Since this week I’m taking a small break, as I get ready to get back to work on TS3 for our last few months, I figured I’d write about something I’ve been reading and studying about a lot recently in terms of planning and shooting.

It’s been more than interesting to figure out ways to combine multiple ideas in a shot, and see how it would play out in a full scene. So far until not long ago I kept thinking about one idea per shot, meaning something happens in shot A, then something else happens in shot B…then shot C….and it’d be the juxtaposition of those shots that give meaning to a scene.

However, I started running into the issue of a scene being a little too static, or the scene not being broken up enough from a shot structure point of view. Some stuff just felt plain boring to watch. All of a sudden, when planning animatics I’d find myself having separate shots and a scene that didn’t feel dynamic. To put it simply, the scene would lack a lot of interest from a shot structure.

I continued researching different films to see what different Directors and/or DPs would do with their scenes. Also, at one point, Sharon Calahan (Director of Photography at Pixar), a truly wonderful person and very very helpful to me lately, brought up to me the idea of combining separate ideas into single shots. That soon made me want to go back to studying films thinking about that. Not only it would allow to simplifying sequences and be more practical in the number of setups, but also would add a bit more interest when putting the shots together. Easier said than done. When working on the Shortfilm, I found out that time on the set is more than a luxury sometimes especially when working with kids. Because of this, we weren’t able to have the flexibility of working out some of the camera setups my DP Tiffany and me originally had in mind. Very difficult stuff.

However, it was still a huge learning experience to plan as if we would be able to nevertheless.
So with that in mind, I wanted to show an example I found very useful in learning about combining separate ideas into one single shot by a great use of camera work/leading the eye to where it needs as well as some great character staging choices.

The movie is Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946). If you haven’t watched it, do watch it before to avoid spoilers. Here is a section towards the end of the film.

The middle shot while it may seem simple now, but it was quite eye opening for me.
We learn than the bad guy here (Sebastian) just found out that Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is an american agent spying on him. So him and his mother decide to take some slow measures towards her and start to poison her.

This shot starts out with a relaxed 3/4 MS shot of Sebastian. What starts out as a simple dialogue exchange (where you almost expect to cut to the opposite 3/4 shot of Alicia) all of a sudden brings attention to what’s really going on, the coffee. The camera tracks straight to the coffee and holds there. We don’t see anyone putting poison on the coffee. But we get it. When Alicia is first talking, the camera is still on Sebastian, not her…for a reason. Then the camera while she’s still talking, goes to the coffee, not her. We then see Alicia drinking the coffee, and right away the camera tracks from her face to a profile shot of the mother. Since the mother is in profile, we are pretty removed from her eyeline. I’m guessing this was done in purpose to have her in profile as opposed to an eyeline closer to us.

So in just one shot we get:

  • Sebastian starts to get Alicia to drink coffee
  • He’s pretending nothing out of the ordinary is going on
  • This coffee is poisoned
  • Alicia has no idea what’s going on
  • Sebastian’s mother is also in it

Anyways, this series of moving tracks from one character, to the coffee, to the other character to the final character in a way it could almost be a bit too on the nose nowadays…However, for my purposes, it taught me a lot. It goes back to:

  • What’s the point of the shot
  • How can you say it in an interesting way
  • How can you add suspense and drama out of the characters

To name a few. Then, back to the combination of ideas into single shots, I’d add:

  • How can I simplify the number of shots in a scene so that’s not too many.
  • How can I cover more than one story point in a shot without making it too busy/distracting, and instead make the shot more interesting visually?
  • How can I improve the timing/pacing of the scene by doing this throughout?

Anyways, I hope this stuff is as helpful to you as it’s been to me studying them.