© 2015 ellathompson


Emmanuel Lubezki is pretty much the modern god of cinematography. His iconic long-take tracking shots are captivating and extraordinary and essentially works of art. A lot of the power in his cinematography often comes from the way the camerawork is reactionary to the space and characters.

One of the things that makes Lubezki’s cinematography so dynamic is its three-dimensional semblance. (Complete opposite of what Wes Anderson often goes for.) We are sucked right into the film world to a level that is almost physical. We are a participant. The camera is like a character. It has a persona. Lubezki really goes out of his way to convey the space’s and the characters’ feeling to the audience. There is such a physical emphasis on the space and this is what separates his style from that of other DPs. It’s almost like he’s tapping into our somatosensory system, rather than just optical. More accurately it’s our spatial awareness that he taps so well into. Which is ironic since he completely defies the ‘180 degree rule’ (supposed to stabilise our spatial orientation).

The camera movement usually seems to be based on the movement occurring within the frame. Lubezki projects the energy type of the scene right into the camerawork – even adopting the physicality of the characters – so that the audience directly feels and experiences where the scene is and what is happening. The viewer isn’t watching the movie; they are moving along with it.

Lubezki opts for wide angle lenses and shallow depths of field. The camera movement is generally smooth and kind of floats through the air. Handheld shake sometimes punctuates the scene – he uses it in moderation to specifically accent more rigorous action occurring within the frame. In fact, Lubezki has a tendency to gradually destabilise a scene (sometimes re-stabilising it again). He might start off smoothly floating, but then handheld shakes interrupt – matching the movement occurring within the frame – and he accelerates with this jerky disruption and the world breaks down into something that is physically unstable. And then he might collect the world again and return to the slow, smooth motion. Anyway, that’s a pattern I’ve noticed in some of his work. Obviously this can be seen this in opening scene of Gravity (2013). This movement approach also plays out in quite a few scenes in Birdman (2014).


If I go ahead with doing a Lubezki-inspired coverage style of the Hunger scene, I think I’d go best trying to base it on the camerawork in Birdman – since that film involves similar spaces and heavy dialogue. There is no doubt that this coverage style will be an enormous challenge and that I will struggle. But I’d really like to see what I could achieve with the skill/knowledge levels and equipment I have access to. I’m just curious. I want to try.

Since there is little motivating movement within my scene – it’s mostly just dialogue between characters seated at a table – I’ll need to really think about how I will move the camera and why. I also have to consider how I’ll achieve at least a vaguely smooth motion (i.e. I’m going to try to get my hands on some sort of steadycam stabiliser). Then I have to think about lighting – I’ll have to light it for multiple angles at once. Oh, and that’s another thing that’s really nice with Lubezki’s long-take tracking shots – part of the ‘movement’ comes from the changing lighting. So I’ll see if I can play with that idea as well. It will be an enormous challenge – choreographing everything and wrestling with lighting and focus and framing – but I’m excited to try.



A few long-take scenes to draw inspiration from:

Camerawork imitates motion of physical objects in that space. Imitates characters’ movements. Slow and steady at first. Smooth motion is disrupted. Movement becomes more pronounced and unstable and turbulent. This is how Lubezki so brilliantly paces a scene without editing (well, without cuts).


Love how the camera tracks backwards, framing the characters front-on, and then looks left for a moment (like a head turn / glance) and the characters escape us. Then we are tracking forwards, following their backs.


Example of how Lubezki uses handheld shake. Slight handheld shake at the beginning imitates the characters’ surfacing agitation and conflict. The camerawork is unsteady and reactionary because the characters are unstable, irrational, flawed, impulsive, and volatile. The camera takes up a physical impression of the characters’ demeanours – their psychological, emotional, social, physical states. So we get intimate insight into the characters and their relationship. It slowly inches closer to Sam during her speech. It reacts to her movements. It subtly jumps and jolts matching the rhythm of her dialogue delivery and accents her body language. All of the edginess in Sam’s actions and expressions, the camerawork adopts that physicality. It goes still when she stops. It moves with her. It’s such a cleverly paced scene because of the way it moves with the characters through their winding thoughts and feelings (and actual actions) – it plays with tension, building and dampening and exploding and slowing etc.


Smooth camerawork that embodies the lethargically disdainful, sarcastic, contemptuous attitudes of these mutually loathing characters. Again, the camera jolts at Riggan’s behaviours and adopts his physicality. The camera is acting/performing alongside the actor, pretty much transferring his actions to us. We are experiencing his movements as if we are doing them. Or as if we are on the receiving end of them. (As if we are right there with him.) I also love how the camera gets in tighter and then steps out wider from each character.


The camera moves so well with the actors as they move. We walk around the stage with the actors. And then we move with their dialogue. The camera is never really still. We might remain on a particular framing for a while but the camera is still moving. It’s not handheld shake though – Lubezki uses that sparingly. It’s slowly tracking in or out, left or right, rising up or down, etc. for a couple of inches and then enters another motion. The reason we feel like it’s remaining on a certain framing is because of the change in pace. That’s why pacing is so important with these long-takes – pacing of motion within and of the frame doesn’t just complement editing (/cuts) like normally; it has to replace the need for it. The varying movements act as transitions.

I love how the camerawork replicates the framing of each character in a shot / reverse shot kind of way – it maintains symmetry between its shots of each character. For example, the way that Riggan’s left OTS of Mike becomes a back-of-the-head shot, then a right OTS, then a silhouetted side profile two-shot, then reachers Mike’s left OTS of Riggan and lingers/slows/floats for a bit before circling around to his back-of-the-head shot and his right OTS, then floating back out to a wider shot, and then circling back in again to Riggan.

I’ll probably look to this scene most to inform my camerawork, since it’s a dialogue scene between two characters that remain in the same position when conversing. It also demonstrates how you can deal with having so much dialogue by transferring the energy in the dialogue to the camerawork, making the scene watchable/digestible.


(Also have to mention that this cinematography god high-fived me from the heavens when he liked my Instagram photo a few months ago and I will never get over it. Check it out –>)

Hbd 2 mi pa yo #dad #birthday #sideprofile

A photo posted by Ella Thompson (@ellasthompson) on

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