How to Shoot a Video With a Film Look: These 5 Points You Have to Keep In Mind

filmlook video recordings transform
Film look for video recordings | © Photo:

Even in Hollywood, video is now the predominant format for recording moving images. Exceptions prove the rule. In this article, we’ll explain how to give your video footage a cinematic look. Make your videos look like great cinema.

The cinematic look is code for quality. It is something like a promise that says: if it looks like cinema, there must be cinema in it. That’s why many filmmakers and video producers still strive to give their videos a deceptively real film look.

You need to know

  • What we perceive as cinematic and corresponding to a Hollywood film is always a combination of different factors.
  • You can’t create a film look in digital imaging alone.
  • To give your video a cinematic look, there are a few important points to keep in mind as you shoot your video. These include camera-specific aspects such as focal lengths and shutter speeds, but also camera movements.
  • The final adjustment of video recordings to film takes place after the completed cut by means of special software.

Filmlook: 5 points to make your video look like it was shot on film

When it comes to making a video look like it was shot with film, the reflex is usually to think of special apps and software for film editing to create the film look. This is not wrong. But not quite right either.

That’s because what the viewer perceives as a cinematic look is not determined by the footage alone.

There are a total of five elements that give a video the look of a big Hollywood movie.

1Film Look: Levels of Focus and Camera Lenses

To a large extent, the look of a film is obviously determined by the quality of the shots. For once, this does not mean the technical quality. At most, it plays an indirect role.

It’s all about how the director and the cinematographer deal with sharpness and therefore with the image planes. A falling sharpness is a typical cinematic design device.

Our eye (or better: the human brain) automatically looks for the sharp image zones. This can be used to direct the viewer’s gaze. Great and great feature films have always used this design device. It’s an integral part of what we perceive as a movie look.

Depending on the video camera you use for your film, you may find it easier or harder to work with layers of focus.

Because on the one hand the sensor of the camera determines the sharpness. On the other hand, the focal length of your lenses is also a determining factor. Long focal lengths result in “flatter” images. The same is true if you shoot with the aperture wide open.

2Film Look: Number of frames per second

Footage shot on actual film stock always struggles to show fast movement without loss of sharpness. This is because motion pictures are traditionally shot at 24 frames per second. This value, which helps determine the look of the film, is called the frame rate.

Conversely, video cameras record 25 or even 30 frames per second. This results in sharper images. Or just the typical TV look.

Motion blur is particularly evident as a result of a frame rate of 24/second in action movies. TV manufacturers have responded with video interpolation.

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson shot his feature film trilogy “The Hobbit” with 48 frames per second and an exposure time of 1/64. He got the receipt for it in the post:

Many viewers rejected the film because the look of the film didn ‘t look like cinema to them. It’s like a TV movie.

3Film Look: Shutter speed / Exposure time

The exposure time is – obviously – electronically controlled in video cameras. While choosing the right shutter speed is never a problem in highly professional feature films, it’s a different story in video productions. First, because often this value is automatically determined by the camera. Secondly, because possibly the knowledge for the correct setting of this parameter is missing.

Thereby you can easily remember the most important rule for the exposure time / shutter speed and therefore the right film look:

The correct shutter speed is always twice the number of frames per second. So if you shoot with 24 frames, set the camera shutter to 1/48.

Professionals call this doubling the 180-degree shutter rule. This means nothing else than that in a mechanical film camera the respective single frame is exposed during 50% of the time, and in the other half of the time the next single frame is transported in front of the lens of the analog film camera by the mechanical blocking gripper.

If you choose the wrong shutter speed, your shots won’t have a cinematic look. But a stroboscope effect. Or they seem to be artificially accelerated.

4Film Look: Camera Movements

In the way the camera is moved in a video, as in the film look, the choice of framing shows talent, expertise and mastery.

Basically, there are as many ways to deal with camera movements as there are stories. That’s why this point is less about a specific type of movement. More important is the question why the camera moves!

That’s why the first, characteristic rule for Hollywood films, which you must also observe for your videos, is: no movement without an explainable, film plot-related or narrative motivation.

The second thing you can recognize Hollywood movies by is the subtle camera movements that are often almost unnoticeable, but constantly present in every shot. That’s also part of the look of the film. These careful movements of the camera towards or around a person or object serve to give the film image more spatial depth. This is intended to create a more realistic impression on the part of the cinema-goer. To a certain extent, this also anticipates 3D cinema, in which reality and spatiality in three-dimensional space play an important role.

5Film Look: Digital post-processing of the footage

Once you have successfully implemented the preceding rules, now comes the icing on the cake for the film look: using software and color reading, you give your shots a film look.

Even as you were shooting, I hope you followed the iron rule of determining light. This is: where there is no image information, it cannot be made visible afterwards. This is especially true for the use of automatic iris on video cameras.

If you have overexposed your video images, for example because the camera has mistakenly automatically corrected a high contrast range, there is not only nothing you can do about it. But you also have a clue in your film that immediately points to video footage rather than a quality film look.

When digitally converting video footage to film, you’ll be “tweaking” a number of different parameters in parallel in Film Look. So you are editing much more than just the colors (Color Connection).

Use software like Da Vinci Resolve to match the black levels, contrast range, and saturation to the look of a feature film.

With specially available plug-ins or a program like FilmConvert, you can then overlay the specific film look of almost any conceivable film medium on your video. Whether Kodak, Agfa, 35 mm or 16 mm, the computer automatically adds the appropriate values to your shots so that your pictures look as if you had shot them with the respective emulsion.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Carlo P. Olsson
About Carlo P. Olsson 138 Articles
Carlo P. Olsson begleitet die Herstellung von Filmen, Videos und TV-Serien im Auftrag von Unternehmen, Agenturen und Produktionsfirmen. In seiner Freizeit spielt er Eishockey und beschäftigt sich mit barocker Klangdramatik.

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