How to Block a Shot like a Master Director

When it comes to directing, the fine art of blocking and composition is a skill set that separates a good filmmaker from a great filmmaker.

Blocking is cinematic choreography. Simply, it’s the precise movement of an actor in relation to the camera.

Think about it – who decides where and how actors will move during a scene and when and how they will deliver each line of dialogue. Answer: The Director. And how the director answers these questions will significantly shape a movie.

Most aspiring (and even some seasoned) filmmakers overlook the power of good blocking and they do so at their own expense – as well as that of the audience.

This superb video essay from Dan Fox delves into this much overlooked and under appreciated directing skill, and how the clever staging of actors and camera movement can enhance a cinematic moment and reel your audience in.

If you’re a budding filmmaker that wants to direct think carefully about every scene in your film. Think about different ways to direct, ways that don’t just involve a shot/reverse shot formula.

Seek inspiration from the films you love and don’t simply point the camera at ‘talking heads’. But above all – don’t be boring. Remember you’re telling a story and your direction is how you weave that story. If you’re asking people to spend their time and money – you better entertain them!

Watch. Enjoy and learn.

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How Hitchcock Blocks a Scene

Here’s a fantastic video breakdown by the one and only Nerdwriter on YouTube. He talks you through an early scene from the film Vertigo and discusses how Alfred Hitchcock says so much – not through dialogue but through the positioning of the actors.

I’ve embedded the video below, as you watch it ask yourself how you might block the scene, are you you’re pushing yourself beyond the mechanics of visual storytelling (wides, mids, close ups etc)? Good blocking of both actors and cameras is something we don’t see very often these days and it’s a great shame. Not only is it an incredibly valuable storytelling tool, but it requires consideration, understanding and mastery to implement successfully. Surely, at the end of it all, that’s what we’re all striving for.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, who are your other favourite directors for their blocking? Spielberg is our number 1. 

P.s. If you’re not currently subscribed to The Nerdwriter I’d highly recommend it; check him out for all things art, culture, politics and movies. Always an interesting watch!

How to Get Better at Anything: The Power of Inspiration & Action

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Hi all, hope you’re well. We’ve been in the thick of it recently, filming the first 14 night shoots for COSMOS in September and have plenty of content to come in regards to the film’s progress and tutorials. We can’t wait to get it out for you and hope it’ll prove useful for your filmmaking adventures!

For now though, here’s something slightly different. I wanted to briefly talk about the value of inspiration and the power of action; and how both of these are forces to be reckoned with when it comes to filmmaking (and any creative outlet really) and what benefits you gain from both.

Is there something that you want to get better at, advance your knowledge and understanding of? Something you want to truly master or even take the first steps towards learning? Is there also something that is holding you back, that voice in your head saying: “I’d love to do that but…” or “I’ve always wanted to try that but…”. It’s a common problem, people have that spark of excitement but struggle to nurture it into a roaring flame and instead put it off for another day or reside themselves to the fact that they’ve got other more important things to be doing. So what can we do to give us that extra drive, that push we need to get started?

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Creating Fantasy User Interfaces (FUIs)

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 15:
CREATING FANTASY USER INTERFACES (FUIs)


You’ve probably never heard the term ‘Fantasy User Interface’ but I can guarantee, you know exactly what one is.

An FUI is the super cool and futuristic computer display system found in movies, TV shows and computer games. Obviously these FUIs are not real computer programs but bespoke animations created with the purpose of helping tell the story. In modern filmmaking, most of these FUIs are added in post production but some films still feature on-set displays that the actors can interact with.

For COSMOS we need to create several FUIs of our own, and in researching the topic we found ourselves entering a vibrant sub-culture of FUI designers and admirers. If you’re interested in learning more about the cool user interfaces in your favourite movie, please check out Kit FUI which is basically an IMDb-like database for anything and everything FUI. You can also lose hours marvelling at the intricacy of these designs and enjoy the talents of their creators such as Jayse Hansen, OOOii and Mark Coleran.


 

green screenMoving onto COSMOS we need three different displays for the three main characters to work from. As discussed in a previous post about Building the Goodman Satellite in Blender, we’re big fans of practical and physical effects (for both photographic and budgetary reasons!). (more…)

Creating a Great Movie Poster

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 6:
CREATING THE POSTER


“This isn’t the film making business… it’s the film marketing business”
– Dov Simens, Line Producer

As we all know poster art is incredibly important. As filmmakers we have one opportunity to grab the audience’s attention and make them want to watch our movie. Big Hollywood productions spend millions on P&A (Print & Advertising), releasing an endless barrage of teaser, trailers, TV spots, posters, character posters and more… and it’s easy to understand why.

As Dov Simens’ quote above clearly states, the marketing men in Hollywood know that no matter how amazing your movie is, no matter how strong the script is or how flawless the visuals are, that if people don’t know your film exists or they aren’t excited to see it… then you may as well have not made the movie in the first place.

It is the film industry after all, the whole point of the business is to “put bums on seats” and make money. Now whether you’re driven by the dollar or not, it’s still important to make money, because making money from your film means you get to make more films – investors/production companies focus on the bottom line. Do you have money making potential?

Your films could be personal character dramas, inspired spiritual journeys or action packed adventures, but I think we’re all in agreement that when we make a film… we want people to see it!

So join me as I explore the wonderful world of movie posters and in the process show you how we made ours!

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5 Things You Should Know About Filming On Location

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As the old saying goes: “When you ASSUME, it makes an ASS of U and ME.”

Visasandpermits_thumbThe very first lesson I was taught on Day 1 as a Camera Assistant was to never assume anything! EVER! And when it comes to Filming Permits the same rule applies.

As Brits we say “It’s better to be safe than sorry” (with a cynically patronising smile) – You American’s have a more coloUrful and memorable approach with “COVER YOUR ASS!”… but the sentiment is the same.

Filming Permits not only protect onscreen talent/contributors and property owners but the Film Production as well, and without the correct Release Forms a project will not secure distribution.

Verbal contracts are NOT enough. You need it in black and white on the page in an irrevocable Release Form, signed and dated by the individual releasing their image or granting the right to film on their property. Release Forms specify key facts about the production such as:

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“Boilerplate” General Release

  • WHO WHAT is being filmed.
  • That the individual KNOWS they are being filmed.
  • WHERE they are being filmed.
  • WHEN they are being filmed.
  • WHY they are being filmed.
  • What PAYMENT they received for being filmed.
  • HOW you intend to use the footage.
  • What RIGHTS you have to the footage.
  • HOW LONG you have these footage rights.
  • In what MEDIA the footage will be used.
  • And is SIGNED and DATED by the individual being filmed or property/material owner agreeing all of the above.

If you’re filming material for commercial use, then you must have the correct documentation; once signed make copies! DO NOT lose or destroy your releases –  keep them forever!

So let’s take a look at the TOP 5 FILMING PERMITS you need to know about:  (more…)

5 Tips for Steady Shots Without a Tripod

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Picture this: you’re ‘runnin-and-gunnin’ and traveling light. You’ve left that bulky tripod behind and are going handheld. You’re thinking on your feet, acting on instinct, one eye welded to the viewfinder, the other open surveying the action around you – A one man crew on a mission – you versus the world!

Notripod_thumbHand Held shooting is a skill that can take a lifetime to master. Sometimes you need fast-paced dynamic shots, other times you need steady-as-a-rock footage. But whatever the stylistic requirements of the job, you need to be equipped to handle any situation that could (and often is) thrown your way!

Documentary filming is the breeding ground of cutting edge camera ops; countless Hollywood Cinematographers having been forged in the fierce fires of this filmmaking furnace. If your footage can (literally!) make the cut in the fly-on-the-wall arena then you’ll quickly become a highly valued member of any crew – trusted by Directors and Producers to get the shots no matter what.

So here are my TOP 5 TIPS for getting rock-steady shots without that pesky tripod:

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