In this space we share ideas, publish thoughts and provide insight into our filmmaking style.

Mario Testino meets National Geographic

by Susanna Garcia

Creative choices are multiple from the very beginning of the filmmaking process. Sure, your choice of camera and lenses will say a lot about how you shoot (and this is something we will talk about in another post). But what about the choices we take before then? How do we really start shaping the way in which we are going to tell a story?

In this blog post I would like to share a “test” we have developed at MIND THE FILM. We like to start each new project with the Mario Testino meets National Geographic test. It is an exercise we have ideated to set the grounds of each film, and to take an opportunity to reflect on the main features of our filmmaking style.

The test is based on the comparison of these two images –

The first one is Afghan Girl, a 1984 photograph by the journalist Steve McCurry, which became a world-famous cover of National Geographic in 1985.

The second one is a portrait by photographer Mario Testino, which was taken for the 10th Anniversary Special Issue of Vogue China.

Apparently, two portraits of similar composition and outstanding quality. Additionally, two clear examples of different production styles. Start thinking about the production requirements behind each image and then you will be wearing a producer’s hat.

This is what Steve McCurry said about taking his photograph Afghan Girl:
“I spent maybe two minutes with her, I photographed her. I made 15 pictures I would say.”

And now compare that approach to the amount of staff, stylists, models, lighting equipment and producers involved in the production of a photo-shoot for VOGUE.

What we like about the Mario Testino meets National Geographic test is that the comparison helps us differentiate two important production approaches.

The National Geographic way would focus on the idea of “capturing something”. Navigating through reality and being able to capture the best moments of it.

Following the Testino way would mean that we first work on the idea and create the conditions for the image to be produced. And that involves the studio set-up, props, casting etc.

At MIND THE FILM we favour a documentary-style, and the philosophy of capturing the most meaningful images out of reality –whilst we also welcome the freedom to create and catalyse cinematic situations.

No one better than Mario Testino himself to sum it up: “I divide my work into two sides. One is to photograph what already exists. But then there is photographing things that we create. We have an idea and we decide that we are going to interpret this idea.”

Lenses, the tool of the craft

by Borja Alexandre

I often say that a big part of mastering the craft of filmmaking is fully understanding how to use the tools. That’s why, as a cinematographer, having in depth knowledge of each lens is a must.

The road to choosing the right lens starts with a long process of trial and error. In my experience, the more time you spend experimenting with a single lens, the more likely you are to get interesting results.

MIND THE FILM’s top 3 lenses

The first one is the 28mm, which is just barely wider than our field of vision, but not as wide as to provoke a distracting distortion. Let’s say it’s a perfect lens for establishing shots, close-ups, landscapes and portraits. Malick, Scorsese, Wells, and Spielberg most frequently used the 28mm lens, which has come to be responsible for building the cinematic standard language, sometimes adding a bit of a surreal touch.

My second favourite is the macro lens, which literally opens up a whole new world by magnifying the scale of the object/subject, altering your perception of it and making you feel unusually close to it. However, despite these exciting possibilities, macro lenses are probably one of the most difficult to master technically.

The third one is the 135mm, and it’s ideal for portraits, close ups and extreme close ups. This lens has a long focal length, giving you outstanding isolation properties, which makes the subject pop out of the background, creating the legendary Bokeh effect.

I particularly love using a 135mm lens because it opens a lot of opportunities to write within the depth of the frame and transports the viewer inside the screen, even though you need a lot of space to work with.

The truth is that there is no “right” lens. You can use almost any lens to shoot any situation, but in order to achieve a high degree of aesthetic success at MIND THE FILM we believe the choice of lens should be guided by the needs of the story.