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Features and narrative works are great and all, but... (in defense of tests from armchair quarterbacks)

Sean Cunningham

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Y'all know what Darias Khondji and Dean Cundey, Kovaks, Carpenter, Storaro, Toland, Conrad Hall, Harris Savides and pretty much anyone you can think of and dozens you can't, guys who shoot great looking stuff on purpose, not by accident, not because they got lucky but by design and through their own effort and expertise, either for the selfish benefit of the image itself or in service to the story, you know what they did so that they could do that stuff when it count, when they were getting paid to do what they did, when dozens if not hundreds of people were depending on them, waiting on them, when possibly millions of dollars were on the line or potentially rendered forfeit, you know what they were doing so that they could do what they did?


They were shooting tests.


Every camera.  Every lens.  Thoroughly.  They didn't waste other people's times learning what they could and couldn't do under a variety of common or unique circumstances on-the-clock.  They're smart enough to realize the occasional "happy accident" of a flare or focus pull or color combination or Golden Triangle configuration that just happend to occur at just the right time such that a most amazingly emotional chord is struck when the image is viewed by most humans is great but discovering that that last take, the one where the set/car/character/town is destroyed by fire, the giant monster is blown up, the command shuttle breaks apart the rented helicopter is finallyperfectly aligned with the setting sun to create a perfect silhouette through rippling heat refraction in some exotic locale on their last day of access or visa or the last raw nerve of some local potentate or executive producer isn't wasted because they didn't know WTF they were doing and just hoping for the best.  


They weren't satisfied knowing the stuff they were using was expensive, or from a well known pedigree, or supposedly crafted by Santa Claus's most talented, clever elves, or promised in some way to never fuck up, under any circumstance, with any other combination of previous, contemporary or future widgets made by Satan Claus or the Easter Bunny or Baby Jesus.  They had to know.  So they could do it.  On purpose.  On demand.  Repeatedly


They shot tests.


What they likely didn't do, for all sorts of reasons, is share these tests with the world, in a public venue, so that others at, below or above their stature and experience could comment on, learn from, share, ridicule or improve upon.  (this last bit was my maybe cryptic way of saying we should be lucky we're in a community where ideas and techniques are shared openly and not hoarded.  I'm not saying "stop posting tests" and non-narrative videos)


edit: TLDR version -- y'all stop marginalizing folks posting test videos because that's how you familiarize yourself with your gear enough to be useful to yourself and anyone else.  It's what the  name brand pros do so snarky comments about yet-another-boring-test-video are really just ignorant.

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Yes. I think nowadays we are in a sharing culture. I upload my tests for critique from friends, but often get more feedback from strangers who are often more honest and critical. if someone can learn from my tests it's a bonus.

Since so many of us want to shoot a lot, but don't often have the financial or logistical elements required to shoot what we want - proper narrative work, we are making stuff that only focuses on the technical camera operation and post production - stuff that can be done alone in the same way someone can go on a walk and take photos of the landscape.

I am sure most are like me, working on their little projects which they feel are breaking moulds, doing things differently, shooting more than just camera and lens tests, but often this stuff doesnt get shared because of worry that it will just get copied. This stuff takes time, and while these things come together it's nice to keep updating vimeo and youtube and building up a following. The problem is that when you occasionally post something narrative or creative, all you get are people looking at it in a technical respect rather than taking any of the story in.

Forums tend to interest technicians rather than creatives. it's just the way it is. There are still many talented guys uploading creative 'non test' type work, but usually don't post to forums due to knowing they wont receive any valuable critique or interest on the creative aspect from the typical forum contributor.
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Sorry, my rant is my reaction to what I recognize as pollution that creeps into so many discussions where one member is trying to understand why they might be getting a particular result, or trying to figure out how to get a particular result, or wondering why their gear might work in a particular way or not work in a way that they expect.  


So often another member will decide to not contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way by offering that "story" or "acting" or all the other various aspects of filmmaking are really more important that worrying about fiddly technical aspects of shooting.  Ironic since they went through the trouble of setting up an account on a site that's very clear from the front page what it's focus is.  Andrew doesn't pull a bait-and-switch with some hippy-dippy method actor's smoking lounge up front only to find out it's all nerd shit once you're roped into joining.  Not to mention, one would assume they've bought a camera and found this place based on a recommendation from another enthusiast or through their own searching for information on how to work that thing in their hands, either at all, better or just to see what other people are doing with that thing they have, since humans like every decision they make to be validated by others.


Anyway, I have my theories why these people feel compelled to be disruptive but I'd rather talk about cameras and cinematography here and not my unqualified opinions as a psychologist.


What's worse, in a way, are the folks that now creep in to poo-poo on test videos posted by people, either trying new filters, patches, lenses, stops, whatever.  Somehow this non-narrative work offends their sensibilities I guess.  My only point is, there's a lot of new cool news, gear, etc. coming out and it would be a real shame if the trend towards fewer and fewer new posts with video links in them continues for fear of "boring" people.


And, Rich, this isn't directed at the talented guys uploading non test type work or the guys uploading test type work, just in case it seems like that.  Producing narrative type work is far too involved for anyone to be contributing that on a regular basis.  I get that and I know you get that.  There seems to be an an awful lot of people who haven't done it that don't understand what it takes and therefore it's easy for them to say this or that about how little of it there is posted here.  It's pretty amazing that the filmmaker behind the GH2 + LOMO feature has given the forum so much attention recently.


Taking the story in for a narrative work is ultimately the most important thing, true.  But tensions would be less likely to flare up if we always keep the context of their appearance here in mind.  They're being posted to a technical/artistic forum specializing in digital cinematography in general with highly focused sub-cliques for specific cameras and lenses.  Odds are the poster is going to be the fellow who shot whatever is featured in the video and may or may not be the writer/director.  The only reasonable expectation someone should have by doing this is a hopefully intelligent discussion of the technical and artistic aspects of the piece being viewed.  


Expression of how well or not so well other aspects of the piece work for any particular viewer shouldn't be discouraged.  However, it would be completely inappropriate in this forum to suggest that any other aspect of filmmaking or the filmmaking process take precedence over the discussion of technical and artistic methods used for the purposes of creating or enhancing the photography of, whatever.  Or to suggest that improvements in any of the other disciplines necessary to make a narrative (or otherwise) piece can or should excuse poor execution of its photography.  


edit: I posted this to a thread of its own instead of going off (again) in someone else's thread as a reaction to follow-up posts they might be getting from other members and further derailing their topic, which I know I'm guilty of and really, really hate myself for sometimes.

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I think most of the people who complain about people doing tests rather than narrative work is because these complainers are annoyed they aren't shooting anything at all. Often you see the technical driven guys spending more money of equipment (which could be used to create films instead of doing tests) but usually these guys can only afford the gear because they do a day job which pays monthly. usually these jobs are less creative, working amongst uncreative people, meaning they might not have access to a load of friends who are also interested in hooking up and making a film together.

The 'creatives' are often failing/struggling artists who struggle to hold down well paid jobs, due to a lack of ability to stick with menial duties before the good, creative and well paid stuff comes along. due to this lack of career building they cant afford the gear, and when they have that crazy cool idea thay want to shoot they dont have the glitzy dslr and set of lenses and audio recording to bring it to reality.

Their response is to start researching, get hooked in, join some forums without understanding forum ethics and then question the people who have the gear in an ignorant and jealous way by trying to undermine them.
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I love a good test!

Actually i'm testing my brains out at the moment just to get the last shots for a short, which has been in the works for nearly a year now - time, money & re-adapting the original idea.

I joined this forum because people seemed nice & friendly, handling out advice/tips that were really helpful.

It doesn't matter whether you are a professional or an amateur, as you can & should be learning things all the time, regardless of where the information has come from.


I love learning stuff, which is probably why I did a doctorate in film & then taught. But after a while i just wanted to put all that learning & theory to the test - no matter how unsuccessful.


HOWEVER: In recent months, the "Trolling" has really hit a peak. This seems to be a trend on a lot of forums & is just getting worse & worse. If you've got nothing nice or constructive to say, keep it zipped - you just come off looking like a real wanker!


There's a good saying:

"No one can ever presume himself to be so erudite that he can do without a dictionary."


And forums like this have been my dictionary! So, thanks for all the tips, advice, help & especially those TESTS!

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I agree. In my favorite film, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray gets the chance to 'redo' every action. Creativity founded on experience is the best. Routine mustn't be a contradiction to artistic freedom. One objection I have is that watching test shots of others doesn't help me as much as making them myself. This is, because the circumstances differ too much, and to learn something and know it by heart means having it done yourself. What I often think when viewing test shots is, 'he could have done better'. Or, 'how on earth did he do this?' Then I rise from my armchair.

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Cameras are now so cheap everyone can be a film maker but many dont realise what that really means and how small a part the actual camera plays and that talent is the key. Vimeo is awash with films that are categorised as TEST videos but really a feeler to see others reactions to what they created.


Some of those films can also be fascinating although not educational.


Say your looking for a test on a certain camera and find test after test video that is no help at all You may end up only looking at tests from people you know are going to be of value IE Guru's and thats a shame really.


Some sites are opposed to tests as they support a camera and dont want to be reminded of the low resolution 8 bit 4,2,0 limitations of their fav product.


There are some great test videos being done that have helped me a lot. I completely agree though Why would anyone share what they do if they want to use their methods professionally? 


Often though there may be motivations  a) setting up as a guru for financial gain b)  because they have extensive knowledge and want to share AND in cyber space too Just shows how social we really are as nothing stops us. 


Problem is anything qualifies as a test video and no one to put them in order of any kind.


I've made my own share of TEST cat videos .


These are some old test films circa 2003




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Vimeo is awash with films that are categorised as TEST videos but really a feeler to see others reactions to what they created.


I agree. There are more 'tests' on vimeo (and more on youtube) that are the peak of what the creator is capable of than experiments for future masterpieces. By labelling the videos tests the publisher anticipates harsh comments that could hurt his feelings. I also hesitate to upload anything of my amateurish stuff for the same reason. 


I've made my own share of TEST cat videos .


What I like about them is, they are fun to watch, because they play with the tricks. They prove nothing, but they didn't claim to do. 


We have three cats, and they like cameras, coming close and purring. But never would I expose them to the public, because I do respect their personal rights  ;)


What I do quite often is to capture small, personal events, like any other amateur, but more often I choose not to upload that, with very few exceptions:



I did an awful lot of wedding videos and continue to do so, but of course these are too private to publish. I often do second camera for music videos, most of which never see the light of day.

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Axel that was a great test. You should have put some jaws music to it though.


I've got about 150 test videos 90% are private because I dont want to add to the sea of cat videos. However I think there is a place for them now on certain forums so quite keen to get it out there!!! Just kiddin.


After doing many test films I started to develop an idea for a film  and wrote a screenplay called Alien Wars back in 2007

I moved on from test films to concept films "See below concept trailer". I've just finished another rewrite. Really pleased with it Although to many effects for me to be able to afford to make it.



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@BurnetRhoades - I assume you're talking about that "Gravitate" guy.  Another is "Overcranked".  Lots to talk but little to say.  I agree 100% with you and I'm glad you brought this up.  I say ignore the trolls and just move on.  I hope you and all the regular contributors keep posting with great info - projects or tests.  I've learned so much from this forum.  I just don't want to see this place turn into another "5D" or "DPR" ghetto.  Keep it real!

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Well, I'm going to try to tone my own angst down because I don't want to contribute unintentionally to any decline.  There's only three forums that I regularly rotate between these days and Andrew's is my first stop.  His site is the reason why I didn't spend twice as much for 1/2 the enjoyment with my current kit.

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