Reading: Widescreen framing

I’ve been experimenting with widescreen format in my project and assignment films.

‘Widescreen cinema creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio. The screen becomes a band or strip, emphasizing horizontal compositions’ (Bordwell 2017 p.183).

‘By offering more image area, a widescreen format offers bigger challenges about guiding attention than does  the 1.37 ratio.’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But how do you compose for wide screen?

Bordwell suggests that while it is an obvious format for sweeping spectacles such as westerns, travelogues, musicals and historical epics, it raises questions about its use for ordinary dramatic conversations and more intimate encounters between characters.

One common solution has been to fill the frame with a face. The wide screen format challenges directors to design more screen-filling compositions. ‘They can’t be as compact as the deep-focus compositions of the 1940s, but they can achieve pictorial force’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But wide screen compositions can build up significant depth, even in a confined space.

Director’s multiply points of interest within the frame – requires care with staging and timing actors’   performances.

 

Gradation of emphasis

In his essay ‘CinemaScope: Before and After’ (1963), Charles Barr offers some interesting ideas about widescreen film. One of which he calls the gradation of emphasis:

‘The advantage of Scope [the 2.35:1 ratio] over even the wide screen of Hatari![shot in 1.85:1] is that it enables complex scenes to be covered even more naturally: detail can be integrated, and therefore perceived, in a still more realistic way. If I had to sum up its implications I would say that it gives a greater range for gradation of emphasis. . . The 1:1.33 screen is too much of an abstraction, compared with the way we normally see things, to admit easily the detail which can only be really effective if it is perceived qua casual detail’ (Quoted in Bordwell 2008).

Bordwell(1985) argues, when using widescreen format ‘the good director will not flaunt the ratio itself…the composition should enhance the narrative situation. As for participatory freedom, the widescreen allows the viewer to notice nuances of character interaction by virtue of the director’s gradation of emphasis’ (p.18).

 

Key points for me

  • Wide screen format creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio.
  • It emphasizes horizontal composition.
  • Can achieve pictorial force.
  • Can contain multiple points of interest within the frame.
  • Enables complex scenes to be covered more naturally – integrating detail in a more realistic way.
  • Contains a greater range of gradation of emphasis – while the 1.37 screen is too abstract compared to the way we normally see things.
  • The widescreen frame offers the viewer an experience in which they can see nuances of character interaction.

 


List of references

Barr, C. (1963) ‘Cinemascope: Before and After’ Film Quarterly, 16, 4, pp.4-24.

Bordwell, D. (1985) ‘Widescreen Aesthetics and Mise en Scene Criticism’ The Velvet Light Trap Review of Cinema No 21 At: http://www.davidbordwell.net/articles/Bordwell_Velvet%20Light%20Trap_no21_summer1985_118.pdf (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2008) ‘Gradation of emphasis, starring Glenn Ford’ At: http://www.davidbordwell.net/2008/11/13/gradation_of_emphasis_starring_glenn_ford (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2017) Film Art New York: McGraw Hill

John Smith – ‘Playing with the Power of Language’

John Smith is an artist filmmaker. He began making films when he was 18, at a time when ‘people were wanting to make work which was in opposition to mainstream cinema and particularly undermine the illusionism of cinema, and were reminded in whatever way that you were watching a film.’

 

The Girl Chewing Gum (1976)

He simply recorded what was going on in the street and then wrote a script which added voice-over directions to the film. I appears as if the actions you see in the film are being directed by an unseen film director.

  • ‘A film like The Girl Chewing Gum is in one way fitting into the ideas of that time. But it’s also playing with the power of language to condition how we actually see images, and that has a kind of humorous outcome…although it is a very, very serious film.’
  • ‘When I am editing, in my head I’ve got two parallel things going on, one is the image and one is the sound.’
  • ‘The dynamics of the film come from that relationship between image and sound, how one can be dominant at one point and one can be dominant at another…It’s completely intuitive. It’s just to do with how it feels, those balances between different things.’

Hotel Diaries (2001-07)

He was eager to take on the possibilities of the spontaneity of using handheld video cameras. Something that had not been possible when working with film.

The six year series of videos came about by accident while in Ireland for the Cork Film Festival. Britain and the US had just started bombing Afghanistan. He switched on the TV in his hotel room to find the image had frozen

  • ‘something which was possibly just a technical glitch was actually…I was finding traumatic…in my head I was thinking just how different my reality was from the innocent people in Afghanistan who were having bombs dropped on their heads.’
  • ‘having these contradictory things going in my head, I just got my camera out and just filmed the TV screen and had this stream of consciousness.’
  • ‘I really wanted to make work that looks like anybody can do it. I thought if I can make something which looks like a home video and I just forced myself to actually not edit it at all, so I’m going to say stupid things that I’m going to regret, I’m going to mess things up, and stuff like that, this should undermine any kind of potential didacticism.’
  • ‘and the work kind of intended to be conversational on an equal level with the audience, so like a lot of my work really, those videos were saying I’m bothered about this, what do you think?’

Dad’s Stick (2012)

His father showed him a cross-section of a stick he used to paint the house with, so you could all the different layers of paint.

  • ‘I found it really poignant. In a sense I felt like there was a whole history, an important part of someone’s life, that were encapsulated in this tiny little object.’
  • ‘When I put the stick in front of a magnifying lens, it become even more poignant for me, because I realised I was looking at colour that I remembered from fifty years ago.’

In recent years, his work has become shorter.

‘I like to think that I’m sort of distilling things down, that I’m making haikus now. But it might just be that I haven’t got the energy…’

 


List of references

TateShots (2018) ‘John Smith – Playing With the Power of Language’ At:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CciUtECXXNk (Accessed on 15 October 2018)

Reading: Seeing with your ears – Spielberg and sound design

There are three ways you can build up tension in a scene – camerawork, pace, music.

Films have two ways into your brain: eyes and ears. When you are watching a film, these two senses are interconnected.

The visual side of the film gets the most attention because it is in front of you. But the visuals are in many ways the ‘face of the operation’. The sound ‘is actually the puppet master, the one that really holds the power.’

Sound affects what you see and from what perspective you see it.

As soon as the audio starts, you should be placed within a perspective. The sound design picks specific sounds out to tell the story within the scene.

In film, you see with your ears. The power of sound design is its invisibility behind the image. If dialogue sounds close, then the viewer is close to the person that is speaking, wherever they are.

 

Example: Munich (2005) dir. Stephen Spielberg

The Assassins arrive outside an apartment building to detonate a hidden bomb.

The 4′ 50″ scene is without music and almost entirely without dialogue. How is the tension built within the scene?

By building a bed of constant, noisy, city ambiance, and singling out and stringing together like beads on a wire, key noises that the tell the story.

The background that Eric Bannagh and his team are going to assassinate a man in his home by getting him to answer a phone they have secretly installed a bomb in.

The string of isolated plot sounds

  • the car with the assassins arrives
  • the dialogue of the targets wife and young daughter, and their car going away
  • the coins and rotary phone that make the call
  • the priming of the detonator
  • the truck passing by

The first moment of trouble in the scene comes in sound. Up until this point in the scene, isolated noises represent the steps of the plan going smoothly. The truck passing by represents a break in that chain and a hitch in the plan. At this point the ambience outside starts to take on some strange qualities. There’s a high pitched whine, like a train stopping, on top of everything. Just like the moving truck blocks the assassins view, the movers talking keeps them from hearing the daughter’s car returning back to the apartment. We hear her footsteps, not her voice this time, which continue indoors. In the apartment the ambience is quiet. The incredible thing about this scene is that Spielberg builds the tension, not by working towards a great crescendo of noise, but by gradually subtracting elements. While the daughter is in the apartment, the danger is signalled by a single sound effect, the rotary dial of the telephone. The climax to the scene is silence. It’s a silence that works so well because it anticipates the noise of an explosion to come. At this point, the ambience has become really impressionistic. When it comes back in, it has echo that reverbs the hurried footsteps and an anxious siren. The whole sound universe corresponds in a way to the assassins, to their feelings and their nerves.

This scene is made with no dialogue, no music, just camera work and sound design.

 

Key points for me

When making a film always ask myself ‘what do my ears see?’ Because sound affects what the viewer sees and the perception from which they see it, I should build scenes using camera work and pace, and a sound design that carefully picks out key sounds to tell the story.

 


Nerdwriter (2018) Aeon At: https://aeon.co/videos/from-shifting-perspectives-to-shaping-scenes-how-sound-design-can-carry-a-film (Accessed on 14 October 2018)

Project 13: Soundscape

 

‘Soundscape’

NOTE: For full effect, please listen through headphones


 

Feeling very much out of my depth with this project, I jumped straight in by recording a variety of short and long sounds for the soundscape. The idea of manipulating  these sounds for the soundscape felt very alien to me. I couldn’t see how pulling and twisting them was going to produce a pleasing result.

 

Collecting sounds

All the sounds were recorded using the SoundDevices 633 mixer/recorder with Rode NTG-1 shotgun microphone. Except for three stereo sounds, ‘traffic’, ‘wind in trees’ and ‘a breath’, one of which I planned on using for the background track. These stereo sound tracks were recorded using an iPhone6 with a Rode i-XY stereo microphone attachment (see post ‘Field recording with the Rode i-XY‘.

Short sounds

  • light switch
  • footsteps on tarmac
  • footsteps on leaves
  • door squeak
  • wine glass
  • fridge door closing
  • metal gate slamming shut
  • dripping tap
  • chair scraping floor
  • a breath (stereo recording)

Long sounds

  • conversation (on radio)
  • inside fridge
  • kettle boiling
  • wind in trees (stereo recording)
  • traffic (stereo recording)

Not all the sounds were used in the final soundscape.

 

Editing in Pro Tools

I have decided to purchase a twelve month subscription to Pro Tools, as I know I will continue to use the software for sound editing. Having not used Pro Tools before, I needed to get to grips with the basic functions. The layout and controls are very different to what I am used to when mixing sound in Media Composer. Again, I feel a little out of my depth using Pro Tools.

My first attempt at assembling the soundscape was very poor. It felt shallow and uneventful, nothing more than a simple, joined-up sequence of sound effects with Delay and EQ. Something was missing, but I didn’t know what. So I began experimenting with the placement and juxtaposition of the sounds. Each sound was ‘treated’ with an EQ to remove high or low frequencies and a Delay for reverb effect. Pro Tools comes with a wide range of plugins for this. A range of factory presets within each plugin provides great creative flexibility when applying Delay and EQ to sounds. Through trial and error, I was able to create some unusual, but effective sounds.

 

The turning point in my investigation came when I realised I could create a ‘sound space’ – by first laying down one of the long stereo sounds for atmosphere, allowing it to run for the full length of the soundscape and applying the techniques suggested in the project brief (slowing it down to half speed; adding reverb and reducing the volume so it sat in the background) and then adding other sounds on top. So the whole thing would work together as one cohesive piece.

I also discovered I could blend two or three short sounds together, end to end for effect, or overlay two sounds to create a new one with a greater depth of character. It was only through trial and error like this, that I made any progress with the project.

As I was creating a soundscape with no corresponding picture, I realised I needed to treat this as a sound composition. Letting the sounds bounce off each other. Creating a sense of movement through the juxtaposition, blending and pace of sounds. Treated with a range of different EQ and Delay settings.

 

Sound selects and treatment

Audio 1

  • Track: ‘traffic’ (stereo)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio: 1.5  – reduced to half speed
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Stereo
  • Plugin: AIR Kill EQ; Preset: Kill and Boost Low
  • Gain: -3.8 dB

Audio 2

  • Track: ‘T16 – light switch’
  • Plugin: AIR Reverb; Preset: Basic Large
  • Gain: 0dB

Audio 3

  • Track: ‘T15 – fridge interior’
  • Plugin: Modulation/SciFi; Preset: Dirty Drums
  • Gain: +6dB

Audio 4

  • Track: ‘T06 – metal gate slamming shut’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘ T07 – footsteps – shoe on tarmac’
  • Plugin: Air Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: +2.6dB
  • Track: ‘T08 – footsteps – shoe on leaves’
  • Plugin: Air Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: -12dB
  • Track: ‘T18 – kettle boiling’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘T19 – fridge door closing’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB
  • Track: ‘T23 – chair scraping floor’
  • Plugin: AIR Dynamic Delay; Preset: Chaos After Loud
  • Gain: 0dB

Audio 5

  • Track: ‘T11 – conversation on LyricFM’
  • Plugin: EQ3 7-Band; Preset: Telephone-1
  • Gain: +6dB

Audio 6

  • Track: ‘a breath’ (stereo)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio 1.5 – reduced to half speed
  • Plugin: AIR Reverb; Preset: Cathedral
  • Gain: -6dB

Audio 7

  • Track: ‘traffic’ (right channel only)
  • Plugin: Time Compression Expansion; Ratio 1.5
  • Gain: +8.6dB

Master Fader

  • Plugin:AIR Reverb; Preset: Basic Medium

 

Finally, I applied a little reverb to all the sounds by adding the Reverb plugin to the Master Fader, and using the ‘Medium sized room’ preset. This has helped to gel them together and sound like they are all in the same acoustic space. The finished Soundscape was output as an MP3 audio file.

It’s amazing to think this soundscape has been made out of a handful of very ordinary sounds.

 

Exercise: Listening

One of the most memorable sound effects I can still hear even now, is the twang of the swinging door of the dining room in the hotel in Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953). A very distinct sound, caused by people walking through as it swings back and forth, closing with a whoomp. Sound effects like this help bring a film to life by building a sound picture of the story space.

Space 1: Attic office

Sounds:

  • ticking clock
  • passing cars
  • room ‘tone’ (?)

This space gives the impression of being a quiet room. The ticking clock adds to the atmosphere of the room, giving a strong sense of place. I had not expected to hear the sound of cars passing on the main road outside the estate. This shows clearly how no room is totally silent. I was also aware of some kind of room ‘tone’. This shows it that there is always some kind of background sound in a room, however quiet it might seem.

Space 2: Woods and stream, beside Edmondstown Road

Sounds:

  • water flowing
  • traffic – cars and lorries
  • a dog barking
  • breaks squeaking
  • birds
  • aeroplane

Surprisingly loud background sounds. Although varied, they were predominantly cars and lorries. Standing in the woods beside the stream, I had expected to be surrounded by woodland sounds (water, trees, birds). But, with the headphones on, I was surprised to hear how loud the road sounds were. Our brain filters out certain sounds, depending on our perception of the place in which we are standing.

This has been a very useful exercise, for several reasons.

It has shown me that every location comes with its own range of background sounds. Some expected, others not. That it is important to listen carefully to the sound space of a location in order to get a full picture of the place I would like to portray on film.

It has also shown me that relying solely on an ‘atmos’ track may not be the best thing to do, as it may contain sound elements that are irrelevant to the picture or are simply just distracting. A sound space is designed. This requires the recording of separate sound effects, that will then be manipulated in post-production to create the desired effect on the viewer’s experience of the film.