ANATOMY OF AN INDIE: The Language of Lenses – The Camera Forum®
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ANATOMY OF AN INDIE: The Language of Lenses

ANATOMY OF AN INDIE: The Language of Lenses

Every lens has a personality and a usage. Certain lenses are good for close-ups, certain lenses are dynamic for emotional moments and certain lenses work for action. I have even had an Executive Producer who encouraged me to use the “funny” lenses – in his world, anything that was a short/wide lens was built for comedy, which of course, I think is absurd to me. Consequently, when going into a movie production, we come equipped with as many lenses as possible. But what they don’t teach you in film school is that while every lens has a personality, the combination of lenses makes a movie.

Our camera package was provided to us by Panavision. I should take a moment to wax poetic about Panavision. There are lots of great camera houses, but Panavision is special. Their lenses are unique; their cameras are great; and their support is unparalleled. I was very lucky to work with them. They equipped us with an extensive and complete lens package.

  • 14mm
  • 16mm
  • 18mm
  • 19mm
  • 21mm
  • 25mm
  • 27mm
  • 35mm
  • 40mm
  • 50mm
  • 60mm
  • 85mm
  • 100mm
  • 135mm
  • 150mm
  • 300mm
  • And zooms of varying lengths.

As you can see, we had pretty much every lens you could ask for. But curiously, while we used pretty much every lens, we really relied on very few of those lenses. And I discovered while editing, that I returned to even fewer lenses. It turns out that while every lens has a personality, a movie really has room for only a limited number of those personalities.

We liked the optics of the 27mm (always a favorite lens for me) and the 40mm a lot. They became the primary visual vernacular for the movie. We then used the 18mm for wider shots (never for a close-up). Yes, there were times when we needed a very long lens; and, yes there were times when locations limited the throw (the distance between the camera and the subject) and forced us to use lenses to catch the action. But really, we shot the bulk of the film on those three lenses: 18mm, 27mm and 40mm. The consistency of those lenses adds a subtle comfort to the audience, a welcome familiarity.

In the case of a comedy, that familiarity gives the audience a sense of ease that allows them to laugh or to be emotional. Almost a safety.

This is a subtle discovery – but it is exciting to define the look and the visual vocabulary. It also allowed my cinematographer and I to short-hand a lot of scenes. We knew exactly how we would shoot a certain scene. We often mixed it up and added interesting and dynamic shots, but when I was editing, the editor consistently chose the shots from our three favorite lenses. I don’t know if he was ultimately aware of the fact that he chose the same lens, but I started to understand the value of consistency.

The subtlety of a lens will affect the way an audience watches a moment and even a scene. A long dramatic lens doesn’t allow for much in the way of humor – if something funny happens on a long lens, the result will be ironic, a smile rather than a laugh. In our case, the 18mm covered the master, the 27mm the medium and the two-shots and the 40mm the close-up. There were plenty of variations from this equation (I wasn’t aware of the consistency while we were shooting). But while editing it became clear that those choices were great choices for the movie.

If I had known then what I know now, I might have relied even more heavily on those lenses. But it probably would not have been a good thing. I am completely devoted to the idea that production is there to prepare you for the edit. And you want to have as many competent options as possible for the edit. Covering the scene with a variety of lenses was good for coverage and for editing. The one place that would have made a difference are those incidents when I didn’t have adequate time to shoot everything. In those cases, I would have known to rely on our three primary lenses.

As it turns out, I knew it intuitively and I was covered.

Daniel Kaufman

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Daniel Kaufman Although most known for directing over 400 commercials, Daniel still remains active in long-form content. With his co-writer, Michael Craven, he wrote the feature screenplay, "Big Shot," which won the Gold Prize in Comedy at the PAGE International Screenplay Awards being chosen from more than 1900 other entries. His script, "Clean," won the Samuel Goldwyn writing award, and another script "The Conversation Piece," is in active development. Mr. Kaufman's short-films have also won awards, and are screened around the world. In April 2012, Mr. Kaufman completed "Listen to Grandpa, Andy Ling" - a TV pilot starring Elliott Gould (as Director/Executive Producer ). Mr. Kaufman is also a leader in the world of Internet content and has created viral web pieces for companies like LG Televisions and Old Navy that have garnered more than 15,000,000 unique views. Mr. Kaufman's current project is the feature film, "Married Young," set to go into production in August 2013. Daniel Kaufman is a multiple award winning commercial director who has worked with such clients as Budweiser, McDonalds, Nestle, Walmart and Comcast and with top-level advertising agencies like Goodby-Silverstein, McCann Erickson and TBWA/Chiat-Day. His work has garnered many accolades - AICP Honors (3 times), AICE (campaign of the year) and others. Recently he has directed commercials for eHarmony, X-Box, the NFL, Boston Market, ABC, Comedy Central, Toyota and Ikea. One of the unusual aspects of Mr. Kaufman's advertising career is that he is often asked to write and concept the very commercials that he directs - something which rarely happens in the industry. Consequently, in 2006 he opened BOGADA, a boutique advertising agency and production company to service the needs of several clients including Insight Communications, the country's eighth largest cable television operator. As an author/photographer, Daniel wrote the book "To Be A Man" (Simon & Shuster, 1994), in which he visually explored the issue of male identity and conflicting gender expectations. His photographic work has been viewed in solo and group shows around the country and internationally. Before moving to the creative side of the industry, Mr. Kaufman was an executive in the business of film and television production and distribution. He was Vice-President of Acquisition at Caleco Pictures and Vice-President of Development at Ron Lyon Productions. As an actor, Daniel trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has more than fifty professional stage credits as well as numerous film and television appearances. Mr. Kaufman graduated Magna Cum Laude from UC Berkeley. He has a Master of Fine Arts in Film Directing from UCLA (where he was the only Film student in the 75 year history to also complete the theater directing course). He also is an Acting Associate to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama - the Associate School of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

  • Uli Berger

    What are the 35mm Lens equivalents of the 18mm, 27mm and 40mm lenses? Or the angle of view?

    June 2, 2016 at 11:00 pm

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