Monday, April 15, 2013

Fifty Shades of Grace Video

Fifty Shades of Grace "is an inspiring collection of stories about experiencing God's grace in the midst of both tragedy and everyday life" publishing by our Mennonite friends at MennoMedia. I have a lot of respect for Mennonites, and know a lot more since I married a girl with roots in that tradition! They created a little trailer to advertize the book, take a look:

It's a nice little video--certainly gentle and non-violent and non-pushy in ways that strike me as very Monnonite. It's a video designed to present something of the feeling of reading the book: we are privileged observers seeing normally domestic conversations converted into black and white (literally). If it was my project (and it wasn't, of course), I probably would have shot in a slightly more stylized way, probably utilizing slow motion and really mining the scene for interesting visual details. The way one woman holds a cup and sips. The way another gestures with her hand. Panning across the pattern of the table cloth. I think there were too many shots with all three characters in them, which became a little repetitive in a one-minute piece. We needed more micro-moments. I also probably would have used some lighting to create more three-dimensional space, right now it appears very "flat" in terms of lighting.

But probably the biggest improvement I could suggest would be to switch to a shallow depth of field. Because the entire scene is in focus and the women aren't moving around much except for their hands and faces, our eye has a harder time picking them out of the background. The shot is "noisy" from a visual story telling point of view. The fact that is in black and white only exacerbates this effect since it makes the lines in the background that much starker and more prominent versus the softer curves and gradations of the human face.

This could have been resolved on the day of the shoot by using a wide-open f-stop and thus a faster shutter speed. Even then, it would be hard to get that shallow depth of field look from a camera like the XH-1AS Camcorder that I use most often, but would come naturally to a large-sensor camera such as a DSLR in video mode. Of course, it would be possible to get a similar feel in post-production (aka "editing") by using a subtle vignette effect or by simply using a matte with a blur effect to gently blur the background.

It is a great little video, but I just thought I would use it as an example of how one could develop a concept like this even further. I'm still a rookie at video production, to be honest, but it's only by doing the mental exercise of "What would I have done" that I can improve. Alas, it does make watching TV kind of annoying sometimes because I keep noticing the artistic choices made around grading and so on. For example, I thought the use of color grading in this season's "Mad Men" Premiere was too heavy-handed to me. Notice how all the shots in the offices have had the color saturation pushed up? How about the yellow-shift in Roger's mother's home? It's quite normal to have a "look" established for different scenes in a show, but I found it distracting in this case. These are are the sorts of things I think too much about right now!

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