What is it that makes student movies look unprofessional?


Another thing as far as “look” - have you ever watched outtakes? Rough cuts of scenes in the Special Features section of a DVD? Notice how crappy they look - and they’re a HOLLYWOOD movie?! A truly good film to video transfer, and good color grading are needed even on big budget movies - don’t think they look that sparklingly wonderful right out of the film dryer.

Even professionally shot video needs good color correction for shot to shot matching, as well as crispness and tonal values. Hot Windows allows you to selectively color grade just specific portions - someone’s face to draw the viewer’s attention in a scene, etc.

Straight out of the camera is surprisingly boring - no matter if it originated on film or video.

And yes, like has been mentioned in the other posts above - there’s appropriateness of the angle and lens choice, there’s MANY issues regarding audio that need to be attended to or it just screams “unprofessional”, bad FX or compositing in general, bad mattes, bad acting, etc.

There are plenty of things that will get better with practice, assuming the filmmaker(s) are TRYING to get better. They’ll see what they could have improved, how they could have improved them, and on the next project it will be better.

-Lew :wink:


in one word lighting. the pros don’t shoot in the dark they gade in the shadows masking details smoothly. that to me is the biggest difference. I’ve seen and even made some incrediply professional looking videos with cheap equipment. not that the gear doesn’t make huge difference. but provided you’re outdoors in daylight it’s a limitation that can be overcome. it’s really not one thing. most pros are accostomed to the perfection of the art. that is NO camera shake whatsoever, well desinged lighting, multy camera editing, high bandwidth audio. the list goes on and on the less equipment you have the better it needs to be handled. nonetheless I’ve always believed davici is still davinci wheter he has a pencil or the finest pigments from across europe.


I read here someone mentioned the film right from the camera is boring.

They usually do color correction to it, but i have also noticed in some movies they use lot of blur and grain? Anyone has something to add to this ?

It sure looks more appealing and interesting then just the film as it is right from the camera.


Yes, in features there is a process called “grading” where the final “look” of the film is finalized. That’s where they add the grain, color correction, filters, etc.


For the movie Apollo 13 they printed down 5-6 generations before they got it to look like the late 60’s early 70’s film grain we’re used to seeing of the NASA broadcasts at the itme. The straight out of the camera image was too clean.

There are many tricks used to give your movie a “look” that will hopefullly set it apart from others.


Can you recomend me some books or whatever to learn more about movie grading?


Actually, get photography books. Granted there’s a difference between using Lustre and Photoshop, but the color principles are the same - just the interface is different. Leanr about Hue, Tint, what and how colors and densities affect other colors and densities.

Making a “look” is just advanced color correction tools and techniques.

Hope this helps-
-Lew :wink:


if you want your video to look professional then figure out what you can do perfectly. and try to limit your production to those elements. if you don’t have rails or a steady cam then don’t attempt moving shots. if it’s not something for dramatic affect then don’t attempt a handheld shot. use additive composites instead of basic colour correction to create the look. use zooms where you ought to. make sure to get the audio filtered untill there is no hiss or buzz in it. use a wave form monitor to keep the scenes conformed in brightness.


There’s no one element to provide a “make it professonal” button.

You can do basic color correction - don’t have to go overboard unless you’re trying to make Sin City or 300. You don’t have to go crazy with a “look” when you’re grading Steel Magnolias.

Dolly, handheld, steadicam - it’s not only what’s available and what you’re good at (NO ONE is perfect at something), it’s what the Director TELLS you to do. (and if YOU are the Director, it’s YOUR opinion that matters - what do you WANT it to be) You might think this is the perfect still moment and the camera needs to be locked down to really feel the weight of the situation - and the Director wants it hand-held to get a slight jitter to show that things are not solid in their lives. Difference of opinon - but you do what he/she says.

Everything is a matter of subjective opinion, and that’s fine. Take zooms - I hate them (to actually zoom in the shot - not the general use of them on a camera), but they were extremely appropriate in, say, Kill Bill. Apparently it took Rober Richardson (the DP) a while to get used to doing it (he has a general distaste for them as well) but by late production, he couldn’t wait to FIND a use for them.

Tery Gilliam loves wide angle lenses up close, and Tony Scott loves long lenses pulled back - which one is right?

Subjective opinion - it’s ALL subjective opinion. Pick apart what looks good to you onscreen from those who you consider do it well. Research anything oyu can find about how they were shot, lit, why they chose to stage the action this way, what they were tryingto convey with “that shot”, etc. Not to COPY them, but to figure out how (and why) they make images you like. Then pick up a camera and some lights. Shoot as much as you can, practice practice, practice - find what works for YOU.

And be fully prepared for the first person to look at your hard work and say, “Ya know - it would have been better if you…” Everyone would have done it differently.

Good luck - hope this helps-
-Lew :wink:


Well, to be precise: creating the look in post for movies is only a couple of years old (not sure exactly when there was the very first DI… 1998, “pleasantville” I think)
Before that only minor corrections during color timing in the lab were possible. Sure there are examples were film was exposed differently than normal like in the apollo example but in general for the majority of movies the look was nailed in camera. (this of course is different from TV shows/ads were telecines are available since quite some time)
If you refer to movies looking boring straight from the camera you either mean log scans or flat one light transfers.

As for the original question: lack of money!



well thundering one…

the point I was making is that the most important thing is to be intentional. if you do things that aren’t on purpose it really shows. that really isn’t subjective either. it’s like the old addage among artists. a blob can only be art if the artist has the skill to paint a picture. the movie maniac was almost entirely handheld and made with cheap gear but was moving and inspired anyway.(others may not agree) whatever is done must be crafted. and when you reach the threshhold even people who don’t like it can see.


I get that - really I do.

What it felt like was that “tools and techniques” was not understood - additives, filters, as well as general Curves and Levels, masked adjustments as well as Hot Windows, etc. When I said “Tool and Techniques” it felt like it was taken merely as “do a Levels adjustment and call it a day.”

I felt it was well understood (which is why I didn’t mention it) that you take the time to test different looks and figure out what works best for what you are trying to convey - none of which is an “accident”. Again - feeling like it was taken as “do a Levels adjustment and call it a day.”

And as Kai01W pointed out - digital grading is a fairly new thing. A great DP had to really know his printing points in order to have figured out his “look” in camera. The color balance and characteristics of the film being used alongside the colors and characteristics of the lighting being used (say, for example, tungsten film in daylight balanced lighting with only 1/4 CC filtering…)

When Dominic Sena sat down in the printer’s room for Gone in 60 Seconds, he was used to shooting music videos and commercials - in telecine he could crush the blacks, blow out the whites, enahnce Saturation in the midtones, enhance and change the tint of the highlight fringe colors, etc. The printer looked at him and asked, “You want it lighter, or darker?”

Going back to the originally posted question - a shot is “made” not “found”, which is why so many student and low-budget and NO-budget movies LOOK unprofessional. Those who know how to “make” a shot (appropriate to the story) will rise above the visual junk - no matter what their budget level.

Hope this helps-


to be fair there’s some pretty unproffesional looking TV out there as well. usually it’s part of the overall feel. like the show trailer park boys or something. or that show corner gas. one uses cheap video the other uses weird looking actors. those were choices and it shows but if you didn’t get what they were trying to do those shows would look unprofessional to you.


True - very true :wink:


I suppose another way to put it would be. adjust as much as you can improve by hand and Know what your doing with all of it. almost every commercial video project gets that kind of attention.


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