Movie and Video under water

essential knowledge for underwater movie making

by J Floor Anthoni (2005)

Making movies under water does not just consist of taking a film or video camera on a dive. In addition to the knowledge and skills required of a still photographer, the movie maker must master a few more. In this chapter we'll explore what these skills are and how they apply to underwater movie making. These skills also apply to the makers of slide shows and they can also help the still photographer.
Some general remarks about story telling and the skills required to make it happen. What do you need to do under water and which pitfalls to avoid.
Moviemaking requires not only the skills of the still photographer but many other capabilities as well.
Is underwater moviemaking any different from that above water? Yes it is. Here are some important tips.
Please e-mail the author for suggestions and corrections. Read tips for printing.
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This chapter is not about professional moviemaking but about what an amateur can achieve. Moviemaking is the art of the ancient story teller (raconteur) in a modern setting. It consists of the tried elements of:
  • grabbing attention: something must happen before people sit down to listen. Attention must be grabbed and fast. Children give you five minutes to grab their attention. Should you fail, you've lost their co-operation, necessary for sustaining their attention. The opening scenes of a movie are of critical importance. They are not for your ego but for grabbing attention, and it begins with the title.
  • keeping attention: in this modern age of communication, people's attention span has shrunk from half a day to less than half an hour (like 8 seconds). This doesn't mean that a movie should be short but that it must change tempo and content to keep grabbing renewed attention at intervals not exceeding 15-20 minutes. It is done in many ways such as overlapping themes, parallel stories, action alternated by love scenes and so on.
  • feeding curiosity: one of the main attention keepers is that you have something to say the audience does not know. Have you ever wondered why gossip is so widely practised? Story telling has over the ages been used extensively for teaching new knowledge. The most powerful movies will leave you with something learnt forever. Learning is a very gratifying experience. Story telling has also been important in religious teachings. In underwater movies you have a lot to say that your audience does not know.
  • stirring emotion: the human being is still mainly primitive, governed more so by emotions than the mind. Telling stories that stir emotions, are winners that bring in the money. In modern society where all freedom and risk of living has been regulated away, people hanker to live the lives of others, the idols of their listless lives. As a diver, you live such an adventurous life, and your movies have something to say that your audience does not know, so from these comes your main strength. Exploit it.
  • springing surprise: surprise is the most sudden break of continuity, a moment that wakes your audience into horror or laughter. The good story teller knows how to lead up to his surprise, but do not underestimate the difficulty and skill needed to master this.
  • spinning an ending: many movies seem to forget this most important final element as they fizz out into the scroll. Your ending is as important as your opening scene as it gives you the opportunity to wrap it all up. What is it that you wish your audience to remember? What is the final and most important message? It is the last bit that will be remembered best. Give it your most creative attention.

This is the general framework of any movie or slide show you will make, and you must commit this permanently to your memory, because you will need to find the shots to fill this framework. Before you pull the camera trigger, you must have a general idea of the story you are going to tell and where this shot fits in. It makes moviemaking much more difficult than still photography where this really doesn't matter.

Before you can begin putting (editing) your film together, you must have all the shots that complete the above framework, which is a lot more complicated than you may think. It means for instance, that during your holiday, you will need to complete all missing shots for that holiday movie you planned. You will need to put your opening and ending sequences together and you must have all your surprise moments ready. Towards the middle of your holiday you must have a good idea of the entire story.

Skills required
One of the most satisfying aspects of moviemaking, but also the most disappointing, is that you must master a number of skills that are not easy to acquire. In the professional world, each of these skills is a professional specialisation which is mastered to perfection. The film director chooses his script writers, actors, cameramen, soundmen, stagemakers, editors and so on from a wide choice of professionals and forges these together into a team that works in synergy. As an amateur you are all these professional skills, embodied in a single person and you are the director as well. Here is an incomplete list of these skills, to give a general idea:
Of all the above skills, you will most likely need some of the ones marked in blue. Don't feel inadequate or let the ideal requirements overwhelm you. Moviemaking begins at modest efforts and remains a pleasure, indeed an obsession, for life. Seeing your results improve from movie to movie is very gratifying. For me the moment of birth of a movie when for the first time you sit back and roll the completed movie, complete with sound and narrative, sweeping you away, is a very emotional moment, akin to giving birth. Yet every frame you have seen many times and you know every glitch and imperfection - amazing and intoxicating.

underwater moviemaking
Underwater movie making is essentially no different from that above water but when viewing amateur underwater movies and videos, a pattern of typical mistakes becomes clear. We'll deal with these in this chapter.

So what are the most important things to do for amateur underwater moviemaking?

We are not going to review the many good books that have appeared and are still appearing. Moviemaking is now so old that the ones shot as early as fifty years ago, are as good as the ones appearing today. Visit a second-hand shop to get those books that disclose the very essentials of moviemaking without the modern gadgetry.

If you wish to learn more about documentary making, read Jean Miller's eview: https://www.jenreviews.com/how-to-make-a-documentary/

The eternal compromise
In movies and to some extent video too, the small image is projected on a large screen and there is never enough light. So the temptation is high to expose film on the bright side for it to project brighter. But as we know, this bleaches the colours too. And once overexposed on diapositive (reversal) film, there is no way back as quality is lost forever. The solution is to shoot originals on negative film which has a large degree of tolerance and which is particularly tolerant to over exposure. But this requires a two-step process and more expense. For the video enthusiast, aim for a slightly underexposed image (0.3 - 0.5 fstop) which can be corrected in the editing room for optimal brightness.