I began by looking back at some films that might fit with my film’s message and captured screenshots of things that stood out for me.
I have a general sense of what I am looking for, but working in this way is helping me to refine the vague picture I had in my head. Interestingly, it has provided me with options I hadn’t thought of before.
This is a time consuming, but extremely fruitful process.
I also looked at Christopher Kenworthy’s series of ‘Master Shots’ books. There are currently three books in the series, each one a thorough manual on how to think about cinematic storytelling from the camera’s perspective.
Taking the script as my blueprint for the moving image, I went through each scene in my screenplay looking for ways to tell the story in a way that would be visually interesting and compelling for the viewer.
Opening Scene (scene 1) – Two women on a sofa
One idea I have for the opening scene is to shoot the entire action in one long take.
Using a wide shot and shooting a long take would allow the viewer to read the subtext behind the action without the camera telling them where to look and who to look at.
Some notable examples of this style can be found in films by Roy Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and Joann Hogg.
Car Sequence (scenes 2, 3 & 4)
I also looked at more specific ways of designing the shots for the car sequence at the start of the film, by looking at some of the ways in which other filmmakers have approached shooting dialogue scenes in cars.
I think it would be nice to match shot the image of the mother and daughter on the sofa (scene 1) with them in the car (scene 2). Mother on the left and daughter on the right. Both silent, locked in their own individual worlds.
The first was a two shot through the windscreen. A fairly common camera set-up. But it was only after placing two shots from two films by Richard Linklater side by side, that I realised the shots (fig. 2) contained very subtle differences in camera set-up.
At first glance, you could be mistaken for thinking the camera was placed in the centre of the car’s bonnet. On closer analysis, it becomes clear that the camera is placed to one side of the bonnet. While the actors are positioned symmetrically within the frame, the shot itself is not a full-on symmetrical image. There is a slight angle on the z-axis. This subtle shift in camera placement changes the emphasis of the image.
In the shot from ‘Before Midnight’, the camera is positioned on the left side of the bonnet, in line with the passenger. While in the shot from ‘Boyhood’, the camera is positioned on the right side of the bonnet, in line with the driver. This results in a subtle difference in the feel of each shot. As a viewer, I felt ‘closer’ to the actor in line with the camera.
In ‘Before Midnight’, we are listening to the female character, while watching the male character’s reactions to what she is saying. In ‘Boyhood’, we are watching the male character’s response to the female character talking. In each case, the emphasis is placed upon whichever character is ‘closer’ to the camera. A very subtle difference in camera set-up, resulting in a specific emotional response in the viewer.
However, to set-up this shot would require using a car-mount on the bonnet.
An alternative way of shooting dialogue scenes inside a car, suggested by Christopher Kenworthy (2012), is to place the camera in the back seat and position the camera on the opposite side of the car to the actor (fig. 3).
This camera set-up avoids the need for a car-mount on the bonnet. When framing these shots, the driver needs to be framed hard on the left, and the passenger needs to be framed hard on the right. Kenworthy suggests giving the actors ‘plenty of motivation to look at each other; this shouldn’t be a casual chat, but a conversation that forces them to make eye contact’ (Kenworthy 2012, p.160).
The car sequence in this assignment film ends with the daughter getting out of the car and the mother calling her back. Again, Kenworthy suggests a way of shooting a scene in which one character is inside the car and the other is outside (fig. 4).
A film with a similar look and feel to that which I am aiming to achieve is Certain Women (2017), directed by Kelly Reichardt. I re-watched the film paying particular attention to Reichardt’s approach to composition and her use of colour and light.
List of References
Kenworthy, C. 2011 Master Shots Volume 2: 100 ways to shoot great dialogue scenes Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions
Kenworthy, C. 2012 Master Shots: 100 advanced camera techniques 2nd edition. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions
Torgovnik May, K. 2017 ‘How color helps a movie tell its story’ On: Ted, April 5, 2017 [Website] At: https//ideas.ted.com/how-color-helps-a-movie-tell-its-story [Accessed on 31 May 2018]
Van Duersen, L. & de Vries, M. 2013 Robbie Muller: Cinematography JRP Ringier
List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Visual reference material. Annotated screenshots from ‘Before Midnight’ (2013) and ‘Boyhood’ (2014) Dir. Richard Linklater.
Figure 2. Visual reference material. Annotated screenshots from ‘White Oleander’ (2002) Dir. Peter Kosminsky.
Figure 3. Visual reference material. Annotated screenshots from ‘Murder by Numbers’ (2002) Dir. Barbet Schroeder.
Figure 4. Still from Certain Women (2017) Dir. Kelly Reichardt. At: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4468634/mediaviewer/rm3608941824 [Accessed on 2 September 2018]
Figure 5. Still from Certain Women (2017) Dir. Kelly Reichardt. At: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4468634/mediaviewer/rm3608941824 [Accessed on 2 September 2018]