When you’re starting out with filmmaking you learn many things hands-on, but without some formal instruction, the information you discover might not be accurate. Whether it’s knowledge gleaned online, or something you’ve heard from fellow videographers, inevitably you’ve come across some “myths” about the process. Don’t be duped! We’re here to sort fact from fiction by busting up these common production myths.
MYTH #1 – Shotgun Mics Can “Zoom In” To Capture Sound
Recording great sound is the cornerstone of virtually any video you create. While bad video can be (mostly) corrected in post-production, not much can be done for poor audio. Thus, recording great audio initially is crucial and when searching for ways to get better audio, you may encounter the myth that shotgun mics can zoom in.
This, however, is completely false. It’s a tantalizing idea for filmmakers (a reason the myth continues to make the rounds) in that such a mic would allow you to hold the boom further away, providing more shot options when filming. This isn’t how shotgun mics work.
Just because this myth isn't true doesn’t mean shotguns aren’t incredible pieces of equipment to have. They are entirely directional based mics. Their narrow cone of focus means periphery sounds are muted, so even if you’re recording in less than ideal conditions, you’ll still be able to get quality sound while filming.
Shotgun mics might not “zoom,” but they’re an excellent tool for isolating sound at distances you couldn’t risk with other mics. The distance range you have varies between the brand/type of shotgun mic you purchase, how it’s mounted and it’s general pattern of pick-up. Regardless, it’s a solid piece of equipment that every filmmaker should have available.
MYTH #2 – The Bigger the Sensor, the Shallower the Depth of Field
Bigger is always better for the most part regarding camera sensors, but over the years there’s come an idea that the bigger your camera’s sensor, the better depth of field you’ll have. This plays a part in getting closer to the film look so many strive for, but a larger sensor doesn’t necessarily equate to narrowing the depth of field in your frame.
Depth of field is a result of three factors: aperture, focal length and the distance from an object. Notice how none of those factors make mention of your sensor size. As with most things in the filmmaking world, getting the depth of field you desire requires careful shot planning and attention to the principles of framing design.
Myths and inaccuracies abound in the filmmaking industry and when you’re starting out or learning everything on your own, it’s tough to keep track of what’s true or false. In filmmaking, as with any myth, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That being said, this myth isn’t entirely busted, as the size of your camera sensor is related to depth of field. A bigger sensor results in better image quality and increased focal length, which can improve the look you’re going for. More important, you don’t have to worry about the cropping issues smaller sensors have.
Simply put, a smaller sensor will crop an image, narrowing the field of view on a frame. If a large sensor camera and a camera with a smaller sensor were recording at the exact same spot, you’d see less of the image from the smaller sensor. You can accomplish the same view as a larger sensor by backing the camera away, but now you’re changing the focal length, which in turn makes it much harder to achieve shallow depth of field.
Yes, a larger sensor can play a part in giving you a great depth of field in much the same way that a better camera is always going to make it easier to achieve your visual goals. Nothing will automatically give you a shallow depth of field, so regardless of the equipment you have available, always make sure to plan your shots accordingly.
MYTH #3 – 24p Will Give You the “Film Look”
In the age of digital filmmaking nothing is more coveted or fabled than the “film look.” It’s no secret that films you see on the big screen look different from those shot on consumer cameras. Every wide-eyed film student hears whispered words of advice on how to accomplish the film look and elevate their projects. In your own searching, you may come across this answer: 24p.
This myth stems from an obvious source. Film is recorded at 24 frames per second (fps) while digital taping is done at 29.97 fps. Thus, many attribute the visual disparity as having to do with this. Frame rate, however, is only part of the problem and simply switching your camera to record at 24p isn’t going to give you the film look — if only it were that easy.
The truth is, filming at 24p is only a part of the equation of getting the look and feel of film on digital devices. Different camera lenses and your lighting set-up are major factors in getting the film appearance just right; more so than recording at 24p. While adjusting your frame rate will affect the look of your project, the blanket statement “24p gives you the film look” is false. Other elements are needed and extra equipment will be required. If you’re planning a project with this in mind, you’ll have to ensure you have all the tools and budget needed to make it happen.
MYTH #4 – Black & White Makes Everything Classier
Black and white as an aesthetic, in general, is very classical. After all, this is the only way films from our past were made. Even today filmmakers use it to create certain feelings in the audiences, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate for all situations.
Recording in black and white requires a lot of forethought to use correctly. Simply showing up and deciding to do it so your video feels "classic" isn't going to work. Frankly speaking, it can actually be a lot harder to record in black and white while looking good than it is to film regularly.
Lighting for black and white is dramatically different and requires more thought to ensure you get it right. For many, the design choice is an afterthought in which they try to add the effect in post-production. Often, this is disastrous. Instead of getting a classical feel to their scenes, they end up with a visual that only brings more attention to the fact it's a digital piece.
There's some truth to this myth in that recording in black and white can give your project a unique, classical/sophisticated feeling. However, getting it to look the way you want means you need to plan to shoot for it way in advance.
MYTH #5 – White Balance “Must” be Done on a White Card
White balance is the subject of many myths in the filmmaking world, with some considering it a cure all for any color balance issues, but none of them are necessarily true. White balancing your cameras for a shoot is an important step, and you want to make sure it’s done correctly. This is where another myth has creeped in, leading some people to believe proper balancing requires a white card.
This isn’t to say there aren’t times where using a pure white card is necessary, just that it’s not the only option you have. White balancing can be done with any neutral item, so long as it contains no additional colors within it.
There are occasions where using white for your balancing works against you, rather than improving the quality of your shot. The way human brains perceive color is oftentimes different from how they look when recorded on camera (i.e. most people associate warmer hues for morning time and cooler/darker tones for evenings). While color hues/temperatures are important to keep in mind while lighting your scenes, it’s also a factor in how you white balance your camera.
Don’t hinder yourself by only using a white card for balancing. Feel free to experiment with other options and you might find an object that works better for your project. Make sure you have your camera adjusted and balanced the way you want it before rolling on a scene. Balancing for a nighttime scene then switching to a daytime one without changing the balance will cause all manner of problems later on.
The “Easy Way” Seldom Works Out
Myths and inaccuracies abound in the filmmaking industry and when you’re starting out or learning everything on your own, it’s tough to keep track of what’s true or false. In filmmaking, as with any myth, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Whether they’re narratives or live events, it’s important to make sure you take your time and have a plan for your projects.
Don’t pin your project’s success on zooming mics and a fool-proof film look method. Put in the effort and leg work to make it the absolute best project you can, with the equipment and experience available. You can only chase a myth so far before it burns you.
Sidebar: Do Your Research (Don’t Get Duped)
Myths propagate and thrive because they often contain a kernel of truth. For those starting out, the vastness of the internet is a great place to go looking for tips. The danger, however, is that not all of that information is accurate, and you could find yourself falling for more myths than just the ones we’ve mentioned.
Avoid being duped by researching and taking your time to read through all that you find. The first answer/solution you find to your particular query may not always be the correct one. Don’t hesitate to double check with other sources and delve into the topic further. It’s the easiest way to make sure you’re getting the most accurate advice possible.
Another method is to make sure you’re getting information from credible sources. For example, getting microphone tips from a person on a forum on a random site might not be as reliable as an official article on a filmmaking resource (like us). Not to say that all of the information you find from talking with your fellow videographers is wrong or bad, it just might not be exactly what you need. Or they may be getting their information based on the exact same myths we’ve seen floating around.
Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to researching ways to improve your skills. Be diligent and your chances of falling for any myth will decrease dramatically.
Jordan Maison is an editor and VFX artist whose plied his talents in web content for Disney Studios as well as movie and videogame websites.