These days making videos is becoming more sophisticated by the day. The pressure to make make your videos stand out, whether it is just a home video or something like a video marketing campaign is growing. One of the things those with more or even less expertise are mentioning is making your videos ‘cinematic.’

It seems everybody is mentioning it, but what does cinematic actually mean? Is it just a set of special effects? Is it using one of the professional digital filmmaking cameras? Or does it involve something more?

Actually, there’s an ongoing debate about what can fit in within the definition of cinematic. In most cases, the brief definition of cinematic refers to any video or film produced with the features of quality motion pictures. A cinematic-look video features unique storytelling (e.g. flashback, through characters, or chapters, etc.) and impresses viewers with thoughtful composition, delicate lighting, subtle color grading, proper sound, choreography, and other visual effects.”

Essentially, when you try to achieve a cinematic look, “the highest overall goal is to make your video look like what you see when you watch a feature film in a theater” (Motion Array).

So, sure, professional cameras will certainly help and so will the special effects. But a few big questions come up to mind here. Do you have the budget for professional equipment, and, after all, how do you use it? Should you leave that to a professional who already has such equipment? Secondly, isn’t it better to engage a professional on a freelance basis to make those cinematic visual effects?

But whichever route you decide to take, it is good to be aware of some of the basic techniques and what they will offer you.

This post has been updated in September 2021. 

Cinematic effects during the filming of the videos

The first thing that will help everybody involved in a video project is making sure that you have all the ideas down on paper. Fit and video makers call that process storyboarding.

“Storyboarding helps you to have a bird’s eye view of the creative vision that you have in mind, allowing you to stay on track and avoid some of the problems that come up when you’re working under pressure and deadlines. It can also help to communicate your ideas with your team as clearly as possible” (Wondershare Filmora).

When the ideas, script, and filming plan are ready, you can get to the actual shooting of your video. FlexClip lists the following steps during filming to make your videos look cinematic:

  • Framing the shots or making a proper film composition. Placing the actors and props in the right place is essential to filming. It helps to direct the audience’s attention and create visually appealing images. A go-to method is to use the rule of thirds (also known as the golden ratio).
    “Use the rule of thirds, dividing the frame into trisection vertically and horizontally separately. It’s better to place the subject on the cross point to emphasize the subject or highlight your theme and make the frame feel more comfortable and cinematic.”
  • Using a shallow depth of field video. “Shallow depth of field video enables you to make blurry backgrounds or blurry foregrounds. In this situation, viewers focus on the clear part of the image and make your video look more cinematic.”
  • Stabilizing the moving footage. “Having stable footage is one of the basics to tell if your film is amateur or professionally-made. The easiest way to achieve video stabilization is by using a stabilizer, such as a gimbal or a camera dolly (wheeled cart).”

More on effects during filming

  • The use of slow motion. Slow-motion is widely used in motion pictures to slow down a dramatic moment like the falling of raindrops, or the movement of the bullet as you have seen in the movie “The Matrix.”
  • Creating depth. Many amateur video makers resort to random zooming in or zooming out of the camera. This should not be done unless you are filming a very dynamic movement. “A cinematic video favors a 3-dimensional perspective and a smooth transition between different scenes.”
    According to Motion Array (above), creating depth basically means that you have one point of focus, and the rest is kind of out of focus, giving it a real 3D feeling.
  • Motion Array also adds few other tips to the ones provided by FlexClip, and one of those is using proper lighting. In most cases, using sunlight outdoors filming will do the trick. Inside shooting will need different lighting techniques and equipment. This is something that in most cases should be left to a professional.


Adding cinematic effects after filming

Very often, some of the better cinematic effects are those made after the filming of the video is complete. These effects come during a process that is also called post-production.

One such effect is color correction. This means that “you take the image you captured and shape it into the final product in terms of light and color (Motion Array, above). FlexClip also uses the term color grading. Generally, if you want to give your footage a more cinematic feel, you’re trying to achieve three things:

  • Contrast;
  • Separate your points of interest (also known as “making it pop”);
  • If you’re filming people, skin tones.

One of the elements that give a cinematic feel in post-production is adding the cinematic bar. These are those black bars at the top and the bottom of the (video) screen. “Your video can immediately trick your audience into thinking that they are watching a movie with the cinematic format (FlexClip).

Another post-production effect is using cinematic fonts. Which exact font you need depends on the theme of your movie, personal preference, and others. Some of the Hollywood favorites usually include The Bold Font, Museo Sans, Roboto, Didot, Adam Pro, Caviar Dreams, Banda, etc.

“In terms of cinematography, adding the proper cinematic music or soundtracks to your film can effectively heighten the atmosphere and shape the character’s emotional response and add a rhythm to the scenes, etc. That’s why Hollywood movie directors spend a large sum of money, hiring composers or instrumental soloists and professional band to tailor-make the original movie soundtracks.”

In this modern computer age, there is a plethora of film/video software that can add cinematic effects to videos. Such software can come in quite useful when you want to replicate the visual style of a specific movie.

How far can special effects take you?

Concluding the post-production elements you can add to make your videos more cinematic, we come to music and sound effects. As Wondershare Filmora notes, nothing creates a better cinematic atmosphere than a good soundtrack. “The special sound effects or music can set the mood of your entire video clip.”

Of course, when making videos that are not actually music videos themselves, you will most probably use pre-recorded music and sound effects. There, bear in mind that even music and sound effects that fall under the Creative Commons category have a certain level of copyright protection.

But talking overall about special effects, there remains one open question. How far can they take you? Filmmaker Simon Horrocks is of the opinion that making your film (or video) cinematic is not something that can be achieved by a few tricks learned from a 90-second video. For him, the answer is that there isn’t really one simple answer.

He takes into consideration that these days it is algorithms that mostly determine what cinematic is on the basis of what video gets most of the clicks online.

But then, the definitions of certain terms, including the one of what is cinematic change. For video makers, particularly those that have some part of their business involved in it, popularity is actually the element that can help cover the costs. Or, eventually, bring in some sort of a financial benefit.

Getting that cinematic feel – your way or professional way?

These days very good (read professional) video/film cameras are practically sophisticated computers themselves. Add to that the possibilities to add special effects and tricks through the use of specialized computer software. For example, through the use of rotoscoping, you can give animations in your videos life-like motions.

So, essentially, you can go at it by yourself. The problem is, can you do it just by using sophisticated equipment and software and some basic training? Can you do it just by watching that 90-second video Simon Horrock mentions?

The answer is – most probably not. Even the making of what could seem a ‘simple’ 30-second ad is a complicated process. From getting the right ideas on paper to turning them into a proper video script. Then, transforming that script into a perfectly executed video, adding special effects and music in post-production. Remember, you are after a ‘cinematic’ feel, after all.

So what is your solution? Obviously, throughout the process, you would need to enlist the services of a number of professionals. To that effect, you can go the really expensive way, or more budget-conscious way.

The more expensive way involves enlisting the services of a filming agency. The cost involved there are certainly high, even for the shortest video clip.

On the other hand, enlisting a number of freelancers, experienced professionals is probably a more budget-conscious way. At the same time, the results that such a team can come up with are very often on par with what a filming production company can come up with.

If the latter solution is the one you want to go with, BunnyStudio can provide practically all the services you might need. From scriptwriters to audio, video, and post-production. Get in touch with us, to discuss the possibilities.