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Blocking shots that you can't envision?


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For you narrative shooters out there. As you go through a script, how do you come up with shots that you can't see in the script?

For example, the script outlines a group getting out of a car. Five people complaining, one hiding a gun, another is sour at the driver, passenger 2 mocks the sour guy, passenger 3 stares at the driver. And each one has a line of dialogue before, during, or after their exit.

Do you simply follow the main character and not draw attention to all the script's other action/dialogue unless important (like the gun)? Or do you get "full coverage" and nab shots of everyone running their lines and action? What is your process that guides you through chaotic scenes with lots of elements?

See, I work in the commercial world, which is like an assembly line. You're given a shot list designed by the writer/producer with a specific purpose to sell products. So the shots are very predictable: A WS is the human with the product, MS is the product only, and CU are elements of the product (say the scrubby heads of a vacuum). And my creativity lives in the camera moves and angles for those shots and lighting. The action is simple. There is no character motivation or story.

On shorts I've done before, I could see the shots, and made blocking and framing action easy. But I've read narrative scenes in other scripts with lots of separated action or dialogue and I don't see it. Recently, I saw a shootout scene between soldiers and ghosts riddled with dialogue lines and complex action and I thought to myself, "There's no way I could come up with those shots."

To break down the soldier scene for example, there was a 180 line that camera lived on. And while it was no doubt multi-cam for each direction, there were lots of soldiers. And some of those shots were individual passes to get closer to each character. The movie was Spectral (2016) on Netflix, end of first act shootout.

Motivated character scenes with dialogue or action is easy. I can see them. But larger scenes, especially with general action and brief lines written into the script leave me with nothing to see. I get nervous and think I should stick to the mindless assembly line when I encounter scenes like this. How do you deal with this?

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I think this falls more into directorial territory, in the sense that the coverage they choose will depend on the tone and emphasis they want to deliver.

If it’s a Wes Anderson comedy, then the car scene you described might happen in a single wide shot in profile from middle of the street, starting static and then tracking on a dolly with the actors as they make their way down the sidewalk. 

If it’s a Spielberg thriller, then it might be a oner that starts inside the car, tracks across the rear view mirror, pulls out thru a window, glides across the bonnet, and pulls back to lead the actors down the street.

If it’s a Guy Richie gangster film, then it might be four angles in extreme slow motion with freeze frames and voice-overs. 

If it’s a Ridley Scott movie, it’ll be shot with four cameras! 

If you get a director who doesn’t have any visual ideas, then you’ve got to dig a little deeper into what the film is about and offer some suggestions.

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Well as a director I have the unique advantage that I'm also part DP and my wife is my DP on almost all of our projects.

I always try to do is envision the whole thing as a fluid thing and then go deeper into each scene with my DP and then I try to judge how much time an action that I want to show or some dialog takes up, so I usually have to act each part out. 

Of course it also has to do with how much budget you've got, which in my case is usually not a lot. 

So our last couple of projects I tried to do a few more complicated shots, like in a music video we had a tracking one shot with a lot of action happening like people crossing the frame or bikes riding past. I got the ida from an old movie I watched and thought that it looked like there were a lot of people there and with the whole pandemic business going on I wanted to limit the number of people on set. So the shot was a nice way to make it look like there were a lot of people there.

Then in a film we did we used an orbiting shot around two characters where in the second trun we hid one of the characters behind the camera as if she vanished. We actually came up with the idea when we were thinking on how to make one of the characters vanish without having to complicate too much. We tried it out first and it worked perfectly when cut with a wide shot. 

In both cases we tried the shot out first and then recreated it on set and I always had a backup shot ready in case the one I wanted wasn't working.

I'd have to know a little more about the story and scene to be able to come up with a shot. 

Hope it helps and good luck.

 

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4 minutes ago, Stephen Sanchez said:

@Satsuki Murashige I didn't consider the director's contribution. When you put it that way, this makes much more sense.

There’s also just plain time, budget, location, and actor restrictions too.

How do you shoot a car dialogue scene if you don’t have a permit to do car mounts and close roads?

Or get a shot of the hero returning home to his family after you’ve wrapped the main actor?

How do you film a couple’s argument scene if you’ve only got a loud MOS camera?

Sometimes, out of limitations comes creativity. 

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11 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

Sometimes, out of limitations comes creativity. 

Yeah. That is something I agree with 100% and a really good point. 🙂

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