Five Camera Blocking Myths – Directing Film

– Posted in: Directing Films and Videos Directing the Camera

Five Camera Blocking Myths:

1. Crossing the line is a bad thing.

2. It’s all about designing cool shots.

3. It’s all about getting full scene coverage.

4. Shooting full scene master shots is a must.

5. It’s essential to stick to your shooting plan.

In this post, I’ll help you develop a healthier, more productive way of looking at camera blocking.

Do you think healthier is an odd word to use when talking about camera blocking?

I did.  But after thinking about it, it is exactly the right word to use.

A person and a method must be healthy if it is to be sustained for long periods of time.  God knows, filmmakers need to be able to camera block all day: scene after scene, day after day.

Good camera blocking is key if a director wants to leverage cinema and communicate on a different level. We’ve all heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, a perfectly designed shot in your film is even more powerful than that!

The movie The Artist is a wonderful, Academy-Award winning silent film. Yes, it has a story and yes, it has an unfolding plot to follow. But, because it has no dialogue, each shot needed to be filled with emotion and needed to convey intent.

This is the language of cinema!

Body language and the way characters juxtapose themselves and within their environment speak volumes about what’s really happening behind the text. This is the subtext. Failure to camera block with this dynamic in mind and you’ve lost story momentum.

Every time they set up the camera, the director and/or director of photography decides what is important and what is not.

* This is key and the answer to myth two.

1. Crossing the line is a bad thing.

I’ve heard this a lot over the years and it’s false. Crossing the line without knowing you crossed it is bad.

Good scenes have actors crossing the line all the time. If you track when the cross happened and note the camera setup used to show the cross, you’ll be able to cover the cross with proper camera placement after the cross.

For those of you who don’t know what “crossing the line” means. 

A camera is setup on the wrong side of the line when it records the actor facing in the wrong “screen direction”.  For example, they are facing left when they should be facing right. 

2. It’s all about designing cool shots.

Cool shots are great. I used to live for them, but cool isn’t enough. The primary purpose of a “shot” is to serve your story. This may seem obvious, right? However, when you’re in the thick of things, the obvious is often forgotten.

Recently, I was working with a talented director of photography while designing a shot in a restaurant. He was showing me an idea for a “cool” dolly-move. The intent of the shot I wanted was to show a full, successful restaurant. The dolly-shot was very cool, and it showcased a busy dining room, but the intent wasn’t clear.

It showed numerous people sitting in a restaurant. It was dynamic, but it was too contained. Instead, we designed a simple three second over-the-shoulder shot of two guys entering the restaurant while a hostess greeted them.  Behind the hostess, the shot revealed an entire restaurant full of people having fun. It wasn’t as dynamic as the dolly-move, but it was more expansive and more effective.

3. It’s all about getting full scene coverage. 

Nope. It’s about capturing the right moments with the right shots. Getting full scene coverage might ensure you’ve “got it all” and you’ll find the good stuff in the edit room, but it also means you’ve overworked the actors, the crew and the editor.

Time spent shooting footage you don’t need has wasted a precious resource: time.

4. Shooting “full scene” master shots is a must. 

This is almost the same as number three, but it’s worth singling out. Master shots are one of the most over used things in indie filmmaking. They are safe and with the right coverage, you’ll be able to cut your scene.

The problem is, unless you’re Woody Allen or you just shoot like him, your master shots will potentially only be used in the beginning and possibly at the end of your scene.

New directors tend to overshoot when they’re not confident in their choices.

Don’t overshoot because you’re scared, do a script analysis and prepare a shooting plan instead. Identify the “scene beats” and design shots that engage the audience with the most important character at that particular moment – trust yourself.

5. It’s essential to stick to your shooting plan.

It’s essential to make a plan, but you don’t have to stick with it. If you or someone else has a better idea on-set, confirm it won’t take you off course, confirm the intent is as good or better than your original plan, and then thank them and use it.

Creating a shooting plan is incredibly important. As directors, we must develop an intimacy with the story material and with each of the main characters. This inside knowledge provides the kind of story and emotional energy that keeps the scene moving.

Once we’ve become intimate and confident, we can remain open to new ways of doing and shooting a scene.

If the actor asks, “what if I do this instead?” or the cinematographer asks, “what about this series of shots?”, you won’t be afraid to consider it.

We uncover insight by doing a director’s script analysis. During this process, a director uncovers subtext, facts and images. Once a director understands and embraces this, he or she can create a shooting plan that exploits it and engages their audience with sub-stories.

It’s your job as a director to know what the scene needs. A script analysis and a camera blocking plan will help you make informed, objective decisions based on what’s best for the story.

Do you do a script analysis before you design a shooting plan? Do you know how? Please leave a comment or question. We can all benefit from your input.

If this post sparked something inside you, then check out the Camera Blocking Essentials Workshop. It’s an online course that teaches you step by step how to design shots, create a shooting plan, as well as create an overhead floor plan. Don’t guess where the best place for the camera is. Understand the “why” and “how” of camera blocking so you can make your next film or video project better than your last.

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