J. Thomas J. Thomas Music producer & aspiring writer

The big picture

Envisioning the Five C's

In 1995,¬†Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg launched the Dogme 95. It’s a movement which consists of filmmaking restrictions. One of them forbids the use of special lighting, although it is one of the foundations of cinematography. Only Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon has managed to use natural light throughout a large scale movie; the candlelit scenes used no artificial lighting and required a special Carl Zeiss lens with an aperture of f/0.7.

Another restriction is that the camera must be hand-held. As a result, the camera is never fully motionless (and you probably aren’t allowed to use a Steadicam either). This rule is the reason why I’d never be able to comply with the Dogme 95. The slightly unstable image caused by the shoulder-carried camera hints at a human presence and is prone to random errors.

It’s not unusual however to produce a great movie with only a hand-held camera, but unless you are Jean-Luc Godard who can make up for such a rudimentary setup by providing a incredible storyline with cunning details of intellectual background, you should stick to some elementary rules. By the way, Godard also experienced traveling and steady shots, to fit the needs of the storyline.

I believe directors should foresee the frame, and not decide upon the moment the position to adopt. Alfred Hitchcock is known to have extensively used storyboarding. It provides detailed visual guidelines prior to starting filming. It helps going from vision to conception. Ultimately, shooting the scene becomes merely the final step of a long process started long before.

Hitchcock actually doesn’t care much about the story. The plot is often left with holes for the audience to fill. His mastery lies in how it’s told.

The camera can be considered the only media between the director and his audience, and defines how he interacts with it. For any movie, the final result lies completely within the frame. Every visual element must fit in that rectangle.

The sequence of these images plays a big role in a film’s quality and consistency. It can spawn invaluable stories as well as destroy a great plot.

Nowadays, most movies carry an incredible amount of cuts. I wonder how the director can even picture the whole scene in his head before shooting it. He probably holds a rough idea of the storyline but probably decides upon the shooting on the fly.
I think too many cuts provides the audience with too much information. The whole thing is spread out before them. There remains no space for personal evaluation of the scene.
If you haven’t already, watch Rope for its exceptional use of cuts.

I believe any scene can be shot in a dozen different ways. But only 5 of them are good, and 2 perfect.