For this, I direct you to the well-known comic book artist Wally Wood. Along with a legacy of advertising and product illustrations, he was best known for his work with EC comics (which I love), Mad magazine and Marvel’s Daredevil.
He died in 1981, but left us a little gem that might simplify your “camera angle” confusion. The layout is called “22 Panels that Always Work”. You can search Google images and find the original version along with multitudes of variations.
Although it was originally created as an aid for comic illustrators, it’s since been adapted into film angle variations as well. It’s a simple way to have a compiled, hands-on shot-list, even if you’re blocking as you go. I’ll post a great little CGI version that’s available on Youtube. Give it a gander, study the other variations, and see if it might spice up your productions a bit.