Does The “Cinematic Look” Actually Exist?

Recently I was interviewed for a research project about the “cinematic look” – A topic constantly debated by filmmakers.

The central question was simply what makes something cinematic?

And is there even such thing as a cinematic look?

Filmmakers have argued over this for years. It all started when large sensor DSLRs first hit the shelves, bringing new levels of image quality to the masses.

All of a sudden, everyone could capture shallow depth of field in high resolution. A look that previously could only be found in movies shot on 35mm film.

During this brief period, the term cinematic became nearly synonymous with shallow depth of field.

Slap on a long lens, open the aperture up all the way, hit record, and you’ve got yourself a cinematic image.

Or so many filmmakers thought….

It didn’t take long for the internet to get flooded with endless “cinematic” videos that were anything but. Sure, they were able to capture shallow depth of field, but the look had become ubiquitous.

At this point, shallow DOF was definitely used more in YouTube videos than actual feature films. Many of the latter were happy to use deep DOF wherever it made creative sense.

As the newer generation of filmmakers started to recognize this, many wondered – what is it then? What makes something cinematic, if not the depth?

Soon after, the next trend hit: 3 axis gimbals.

For the first time, a DIY filmmaker could capture a tracking shot as smoothly as a steadicam op. Inevitably, filmmakers repeated the same cycle, believing this was the key, and over-using it as a result.

Then it happened again with drones.

The newest tech was supposed to bring Hollywood level aerial coverage to the masses. Only, it mostly brought more overhead shots to wedding videos instead.

We’ve seen this pattern repeated time and time again. A technology emerges that allows filmmakers to capture shots that are reminiscent of major motion pictures.

But when that technology quickly becomes the de-facto standard, it no longer feels special once put to use.

This has led many filmmakers to argue that there is simply no such thing as the cinematic look. They think if it can’t be defined by the tools we are using, it just doesn’t exist.

That’s one theory.

Mine is different.

I very much believe the cinematic look does exist.

But I also believe the only tool that can get you there is your own mind.

Because there is only one thing that truly matters to the cinematic look:


Any project with true artistic intent can transcend into cinema. Period.

A black screen with brilliant sound design can be cinematic.

A found footage movie shot on an old DV cam can be cinematic. 

A no-budget film devoid of any camera movement can be cinematic.

It’s not about the technique being used. And it’s definitely not about how much money is being spent….

There are countless movies on Netflix produced for millions of dollars that are anything but cinematic.

And there are brilliant short films made for $0 floating around the internet that scream cinema.

The only difference is the intention.

Real artistry leads to cohesive choices in story, casting, camera, editing, music, and a thousand other variables that are constantly intersecting.

This all combines into something greater than the sum of the parts, elevating it into what we call a cinematic experience.

So for anyone who needs the reminder… The answer is not on B & H or Amazon. It is in your brain.

Intend to make art, and the cinema part will take care of itself. 

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About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!


  • Steve H.

    You did it again! You took a complex subject and stripped it down to its bare essence.

  • Clark Nikolai

    The term is becoming almost meaningless, or has so many different meanings that it’s hard to know what someone means when they say it. Such is the way of art I guess. Maybe they just need to articulate better what they are feeling.

    I think for some people (those starting out usually) the real motive is to become better or more important than they feel they are in their lives. One way is to accomplish something grand like making a “real” movie. I can’t fault people for that of course, I’ve been there and many have and it can lead to them making some great art but it can cause them to grasp at things to seek approval. If someone says that a certain lens, or camera or other element is what is needed to be “cinematic” (meaning look like a “real” movie) then they’ll spend a lot of effort trying to attain that.


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