Finding the Positive in 2020

This year hasn’t been great for anyone. It certainly hasn’t for me. Even as I’m writing this I’m hearing the news that, in a staggeringly foreseeable U-turn, the Christmas bubble rules have been severely restricted. So how to wrap up this stinker of a year?

I considered making this article about the pandemic’s impact on the film and TV industries and speculating about which changes might be permanent. But who needs more doom and gloom? Not me.

Instead, here are six positive things that I accomplished this year:

  1. We shot the final block of War of the Worlds: The Attack in February/March, and I was recently shown a top-secret trailer which is very exciting. There is plenty of post work still to do on this modern-day reimagining of the H.G. Wells classic, but hopefully it will see the light of day in a year or so.
  2. After a couple of lax years, I got back to blogging regularly. This site now has a staggering 1,250 posts!
  3. I completed and released my first online course, Cinematic Lighting, which has proven very popular. It currently has over 1,000 students and a star rating which has consistently hovered around 4.5 out of 5.
  4. I made a zoetrope and shot several 35mm timelapses and animations for it, which was a nice lockdown project. Even though the animations didn’t come out that well they were fun to do, and the zoetrope itself is just a cool object to keep on the shelf.
  5. I wrote my first article for British Cinematographer, the official magazine of the BSC, which will be published on January 15th. In the process I got to interview (albeit by email) several DPs I’ve admired for a while including David Higgs BSC, Colin Watkinson ASC, BSC and Benedict Spence.
  6. The lockdown gave me the time to update my showreel. Who knows if I’ll ever work again as a DP, but if not, at least I can look back with pride at some of the images I’ve captured over the years.

Despite the restrictions, I hope all my readers manage to find some joy, love and comfort over the festive period. And if not, just consume a lot of mulled wine and chocolate; it’s the next best thing.

In a tradition I’ve neglected for a few years, I’ll leave you with a rundown of my ten favourite blog posts from 2020.

  1. “The Rise of Anamorphic Lenses in TV” – a look at some of the shows embracing oval bokeh and horizontal flares
  2. “5 Steps to Lighting a Forest at Night” – breaking down how to light a place that realistically shouldn’t have any light
  3. Above the Clouds: The Spoiler Blogs” – including how we faked a plane scene with a tiny set-piece in the director’s living room
  4. “Working with White Walls” – analysing a couple of short films where I found ways to make the white-walled locations look more cinematic
  5. “10 Clever Camera Tricks in Aliens – the genius of vintage James Cameron
  6. “The Cinematography of Chernobyl – how DP Jakob Ihre used lighting and lensing to tell this horrifying true story
  7. “5 Things Bob Ross Can Teach Us About Cinematography” – who knew that the soft-spoken painter had so much movie-making widsom?
  8. “5 Ways to Fake Firelight” – a range of ways to simulate the dynamics of flames, from the low-tech to the cutting edge
  9. “A Post-lockdown Trip to the Cinema” – an account of the projection sacrilege commited against a classic movie in my first fleapit trip of the Covid era
  10. “Exposure” (four-part series) – in-depth explanations of aperture, ND filters, shutter angles and ISO
Finding the Positive in 2020

Blogging Tips

wordpress-bloggingI recently passed the milestone of my 1,000th blog post, and many people have asked me how I have the discipline to keep writing posts week in, week out. I think the key is to see it as an opportunity, not an obligation: an opportunity to connect with and help others in your field; an opportunity to promote yourself; an opportunity to marshal your thoughts and solidify things you’ve learnt by communicating them to others. Sometimes I see my blog as a giant virtual notebook – I’m just keeping my notes publicly – and I often refer back to my own posts to remind myself how I did something or what mistakes I need to avoid this time around.

“But I don’t have anything to write about,” is a common refrain. I doubt this is true. I’m constantly surprised that I manage to keep coming up with ideas for posts, but there is nothing special about me. If I can do it, you can do it too.

Here are some suggestions.

  • Whenever you do something you’re at all proud of, or which someone else compliments, or where someone enquires about how you did it, consider this a potential subject for a blog.
  • Read other blogs, not necessarily on the same sort of subject as yours. Look at the types of posts they do and think about how you can apply those formats to your own area of expertise.
  • Posts like this one, which consist largely of a bullet-pointed or numbered list, are easier to write, and more digestible and less daunting for a reader than a big block of solid text. (Here’s another example.)
  • Review books, films or other websites. (Example)
  • ‘Top ten’ posts can be a quick way to generate content, being a sort of cross between brief reviews and a numbered list. (Example)
  • Write about projects you’re working on and what you’re learning from them. (Example)
  • Break down the steps involved in creating something – a lighting set-up, a prop, a poster, whatever it is you do. Illustrate the steps with photos. (Example)
  • Write about trends you have observed in your field, and what readers could do to buck or conform to them. (Example)
  • Discuss your mistakes and how you plan to avoid making them again. (Example)
  • If you witness someone doing something badly, it can be tempting to write a blog about how it should be done. It’s advisable, however, to let some time elapse first, and you should never name names. (There are examples on this site, but I’m not going to point them out!)
  • Be aware of what’s in the news and what’s trending on social media. Could you blog about your take on these issues? (Example)
  • If the written word isn’t your thing, consider video blogging, or podcasting, but be careful not to ramble. (Example)
  • If you’re really convinced you have no useful knowledge to share, that in itself could be the basis for a blog: your quest for knowledge. You could do posts such as:
    • re-blogging material from other sites (but get permission first) (example);
    • interviews (example);
    • guest blogs, where you ask someone else to write a post for you (example);
    • embedding an interesting video you’ve seen, and summarising the tips you gleaned from it. (Here’s an example on NoFilmSchool.com.)
Blogging Tips