The Importance of Filters

The look of a production is a key element of the same that is usually taken for granted. This is however a good sign, as this means that it has been seamlessly integrated with the tone of the story. But to achieve the perfect look for a production, there is a piece of gear that might seem menial but that is actually very important.

What are filters?

Filters are rectangular or circular pieces made of glass that allow for manipulation of the light coming through the lens. Some are also made of optical coatings placed inside said glass. This light manipulation capability helps dealing with unwanted lighting conditions and allows for adding creative effects, modifying colour, depth of field and in general, adjusting the image. Filters are usually placed in front of the lens, but can also be placed after the lens and sometimes inside the lens – certain cameras include built-in filters as well. The most popular brands are Tiffen and Schneider, companies with a proven record of know-how, experience and presence in the industry.

How to use them

In order to place a filter before the lens, the most common practice, a matte box is required. Matte boxes come with filter trays designed to hold these in place right before the lens. Except for screw-on filters, which are naturally circular ones like polarisers that screw onto the front element of the lens, filters are placed in the matte boxes’ filter trays, and should cover the diameter of the lenses’ front element.

This is the reason why they normally come in two sizes: 4”x5.65” (also known as PV or Panavision size), which are rectangular filters that cover the diameter of most prime and zoom lenses, and 6.6”x6.6”, which are square filters normally required when working with big zoom lenses such as the heavyweight Angenieux Optimos or when working with full frame. There are also filters in 4”x4” but this size is not so much in use anymore.

Filter trays are normally horizontally oriented, however there are also vertical trays for portrait settings and rotatable trays, which are most commonly used with graduated filters and polarisers. The former is a type of filter that gets gradually darker from one edge to the other, thus the angle in which it is positioned makes one side darker – this can be used for example, to make the sky look darker.

The latter refract the light evenly in different directions depending on the angle, getting rid of glares and reflections. Rotatable trays make it easier to position the filter in the best way to achieve the desired effect.

Types of filters

Filters can be classified in these main categories:

  • Protection: such as the Optical Flat, a filter with no modifications – just a piece of glass for protecting the lens
  • Polarisers: as described above, these refract the light evenly getting rid of glares and reflections in the sky, glass and water.
  • Neutral Density (ND): these reduce the amount of light passing through the lens without modifying colour and are particularly helpful to avoid overexposure. ND Grads as mentioned above also belong in this category.
  • Infra-Red Neutral Density (IRND): same as the NDs, however these help control the amount of Infra-Red filtration on blacks and dark colours.
  • Diffusion: these help diffuse the light to create softer images or distribute the light across the image while controlling sharpness and can also add glow and enhancing traits to skin tones.
  • Special Effects: these add special effects to the image, such as light streaks, fog or day for night.
  • Colour Effects: these are tinted filters that help enhance certain colours on the image or add a tint to it.
  • Diopters: these filters behave similarly to magnifying glasses and are designed for close-ups and extreme close-ups as they allow for close focusing. Split diopters are diopter filters that only have half the glass, enhancing depth of field and increasing the amount of the image that is in focus even at a very close distance from the subject on the foreground.

Even though the final look of a production is achieved during post-production, the use of filters is key to achieve certain effects or image traits that could not be created digitally. This is especially true with polarising, skin tones, flares and bokeh control, particular lighting setups and colours. For this reason, it is not uncommon for DOP’s and camera assistants to carry out filter tests during prep to see how filters behave under the conditions they are going to work during the shooting. The footage of these is then taken into the editing suite, to check how the final result would look like in post-production. At this stage, producers, executive producers and director will also have their say in the choice of filters that best represent the desired look for the production.

Filters can alter an image so much in terms of lighting, colour and skin tones that even some actors and actresses are known to regularly have taken their own filters to the set. One actress that is said to have done this was Joan Collins, who allegedly handed her own filters to the crew for them to use when shooting her scenes, so her skin tones looked to her taste.

The Clapperboard and its Language

The clapperboard, or slate, is one of the most iconic symbols in cinema, yet it presents a vague notion to those who don’t know its specific use in filmmaking. Beyond its very simple, recognizable appearance, lies a more complex system which is key in the filmmaking process – and still remains relevant to this day since its invention some time around the 1920s.

What is the clapperboard and what is it used for?

The clapperboard is a device of simple construction, consisting of a small board – that is nowadays made of translucent acrylic glass, but used to be made of slate, hence its alternative name – attached to a pair of clap sticks, usually made of wood. It is held in front of the camera before (sometimes after) every take and the sticks are clapped before the action unfolds.

These elements fulfil the two main uses of the clapperboard. On the board, information about the production and each take is written, so every shot is easily identifiable by the editor. The sticks are clapped with the purpose of being able to sync audio easily in post-production, as in a professional environment video and audio will be recorded separately.

Who uses it?

The person in charge of the clapperboard during a shooting is the 2nd Assistant Camera (2nd AC), as per its US denomination, or Clapper Loader, a name that tends to be used more frequently in the UK. The job description in regards to the clapperboard not only entails operating it, but also filling out camera sheets. As part of its operation, it’s necessary to understand what to write on each section of the clapperboard and know how and when to call out the right instructions.

What to write on it?

The clapperboard is divided in different sections as can be seen in the image below.

  • Production: Name of the production
  • Roll: Identifies each roll of film, tape or media card (depending on which format the production is being shot on) the camera is recording onto. If there are multiple cameras, you will need to label the primary camera as ‘A’ camera and the second as ‘B’ camera.  Your roll on A camera could be A004 while B camera will start back at 1 such as B001.
  • Scene: Identifies the scene being shot, normally the scene number according to the shot list. (Pro tip: skip the letters “I”, “O” and “S”, as they could be confused with the numbers “1”, “0”, and “5”.)
  • Take: Identifies each take – every time the camera records and stops is considered a new take, always starting at 1.
  • Director: Name of the Director – do not misspell!
  • Camera: Name of the Cinematographer – do not misspell! – depending on the production, sometimes the letter assigned to the camera that is being used in a particular moment on a multi-cam shoot.
  • Date: Shows the date of the shoot.
  • Day/Night: Shows whether it’s a day or night scene.
  • Int/Ext: Shows whether it’s an interior or exterior scene.
  • Mos/Sync: Mos should be circled when sound is not going to be recorded, conversely Sync should be circled when sound is being recorded.
  • Filter: Shows whether filters are being used on the lens.

For the day/night, int/ext, mos/sync, most AC’s will put a piece of tape over each element that isn’t in the shot.  For instance, if it is an INTERIOR scene, then put a piece of tape over the Ext mark on the slate.  If you have any doubt to what to put on the slate, reference the shooting script as the heading of each scene will label what scene number and whether it is int/ext.

How to operate it?

The 2nd AC would normally wait until the AD calls for slate. Then, walks into frame, positions the clapperboard where it can be clearly seen by the camera (or cameras), and calls out the instructions. Once the camera starts rolling, they call out “Mark!” and clap the sticks.

When calling out the instructions, it’s very important to be familiar with the difference between the UK and US slating system.

In the UK, every single shot has its own unique ‘slate number’ starting from 1, regardless of the scene.  A new shot can be defined when the position of the camera changes, the subject or focus of the camera changes (for instance on a different character), when a lens change occurs or when any other major change happens. Take this example: let’s assume the scene order of the day is Scene 14, 27 and 6. The system would go something like this:

Scene 14, Slate 1, Take 1

Scene 14, Slate 1, Take 2

(New setup)

Scene 14, Slate 2, Take 1 – whatever the setup doesn’t affect the slate number

(New scene)

Scene 27, Slate 3, Take 1 – whatever new scene doesn’t affect the slate number

(New scene after a few slates)

Scene 6, Slate 17… and so forth – the slate never resets.

In the US however, every new scene has its own number and then each new shot has a character, that goes the alphabet, with takes starting from 1. If the end of the alphabet is reached, the letters are doubled-up (AA, AB, AC, and so on). With the same scenes as the previous example, it would look something like this:

Scene 14A, Take 1

Scene 14A, Take 2

(New setup – e.g. from Close-up to Wide)

Scene 14B, Take 1

Scene 14B, Take 2

(New scene)

Scene 27A, Take 1

(After 28 new setups)

Scene 27AB, Take 1… and so on.

In the US system, it is common practice for a 2nd AC to use entire words when reading out the slate – either using the military alphabet or made-up words. For example: “Scene fourteen alpha, take 1!” or “Scene fourteen apple, take 1!” so there is no confusion.  It is even more common that you will not use the word ‘Scene’ when calling out the shot and may simplify it to “fourteen alpha, take 1” instead.

Useful terminology and situations

  • Soft Sticks

In a situation when the 2nd AC has to clap very close to talent, they would call out “Soft Sticks” instead of “Mark” not to distract the actors.

  • Second Sticks

If they clap incorrectly, they call out “Second Sticks” instead of “Mark”.

  • End slate/Tail clap

When for whatever reason it’s not possible to use the clapperboard at the beginning of a shot (for instance if the shot starts on a high crane and the slate is not possible to be close enough to the camera), this will be held upside down first, then rotated back to its normal upright position and clapped at the end of the shot.


  • MOS

This stands for “Motor Only Shot” and it means recording without sound. The clapperboard should be held with a finger or hand between the sticks or alternatively with your hand over them when they’re shut.

  • Pick Up

When another take occurs and the actions starts halfway through instead from the beginning, the take number increases but PU should be added to the number.

  • After False Start

If both sound and camera are rolling but the take is cut before action is called, AFS should be added to the number.


  • Keep the slate as still as possible when clapping the sticks. If you move during this action, you risk the sticks not being clearly visible at a particular frame to sync the sound.
  • When the 1st AD begins calling for turnover, already have the slate in frame and ready. You will waste time and/or film or memory by not being there.
  • Try to find out where the slate needs to be beforehand.  You can do this by referencing the monitor.
  • However, don’t just stand there with the slate in frame while the 1st is pulling focus for refence marks–you will get on their nerves very quickly as they cannot see through your slate!
  • You want the slate to fill as much of the frame as possible without it being too big.  The easiest way to determine the proper place is for every 10mm of the focal length of the lens you stand approximately one foot away from the lens.  If you are filming with a 50mm lens then you should stand 5 feet from the lens and the slate will be the proper size in frame.  Knowing distance and anticipating this will help serve you as you move up the chain to become a focus puller/1st AC. Even if you live outside the US and use the metric system, it is common that lenses will still use the imperial system for the witness marks (distance from the optical plane).
  • If you buy a labelmaker it makes it incredibly easy to label things that are consistent like the production name, director, cinematographer, etc.
  • Some 2nd AC’s use pre-written tape with numbers and letters to fill out other boxes like the scene and take and borrow these from the back of the clapperboard as needed.
  • In most instances the slate should be perfectly parallel to the lens, however there are instances when lights bounce off the slate and may reflect this back into the camera. Investigate this beforehand so you will be ready and not need to adjust.
  • Anticipate changes ahead of time. While the shot is being recorded, go ahead and *quietly* erase the previous take and write the next one there.  You will then be ready for the next take if it is needed.
  • It is a best practice to plan your route away from the camera before the 1st AD calls for turnover. You may have to tuck into a corner of the set that isn’t being used or find a way around obstacles.  If you mark the slate and then panic for how to get off set or disturb a piece of the set, you will look like an amatuer or you might make enemies of other departments. Further, you should stand on the side that you will exit—if you were to walk across the frame then this is time taken instead of shooting.

The Quadrant System


Everyone likes a good story. And arguably, story is the determining factor to “make or break” a film, often prevailing over other elements. But even the greatest of stories needs to be told properly. When it comes to films, as it is an audiovisual medium, there are plenty of devices at the filmmaker’s disposal that aid storytelling. Particularly speaking of the “visual” side, there is obviously, cinematography. While heavily linked to other visual elements such as production design or an actor’s performance, cinematography also influences these other elements, to the point that it can shape them. In particular, cinematography is comprised of components such as composition, which is a basic tool in terms of storytelling, especially when mastered.

In the same way there are different set structures that can be used to mould a storyline when script writing, there are also basic set rules for composition. Some of these rules are for example, the “Golden Ratio”, the “One-Point Perspective” or the “Rule of Thirds”.

The first is based on the Fibonacci Sequence and can be found in nature and the human body and has been used in countless works of art and design. This ratio has proved to be very pleasing to the human eye, therefore using this sequence as a reference when framing, it is possible to get an interesting shot or picture straight away.

The second is immediately associated to Stanley Kubrick, who used it widely throughout his filmography, eventually becoming one of his staple framing techniques. It consists of creating a single vanishing point, by framing in a way so all the lines converge on that same point. This creates a sense of depth, as it adds a third plane to a two-dimensional picture.

The “Rule of Thirds” is an imaginary grid that stems from dividing the frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. The dividing lines form nine boxes with four intersections, which can be used for reference when framing. In fact, a very common practice is to place important characters or objects on these intersections to emphasise their importance within a shot. Like with the Golden Rule, this is also a way to create an immediately interesting shot, as it is also visually appealing.

Beyond the Rule of Thirds

Learning the basics of these rules and then mastering them is very important, like gaining a solid knowledge of the basic techniques of any craft. It is then, when these can be taken to the next level, which might mean departing from their more traditional use to bend and break them for effect. This takes us beyond the Rule of Thirds, to an apparently simpler approach at first sight, but that in reality contains a lot of potential as a storytelling tool. If instead of dividing the frame into thirds, we divide it down the middle both vertically and horizontally, we get the “Quadrant System”, a grid with only four boxes instead of nine. With this grid as base it is possible to achieve unconventionally framed shots that can give life to a scene. Especially when it comes to highlighting a character’s situation or to delve into its personality, thoughts or to convey certain feelings to the audience. The TV series Mr. Robot makes a constant use of this method. In this show, characters are often “awkwardly” placed in the corner of the frame, which increases the amount of negative space, i.e., the space around and between the subjects of an image. This makes characters seem small in comparison to their surroundings, which conveys feelings of isolation, loneliness and powerlessness.

Furthermore, the high amounts of negative space produce a jarring effect on the viewer, especially since characters are “out of place” in the frame, and therefore this creates visual tension because we are not used to it.

In addition to negative space, visual tension is also comprised of gazing direction and breathing room. Gazing direction is the way in which the character is looking and breathing room is the distance between the character’s head or face and the edge of the frame. Both can be combined like in the following picture to create visual tension. In this example, placing Elliot so close to the edge of the frame with so little breathing room creates a sense of unease and discomfort.

Another use of placing characters in the boxes can be to establish dominance. When two characters share the same box it usually signifies confrontation. In a dialog, this can represent a power struggle between the two characters.

A similar effect is achieved by dividing between top and bottom. In this show, another way of representing characters’ insecurities and doubts is by placing them at the bottom of the frame, and making them small in comparison to their surroundings.

When defining the cinematography based on this system, it is important to be aware that not every single shot might need to be framed in an unconventional way, therefore it is important to know when to use this technique, in favour of storytelling. A combination of asymmetrical (or unconventionally framed) and symmetrical shots might give the visuals a right balance and will boost your story by having the right contrasts when emphasising particular aspects of the same in regards to characters, feelings or moods and even places.



Introduction to Motion Control: An IMIS event

Most of us remember the scene of Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts across the Great Lake with Hagrid, as the castle looms out at us from the darkness. Or have that legendary image in our minds of the Imperial Star Destroyer gliding ominously through deep space in Star Wars IV: A New Hope. But we also have most likely seen any of those commercials in which leaves of lettuce, slices of cheese and tomato and pieces of chicken fall exactly in place on top of a loaf of bread in slow motion. Funnily enough, all of these have something in common: they have been filmed using motion control.

What Is Motion Control?

The guys from Mark Roberts Motion Control, Peter Rush and Dorian Culmer, were there to tell us all about it. Motion control is a means to create difficult or “impossible” camera movements and special effects by accurately controlling the trajectory of the camera. Cameras are mounted onto robotic rigs controlled by a piece of software, and they’re able to move at very high speed with incredible precision. Therefore, the same movement can be repeated again and again, for example, to generate special and visual effects.

Although it seems like a pretty modern development, motion control actually started before digital times. Around the 80s, there was a very busy scene in London in particular, to create everything that wasn’t digital. As machines and skills improved in this area, they started filming models – which is how the previously mentioned Harry Potter and Star Wars scenes were made. Models were the main reasons for motion control; first they would film the model, and then they would integrate it with a background and other elements to create a scene.

London became the centre for commercials in the 80s and the 90s, with many big-time directors today, eventually moving on from commercials to film. A higher demand for fast machines surged, machines that could shoot a commercial in 1 or 2 days, or that could film 3 to 4 movements per day. This requirement was different of that in Hollywood, and it was Mark Roberts who started meeting this demand by creating these machines. The first one of the notably mobile machines was called “Cyclops”, which is still a company staple today, capable of filming 3 meters per second with great accuracy using high-end cameras such as the RED Dragon, flawlessly shooting in 6K.

Uses Of Motion Control

Motion control has countless uses, the main ones focussing on VFX creation and live action. Since the camera can follow exactly the same very precise path repeatedly, it is possible to get different layers (actors, background, foreground) that can be overlaid and matched together at the time of compositing. This can also be used to “clone” people, change foreground and background objects, for morphing – which is when one person transforms into another person or thing, a very popular use – or to put things together that couldn’t have possibly been filmed together.

Other uses within VFX include being capable of shooting a scene very accurately so that only one pass might be necessary in post – for example when the camera goes through a glass or an eyeball. It can also shoot forwards, backwards, change the scale (size of the movement) and the time of the movement. The latter is another very popular use, which is combined with compositing to create scaling shots – the most recent example is 2015’s Ant-Man. To create the main effect seen in the film, it is necessary to have exactly the same camera movement for the man and the background to later put them together, otherwise they wouldn’t match. Along the same lines, it is also possible to do scaling by taking footage that has been filmed without motion control, first by tracking the movement to create the initial camera path and then filming the foreground or background with the same path to put the scene together afterwards. Alongside with these, it is also widely used for VFX previsualisations.

Additional uses of motion control include high speed shots, with rigs that can film 4 metres per second (3 metres per second on tracks), which are popular with food commercials, since it can trigger other movements – this is how the ingredients fall on top of the bread. It is also utilised in animation – it is possible to create stop motion or go motion that have complex camera movements – in sports, such as the Olympic Games or Formula 1 and for space research.

Is Motion Control Necessary?

Sometimes it may seem that motion control is unnecessary. Why not fix it in post? Since the quality required in cinema features is an expensive and slow work path, it makes post-production for high resolution sequences also very expensive. It can also be very difficult when it comes to fixing incorrectly filmed VFX shots. Thus, it is normally more efficient to shoot correctly the first time using motion control rather than fixing it in post.

The one thing that motion control requires however, is lots of planning to be done properly. Therefore, the director usually gets together with the VFX Director and the DOP or Operator, and decides if it’s necessary, and if so, how to best work out the shots they need. The disadvantage is that most people aren’t actually aware or don’t know how long it takes to use motion control, or how much money they need to get it right properly. For this reason, if deciding to use motion control, it is best to get someone on board who is properly trained, knows the equipment required, how to use it and how long it will take. This way, the shoot will be properly planned and therefore the production will end up saving more by getting it properly done the first time, instead of wasting valuable resources such as time and money due to a wrong kit decision or last-minute changes.

Six Ways Film & Television is Embracing Women and BAME


The most prominent debate in film and television in the present day is the representation of women and BAME. In this article, I hope to present schemes and organisations that are dedicated to creating diversity and equality in the industry.


ONE: NFTS Directing Workshop

The National Film and Television School provides teaching and training for those wishing to work in film and television. They run several diplomas; masters; certificates and short courses.

This new initiative for directors has been launched by NFTS aiming to increase the number of women, BAME and people with disabilities.

The six selected directors will take part in a 2-day introduction in March followed by an intensive 4-week workshop during summer culminating in the production of a short film.

The course is free and the deadline is 19th February.

Apply here:




Founded in 2012, Creative Access aims to provide young BAME people paid training opportunities in creative companies and supporting them into full-time employment.

With over 200 media partners offering opportunities including ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and many more. This organisation is paving the way to creating an industry that truly reflects British society.

Want to sign up? Check out the website here:


THREE: Women In Film & TV UK Mentoring Scheme

Women In Film & TV is a membership organisation run by women supporting women working in the creative media in the UK.

Every year they run a mentoring scheme designed for women with more than 5 years’ experience looking to take a significant step in their career. Over six months participants receive six hours of mentoring contact with an industry figure. There are also seminars, training workshops and networking opportunities.

Free to apply and participate. Find out more here:


In 2019, BAFTA will be adding the BFI Diversity Standards to the eligibility criteria for the Outstanding British Film Award and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

This decision has been controversial in the industry with some parties believing this is a step too far and restricts filmmaking. In my opinion, it is a bold and much needed move towards creating an inclusive and equal industry. My only issue with it, is the fact this is even needed in the 21st Century to promote diverse filmmaking.

Considering that in the 2015 Oscars no non-white actors were nominated for an Academy Award, a change in criteria for these awards is definitely overdue.


In 2016, Directors UK released a 10 year study on women directors in film revealing the shocking truth that only 13.6% of all directors working in the last decade were women.

They aim to use the findings of this study to improve the industry for women by campaigning for these 3 specific goals:

  1. 50% of films backed by UK-based public funding bodies to be directed by women by 2020.
  2. Development of the Film Tax Credit Relief system to require all UK films to take account of diversity.
  3. Industry wide campaign to inform and influence change

Find out more here:



In 2016, BFI Film Forever and Creative Skillset launched a workshop called Game Changers specifically for women and BAME filmmakers.

Run by Kymberlie Andrews who is a master trainer and communication coach. The aim of the two day workshop was to boost confidence; teach pitching and make contacts with like minded individuals.

For myself, this workshop changed my game by opening my eyes to my personality strengths which has affirmed by future career goal.

Hopefully this opportunity will be renewed for 2017 but only time can tell!

Find out more here:


If you know of any opportunities for women and BAME in film and TV then please comment below!