How I Learned to Trick My Ambition

Since last month, I’ve been posting films on YouTube. Feel free to take a look. And that’s it. Bye!

“Hallo, Halle”, my first film without aspirations. Julia, thank you for every moment that I was able to experience and capture with you!

Wait, That Was It?

Of course not. As in virtually every film by a studio that turns comic heroes into movies, there is a history. A “backstory”, the origin of everything that happens.

Filmmaking in general had been an unfulfilled dream until now. In my student days, I grazed through tons of videos that the lush meadow YouTube offered me – from storytelling to equipment, exposure, color profiles to editing. Although the blossoming of the maxims “gear doesn’t matter” or “just do it” often tickled my nose (Casey Neistat’s Guide to Filmmaking is a good example), it took me until now to break free from the idea of a technically perfect picture and to truly get started.

For Me, Filmmaking Was First and Foremost Technology

iPhone with microphone
Wondering about all the possibilities that didn’t seem good enough before.
Photo: Julia Frank

I spent more time with script-writing software than bundling loose ideas into screenplays. Similarly, I spent more time on camera sensors, lenses and optimal audio and video settings than I did pushing the red record button and digitally capturing an approximation of reality. I wanted every frame to have that cinematic look: 24 frames per second, at open aperture. I wanted to reproduce what our eye had learned to define as cinematic. I was trapped in my ambition.

When Sony released the Alpha 7s in 2014, I was fascinated by its low-light performance. At the time, I couldn’t have guessed how Sony would revolutionize the market with the launch of their Alpha range, outselling SLRs with full-frame mirrorless cameras. At my too-low desk in my too-small room, escaping the gloom of my studies, I soaked up every experience report to consolidate my desire for this very camera. If I bought it, I would certainly be able to film!

As a student – with correspondingly limited financial resources – I took out a loan. Consumer loans, ouch. Yes, it had to be the Sony Alpha 7s – paired with a 35mm Zeiss fixed focal length lens, of course. At the time, it felt like I could finally handle the start of filmmaking because I could keep up technically.

One short film was made in 2016 together with my brother for the competition “Why still letter today?”, initiated by Deutsche Post. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that it was submitted, as I almost got lost in the perfection of color grading and editing. If I had dismissed it as cringe a few years ago, I can now smile about the work. It can no longer be found online. Maybe I’ll hold on to it for a “reaction” video for later days?

What Do I Have to Tell?

Julia and Johann in reflection
Julia and I on the way with the narrow-gauge railway to Wörlitz.

Nothing happened but the one short film. Why? One reason is the constant unattainable ambition: I wanted to evoke grand emotions. To tell stories that culminate in moments that grip and touch. I failed at that. Too many expectations culminated – within myself. My ideas felt too intangible. They would have been too difficult to realize. Telling stories from the round of everyday life seemed too flat to me at the time.

Another development made filming wither: my pharmacy studies came to a dead end in 2018 (placeholder link for a report on the feeling of failure). To gather materials to build the bridge to a career change as a developer, my motivation shifted. I put the resources available to me fully into building a base to achieve the dream of programming as a profession, as well as escaping my existential fears.

Filmmaking was hiding in the shell of everyday life, which would only change this year.

From Full-Frame to Smartphone Camera

Maybe you also record vertical videos with your smartphone. Compared to still photography, the moving image enables me to capture more atmosphere. In the low threshold of recording, more content is created than with my camera, although technically the latter would achieve superior results. Hardly any adjustment possibilities, no post-processing. “The best camera is the one you always have with you” is another maxim in the content universe. For photography, I still prefer my full-frame camera (a Sony Alpha 7C), but for filming, the quality of the square everyday companion is sufficient. Why doesn’t my aspiration apply here?

Capturing the ordinary, the everyday, and thus creating anchors for memories, has a higher priority for me than working out a perfect picture. So what if I were to rotate my smartphone for an approximation of the common image of cinematic? A landscape image would emerge. But the look unmistakably betrays the fact that it is just a smartphone. That X factor is missing.

Fun fact on the side: Which photos do you prefer – those of an iPhone, Samsung or Google device? All smartphones use the sensors of one company: Sony. The coloring of the resulting image is determined solely by software.

Outsmarting My Claim

iPhone case with lens
Moment 1.33x Anamorphic Mobile Lens – in the variant with golden flare. This is not an advertisement.

As befits a capitalist world order, one product provided me with the fortune to achieve my aspiration and trick it at the same time. With a lens bayonet integrated into the smartphone case, Moment’s lenses can be used to change the beam of light before the image reaches the smartphone camera. I’m particularly fond of the anamorphic 1.33× lens – it enables me to pull a cinematic look out of my pocket in the truest sense of the word. The low threshold of “just do it” remains.

By pushing myself to the limits of what is technically feasible with a smartphone camera, and by using the external lens to tap into the possibilities of expandability, my ambition can be satisfied. Simply put: I’m getting everything I can out of it.

Everyday Life Chats, I Listen

When a situation presents itself where I feel the space to film, I record video snippets. I don’t find this process trivial, as filming itself takes away some of my perception of the moment. When there is a great deal of stimulation in new environments or when I am having a bad day, no footage emerges either. In the same way, no film is made if there are not enough shots to spin a story out of.

“Auf oder in Island” – the film I am most proud of so far.

Somehow I have managed to shed the urge for grand narratives: To understand filming as an engagement with my present and editing as an engagement with what I have experienced. I don’t feel any expectation of getting viewers, because filming and editing give me intrinsic pleasure and, in turn, donate.

Thank you to all the people I was allowed to record!

End of article. If you spot a typo or have thoughts about this article, feel free to write me. 🙆‍♂️

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