So many new filmmakers limit themselves to scenes where they plop the actors down across from one another. They set the camera on a tripod and they yell, ‘action’. The actors run their dialogue and that is pretty much it. This would not be a big problem, if it were not for the entire movie being full of talking heads. The movie resembles more of a documentary than a narrative feature. Blocking and camera techniques should be used to help tell the story and maximize performances. Blocking can save your film from boredom.
Go Handheld. Go handheld, but only if the movie calls for it. There is something that screams cinematic when you go handheld. Micro movements add to the scene’s cinematic signature and it’s a natural energy that seems to breathe life into the scene. There is also a certain familiarity and intimacy with handheld films. Check out some of my favorites – The Blair Witch Project, City of God, Children of Men, and Open Water.
Tracking Shot. Tracking shots are when the camera moves and follows the actors through the real life of the movie. They are generally long film takes but not always. A tracking shot can be a simple shot following the actor from point A to point B. They can also be more in depth and complicated. Check out, GoodFellas (1990) and The Shining (1980). In GoodFellas, the camera follows Henry Hill and his date Karen Friedman through the back of the Copacabana. In this complicated sequence we are introduced the criminal underworld and bear witness to the power and respect Hill has. In The Shining the camera follows a boy on a tricycle throughout the eerie empty hallways of the massive hotel. This is an iconic shot as the audience follows a child as he explores the hotel and his creepy interaction with the supernatural. Tracking shots can be a game changer in your film project.
Give your actors chores. If the scene takes place in the kitchen why not give one actor the blocking where they: wash dishes, make coffee, make dinner, or sweep the floor. The other actor enters, and the dialogue begins. In my experience the actor almost always gives a more believable performance if they have a playable action. Visually it’s more interesting when there is movement in the scene. You can decide if the actor continues the chore while running dialogue or stops when the dialogue continues. Or do the chores intermittently by stopping on certain lines and continuing other lines.
High Status/Low status. If one character is an employer, parent, or teacher and the other is an employee, child, or student the blocking should reflect that in the scene. It is normal for people to act or talk to authority figures in a particular manner. Why not show that in your movie? Mannerism and body language are tools directors and actors can use. If a scene opens on an employer and employee and the employer sits and puts his feet on the desk, the employer is at a high status and employee is at a low status. Let’s take this same scene and have the employee put his feet on the desk thereby reversing the statuses. If you can show how the status changes between the two characters as the film progresses, then you have a more compelling film. You have also showed the arc of both characters. We will explore character arcs in the next blog post.
These are not one size fit all solutions for your production but rather suggestions that can add some color to an uninspired film production. It can also lead you to your own discoveries or blocking and camera techniques.
As always be inspired, be encouraged, and be collaborative.