In an architectural photography group I’m part of, there are always questions being asked in regards to getting started in architectural filmmaking. Even though I have covered architectural filmmaking through interviews with other photographers, there isn’t anything directed towards architectural photographers who are interested in making the shift to this medium.
I have had a long-time interest in filmmaking ever since I had discovered Rapha and its weekly videos that used to drop on Fridays. It was the perfect means of escapism. I didn’t have any idea on how to get started and often had left that to the formally trained filmmakers. As technology got better and the filming aspect got more entrenched within DSLR, my interest began to pick up. It wasn’t till late 2019 when I got the opportunity to try with a client who wanted to experiment on one of their projects to see what was possible with filming.
I remember renting different pieces of filmmaking kit for a week to figure out how it all worked. I hired everything from a slider, gimbal, sound recorder, microphones, and I was perplexed and very confused. This was attributed to the fact that I was fixated (fixation is one of my many shortcomings) on a short film, Freshwater Place Apartment, created by a local Melbourne filmmaking duo, Coco & Maximilian, for John Wardle Architects. There are so many things I loved about the film especially the interlacing of scenes on a slider to locked-off shots and the jump cut sequences which were all tied together by a beautiful soundtrack. It was a film that wasn’t in the normal realm of architectural films that I had seen. There was an element of sophistication in the design of the film that paid respect to the high caliber of work of John Wardle Architects.
I kept questioning myself about the inclusion of movement in architectural films — how important was it? Adding drone footage into the mix meant there was another layer of complexity that came into play. More importantly, adding the cost of all these different pieces of gear I would eventually need to purchase. I remembered my high school woodwork teacher telling me about the K.I.S.S principle – Keep It Simple Stupid. Is it possible to learn architectural filmmaking with minimal gear and no movements?
In my journey of self-study I came across another short clip from Milieu that helped me appreciate the beauty of locked-off shots and environmental audio. Initially, it went against my instincts as a photographer because filming implies the ability to move a camera around to show the space and it was imperative to show movement. I realised how wrong I was with my assumptions. Especially in architecture, constant movement is more of a distraction throughout the entirety of the film. Often the movement is exacerbated by the gimbal gimmicks found in cliched real estate videos that often find their way into architectural films. These gimmicks often take away from the sophistication of the architecture leaving the viewer void of the experiential qualities one would come to experience.
Recently, Panavision’s Instagram account featured a curated post by cinematographer, Mia Cioffi Henry, about her perspectives on different camera movements and how to decide which movement to use. Furthermore, the importance she places on a locked-off shot above movement shots. To demonstrate why embracing locked-off shots can be the perfect way to break into architectural filmmaking, I have short-listed a few of my favourite architectural films that drives this point home.
Andy Liffner is a Swedish Interiors and Editorial Photographer whose work I had discovered through a feature on IGNANT. While exploring his Instagram account, I became familiar with his film work. If you understand the power of a one-point perspective composition in photography and have the nuance of being able to create vignettes that, when put together describes the elevation of the space, then you can appreciate Andy’s film. His film is an encapsulation of moments with very subtle movements of the subject matter in frame.
Milena Villalba is a Spanish Architectural & Interiors Photographer & Videographer from Valencia. When you view Milena’s videos on her Vimeo account, you will notice how simple she keeps her frames. In particular, Case HEN, stood out for me because she demonstrates the domestication of residential architecture through her video rather than showing it to be aspirational. Choosing between domesticated or aspirational space is a constant battle between architects and photographers. In this instance, you not only get to see the space but to hear how the space sounds like. Miliena used a hot-shoe mounted external microphone to record the audio. Her approach is not something I have seen often but she effectively highlights how spaces are utilised.
The Spine, Griffith University
Nikolas Strugar who I have interviewed previously on a couple of occasions is a Brisbane-based filmmaker specialising in architectural filmmaking. In my previous interview with Nik, he had spoken about his experiences filming for Open House Gold Coast. As part of the Open House Gold Coast program, he had filmed The Spine building part of Griffith University. I wanted to include this film as part of this article because not only Nik utilises locked-off shots for the majority of the film but he breaks it with a few handheld shots. Yes, handheld and no gimbal was used. For Nik, handheld represents the purity of cinematography, it is widely discussed on a number of podcasts that English Cinematographer, Roger Deakins, hosts.
Hendra House, designed by Brisbane (Australia) based architects, Lineburg & Wang, is an extension to an existing house that follows the theme of barns and stables. Nik Strugar has previously filmed a couple of projects for Lineburg & Wang, but I was surprised to learn that Nik had only edited the film while the architects themselves filmed it. This film resonated with me because it reminded me of an older film, The Outsiders, by Francis Coppola. Many moments in The Outsiders were shown at the golden hour, which was the central theme running through the Hendra House. Chatting with Lineburg & Wang on Instagram, they informed me that they had the opportunity to stay at the house on several occasions, so they had become intimately familiar with what aspects of the house would film well in the late evening sun. Furthermore, they had filmed it over a period of several days. What I appreciated the most in this film were the compositions the architects had chosen to highlight materiality and the inclusion of movement in the foreground that broke the static frames in some frames. Furthermore, they demonstrated restrain by avoiding highlighting the entire house in the film as well.
As you can see that to replicate what was highlighted in the aforementioned films, you most likely have all the gear with the exception of requiring a good variable ND filter and an external hot-shoe microphone to get started with filming. I have intentionally avoided covering all the intricacies of filming because I wanted to demonstrate that to start experimenting with filming, you don’t need to go out and fancy equipment nor be overwhelmed with filmmaking terminology or find a dedicated architectural filmmaking course. As Elon Musk has pointed out, you have access to two of the greatest resources of information on the internet: 1) Reddit and 2) Youtube.