Cinematography : Like a Painting by Karen "Kay" Ross

Karen "Kay" Ross

Like a Painting

No, not "Every Frame a Painting", which I miss dearly BUT has spawned countless other video essay channels... but I digress. Saw this great video about why The Handmaid's Tale looks like a painting. What are your techniques for shots like paintings? Are you using any from the video, or do you do something else?

Leya Marincic

I love the cinematography of this show. So many beautiful backlight shots and lens flairs. Yet the image says mysterious because of the haze and light shafts and low key for most of the time. I remember when Vital and I watched this show we used to talk about how it was shot and what they did to get shots and how it evolved from story.

It's funny hearing how they achieved this look where when we shot our tv pilot this summer we went for something similar and used natural light most of the time.

Really cool and thank you for sharing Karen "Kay" Ross

Karen "Kay" Ross

Awesome, glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, being able to effectively manipulate natural light is a masterful skill for sure. I'm also a big fan of practical lighting, but that comes from my love of film noir. How is your pilot coming along?

Rohit Kumar

Its weird the link you shared directed to wrong page Karen "Kay" Ross

But I searched and just found and saw the video.

Sorry if coming across rude, I do follow that channel its really great resource but this cinematography made me feel it's so extremely pretentious. It so reminds me of forceful imitation of Andrew Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Bella tarr and few more filmmakers style all in one video and deliberately done. Felt ingenuine. I haven't seen the show. May be it's good show. But just the visuals seems so fake and made me feel unnerving unsettling sad.

I am really sorry if my words coming across rude. Let me clarify. I am not saying one shouldn't take inspiration but I wish to see something new or even if taken inspiration a purpose of why it is done with strong intent, true emotions heart to it, so by conveying a story depth on what we see. The visuals seemed like had no context no heart or soul of why they are making those elements too, you know felt too forceful.

Just made me raged. I like that channel and seen many good concepts. But this one disappointed me. Yes art is subjective but. . I of just say my heart out if anything comes across ingenuine. Even working in studios I often speak it out when i see such stuff many consider it rude and shut me down but few get where why I am saving it to understand it.

Do check few movies of Andrei filmography "The mirror" or even Kurasawa. Or Bella tarr. May be I am over thinking. I dont know. But just said it. You Know IMO people should try to bring something of their own new even if taking inspiration.

For instance the first shot of the lady sitting didn't made me feel like painting it seemed a forced setup just to deliberately get the look of many movie in one without character really having a that emotion or vibe. I am painter too. I do painting so it made me like tingling feeling of naaah.

For example there is this movie "The honeyland". Its very genuine beautiful and like painting by some indie film makers who aren't really trying to fake it you know . That film was in Oscars competition too. Check it out its so good.

Pardon me if sounded rude.

Leya Marincic

Karen "Kay" Ross I love film noir also. It's one of my styles and also why I love natural looking light. I think that after some time I have found my own style which is kind of a noir coupled with hard backlight and flairs. Which is what I prefer the most.

The pilote episode is coming along great everything has been edited except the two shots at the end that we're still waiting to shoot and the score is being created. Vital has been working on the sound so it's mostly a matter of when lockdown ends and then a couple of more weeks to finish up.

Thanks for asking.

Karen "Kay" Ross

Sweet! Keep at it, looking forward to seeing it!

Andrew Sobkovich

Cinematographers should not have a specific style. The artistic style of the images are derived from the story in conjunction with the Director. If a cinematographer has a specific style they can only do projects that fit that specific style. As a Director of Photography, I should know how, and have actual experience shooting,` almost any kinds of images. Thinking through all those disparate images you’ve created, allows you to pick and choose what is best for the project you are currently doing. This is at the core of being a DP.

Karen "Kay" Ross

Rohit Kumar - Not rude at all! You are entitled to your opinion, and thank you for feeling comfortable enough to share! Also, feel free to post any helpful videos you find - I personally love Every Frame a Painting and similar video essays.

Andrew Sobkovich

Rohit, the series is very effective at creating a cohesive feel and mood to the story. And a great telling of the story from Margaret Atwood’s novel I suggest that watching the episode that the excerpts were taken from would help greatly in putting what Colin discussed into context. Despite the host, Colin is very good at explaining what he was thinking and trying. Take into account this show is part of a series and thus is shot within a significantly different timeframe than most features. Do watch it. If you don’t like it I will gladly buy you a beer and we can talk about what didn’t work for you. Being able to explain what worked for young what didn’t, and why and how it could be changed is what makes for a useful discussion about those critical artistic aspects of our creations.

Rohit Kumar

@Andrew Sobkovich I think you are not understanding what I'm trying to explain I guess. Because I'm not talking about Margaret Atwood's novel's context quality metrics or Colin's approach to explain how he is reaching a specific setup.

What I'm mentioning is trying to bring something new beyond already existing works of other people to make something unique in itself..

For instance, I do fair bit of painting. Each painter every creative person be it Painter, Photographer, even Cinematographer, Director got their own unique style. It's inevitable but it's true that it comes across even if we try not to do that. You take Joseph Zbukvic or any painter or even filmmaker, some sort of, cover it up by many layers of already existing idea of art/visuals just to be grounded and more so connecting to the reality. It shows in films made by, say Abbas Kirostami or Nuri bilge Ceylan or Miyazaki films, it outright shows in their films that uniqueness they are trying. You call them Auteur or whatever, but many do try to bring their own visual idea of what they want to convey or sometimes, they try to bring every person's view points on to the table to survive the movie or art.

Both exists in art I believe. So when you are saying "Cinematographers should not have a specific style", kind of yes, but they will always going to have their own style, but would cover it up with many layers of other inspirations to hide those elements of uniqueness to survive the axe of getting fired. It's natural tendency/itch for every creative artist to try to bring their own nature into whatever they are presenting and sometimes balance it out to embrace say DOP's charging egoistic tantrums or Derector ego or sometimes writer's views into their craft so that it just don't come across like it's fully Cinematographer's work or going just one look as they want.

For example, when I saw this trailer of movie 1917, I instantly told my friends around that this movie is going to reach Oscars, but won't win Oscars. And you see it happened just like that. Because Roger Deakins got his own unique style too.He knows himself, if not others catch it. The whole movie is a presentation of how Roger Deakins style really is. That doesn't equate to like saying Sam Mendis is bad director.. But issue with 1917 story is it didn't raise up the stakes it tries to present and the powerful visual elements of Roger was trying sort of overshadows the story flaws it got and there are many in it..

Similarly is the above case when I can saw the video. I'm not talking about Atwood's story being good or bad or which timeline they are trying to convey in each episode. But the look they are trying to build is more like i said forced imitation of "BEING PRETTY VISUALS PUSHED TO IMPRESS ALL AUDIENCE = Leading to = Pretentiousness" nature because they already have many layers of predefined concept, visual ideas in their own memory of may be filmmakers/cinematographers which they already taken into consideration and that failed to impress me. That's what I'm mentioning.

Let me explain why. You see artists, writers/directors/DOP/Cinematographers/painters/Photographers etc, have this visual memory created by subconscious mind/ derived because of intuition/Dionysian side and there is this working memory because of conscious mind constantly collecting visual information in real world, bring, pushing the Apollonian side.

When we have this experience of watching so many movies, and visuals of many art, it becomes strong conscious mind of pattern of visuals we liked/don't like and so on. And each artist try to dream or think of new visual element which often sparks from their subconscious mind and each one have their unique nature to it, trying to make their own style to bring to the world. But harsh reality of world makes them dip down to survive in the business, they push the conscious mind to show what's already done but slightly twisting it to soothe, relate the audience to what they are trying to convey. That's what you see the color science thrown all over without any purpose. It's because some color theorist said so, some auteurs used it, so lets use it too kind of approach.

So in the above video, the cinematographer is pushing that conscious memory pattern from his working memory, setting it up across, just like you explained why it is so, because even that took to your conscious memory sparking those similar pattern matching and feeling related, accepted and feel it's not going out of context as Atwood too is so and so views..

What I'm saying is, I have seen these so many times and it came across to me as repeated just trying to do the same thing to impress larger audience by making it pretty juggling everything already existing from that working memory.

That's what irritated me or made me sad seeing that. Because cinematographer isn't bringing anything new, and whatever setup he is doing, that's not going to be applicable to every cinematographer. As each one and their setup is different and it's highly impossible to mimic that. Not everyone can avail everything what they got and his suggestion will be counter-intuitive towards pushing away any new cinematographer's potential to bring their true creative self, not letting the sub-conscious mind being the strong aspect to try their own nature to bring what Atwood's novel could be.

For example, watch this video where CinemaTyler channel talks about Andrei Tarkovsky thoughts behind making Stalker and how he at time juggled many DPs.

The youtuber isn't sure why Andrei Tarkovsky kept changing DPs even though the final look was similar as it started at the beginning. The issue is same thing I'm mentioning in here.

Tarkovsky got this visual idea because of his own subconscious mind for the story. And he is trying too hard to convey it to the DP while they aren't unable to decipher what he is trying/wants and each time DP got their own visual working memory of patterns they have done and could only reach to some level which is sort of blocking the way Tarkovsky expects.

Now Tarkovsky probably don't know biology or psychology to that extent to explain this dilemma but I have studied a fair bit of it so explained what was happening to him that time. juggling with so many DPs. Same with 1917 movie failing to impress me and the committee.

Now I'm not discounting Karen "Kay" Ross or your view on saying it's good painting alike or Colin's explanation and thought of how he brought the timeline is good for the novel.

Film making, yes there is a collective work but also there is also a director's /artist's vision kind of work which everyone tries to bring it without letting their individual creative strengths taken over the whole movie team's visual idea. Each film or visual media originates from the way EYES are, so is there is one quote of such nature "Viewer's eyes"

The thought behind is that, Camera to me is like another human being/mostly Director or DP or Cinematographer or even writer at times. How beautiful the eyes of these creative people are, either Director leads it or it comes across like collective vision, but each eye got to find their own pure nature to their own self bringing new element to it. Each eye sees different pattern, visualizes different colors, environment and our visual memory with that often try to fight with the conscious memory we have seeing so many stuff too.

For instance the novelist probably have her own idea of how this timeline story is, which at time counteracts with the visual style of Director or DP, cinematographer here. Same happened to me here, where I have seen stuff which got in my visual memory and I didn't see things which is new beyond what already set the bar. That's the reason I said "Pretentious" . It's not so deadly wrong, just that we got to sometimes stop impressing people and do our own natural thing.

Sorry for long post, Karen "Kay" Ross she knows I write long paragraph trying to explain each bits. Just all these were going back of my mind to comment on that aspect.

Andrew Sobkovich I don't drink Beer or alcohol in general. But thanks for the offer. I do like Wine, and if we ever cross path I would like to have a long discussion with you and Karen on many topics and discuss and have some good wine, may be some Indian food I can cook for you all :-) Thank you all for having patience to read through.

Leya Marincic

Nicely said Rohit Kumar and I understand what you're saying. Along with photography and cinematography, editing and color, I am also a sculptress and sculpt my own sculptures. In fact an art critic wrote once at one of my first exhibitions that I had developed a unique style that had never been used before and the galerist that actually represents my works chose to work with me because of this same style. No matter how much I try to stray away from my own style of sculpting there is always some kind of reminiscence of it there. I think this is a good thing because it makes a person recognizable.

At the same time I do agree with Andrew Sobkovich, that a DP is supposed to use a visual style that supports the narrative of course. But I do think that there will always be some kind of filter at work. A DP that is comfortable in working within a certain visual style will probably not opt into working in a completely different style since it might not work anyway and they might not be drawn to the project anyway. Unless it is intentionally that way in a sense that they are trying to do something outside their style to create a new visual style that will also be different because of the narrative that calls for this.

Still I have mostly worked with the same team. The director I have worked with mostly is actually my partner and we work great together because he know how I work and what my style is and I understand what he is trying to create also. So in the end everything aligns up most of the time.

In fact this summer we both worked on an outside project where I was actually a camera operator and consulting cinematographer and he was also a camera operator and a consulting director because the director of the project thought that it would be beneficial for us to contribute to the whole project and wanted to color outside the lines.

So to sum it up I do agree that any artist is supposed to be malleable to a degree especially when working in a collaborative process like filmmaking but at the same time the style that they have then coexists with other styles creating a completely unique peace of work in the end. Which is great since there will never be anything like it. But in contrast if everything was flexible there would only be one story and one visual ever created and everything would be bland.

Rohit Kumar

Leya Marincic Thank you for sharing your story and understanding my view. "But in contrast if everything was flexible there would only be one story and one visual ever created and everything would be bland".. Rightly said. That's what I was saying.

If you personally want to know my view on filmmaking, technically one can say it's a collective work. But truly psychologically speaking, Film making, any form of creative work it's very individualistic. So when our approach towards ultimate, epitome of purity in art, we have to face our own ego, thats' when we are forced to work in the society with varying differences to make things work for what we want to show. It's a juggle, struggle like I said about Apollonian trying to overrule us sometimes and Dionysian wanting to be sharp and precise sometimes even making us look like too evil person.

Your story of associating with your partner and that artist, it spark me to remember an interview of a legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Watch this video, you will get what I'm saying If you want to jump to straight to the point, check at the time 11:20 min and 13th minute too in the video. In this he talks about how he started to do cinematography himself.

The reason is same what I explained. It's like two lions are brought in the cage to survive. Either both kill each other or sit in opposite ends. Same with creative works too. It's hard to bring best of the best brains to work for us, because it's like going to have conflict one day or other. But yes there is this fine balance which some have like in your case where you figured out a union of some sort which is working in your case. But psychologically speaking, there is a timeframe in which it will work, but a creative person will surely going to try to disassociate and try new things and that union of like minded people too have to find their own creative output and it's necessary for art to survive. Like two or more tigers got to go different paths at one point to make their own new changes brilliance evolution of their own art too. Or else they will lose their mind, feel tired of doing the same thing, as it becomes their part of Working memory like I explained.

So try this process if you like.

Have this union which is great working for you. But also take a break for everyone to find their own creative spark/ void to break and create something new each season. That would help your team to strengthen the bond as well evolve as group or even individually build the team more bigger better too. Or else Art which we call is timeless like you said will turn bland!

Even I'm fiddling to find few people who can collaborate with me, and producers who are interested to fund new projects. And in India finding producers is beep so tough and even if find people it's too hard to keep them together because creative differences rise too quickly pushing the mediocrity working together if we just gang up everyone who wants every different thing done their own way and it's alike recipe for disaster than a success lol. I guess you got what I mean. So keep sculpting and also take break seasonally to bring something new each time , like the saying goes, "Empty your cup". I often like at one point read anything everything and than try to forget everything. :-D So I never like collect it as to flaunt like I READ ALL THESE. Because I Feel it's kind of counterproductive for my own ability to be child again to build the curiosity back to the creative, analytical side of me.. That's the core of creative strength and regroup with different ideas from each person if you all have that rapport built of working together which is hard to come by these days. Ask me I know it, I'm sure you do as well!

Andrew Sobkovich

Rohit, you said “this cinematography made me feel it's so extremely pretentious … Felt ingenuine. I haven't seen the show. “.

You might find that the opinions about the quality of the cinematography in this series amongst those of us who actually do this, based upon our understanding and actual experience working within the inherent time and budget constraints in doing a scripted series, are decidedly different.

I am looking forward to the next season of intriguing story-telling and the cinematography of this series. Perhaps it will rise to meet your standards should you choose to watch it

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