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I've got a camcorder, how can I get that Hollywood movie look to my work?

Internet Filmmakers' FAQ

Ok, reality check time. You've gone out and purchased your $300 camcorder and you want to make the next Hollywood blockbuster? It ain't gonna happen.

Domestic grade equipment is exactly that, domestic grade. It is intended to provide a minimum of hassle for you to go out and shoot your kid's birthday party or your trip to Disney World Florida. In order to make it more accessible to its market, the cost of manufacture is kept down, which at the end of the day results in a loss of quality. It's a compromise. If you want perfect images, you need to pay for perfect quality equipment.

Now while domestic equipment is getting better, particularly with the advent of DV and other domestic digital formats, the thing that will let you down the most is the lens. Good lenses are expensive to manufacture so in order to keep the cost of domestic equipment reasonable, cheaper lenses are used which are often made of plastic rather than glass, and generally a lot slower than their expensive counterparts. What this translates to is, you need more light to make your pictures expose properly, and there is a definite ceiling to the sharpness and colour quality you can achieve.

However, you can push your camcorder a little further if you spend time (and money) on properly lighting your scene. You'll never be able to compete with the quality of 35mm, a truck-load of gaffers, and an experienced Director of Photography, but you will get better images than if you just point and shoot. Obviously the most key thing to focus your lighting on is your subject. But for overall image quality, you should also light your backgrounds appropriately. If you know nothing about film lighting, it's definitely worth getting a good book reading up.

You might also find it a lot easier if you turn off the auto-exposure and auto-focus functions on your camcorder and do them manually - particularly if you are tilting/panning or moving the camera. If your camera does not allow manual exposures/focus, then you are making life extremely difficult for yourself and should really consider upgrading to one that does.

A good poor-man's trick for taking the edge of low-grade video equipment involves raiding your girlfriend's (or you own) pantyhose drawer... Stretch sheer stocking across the lens using elastic bands, as it helps with that electronic picture look a little grainier. Your best bet is with black stockings, but experiment with other colours for bizarre effect.

Answer by Benjamin Craig  |  Last updated 17-Feb-2005


Older Comments

Francesco  |  21-Nov-2006
Half of what most people define as 'the holliwood look' is given by an ANAMORPHIC LENS, you can attach one to most 24p cameras. That lens makes an enormous difference. Also if you use a 24p mini DV prosumer camera that's also good, and that's the best you're gonna get before breaking the bank with film or Cinealta.
James Malcolm  |  03-Sep-2005
Personally, I think part of the 'home movie' look that us amateur filmmakers want to avoid is caused by incompetent camerawork and editing. If your footage is filmed well and spliced together well, it naturally looks more professional, and people forgive the way it looks.
Christopher Warwick  |  19-Feb-2005
Movies made with a cheap domestic camera can and do make it to international film festivals. No, they will never look 35mm, I agree... But there are other ways to improve the image once your scenes have been well lit. One way is to invest in a program called "Magic Bullet" ... This is the best, but there are other, cheaper packages out there... they significantly change the look of your DV footage and grade it giving it more of that celluloid look. There are hundreds of other tips, but hey, I'm a busy filmmaker! :) Chris.