Reflections on Exercise 2
Although for some others in the class who are more comfortable with the technical side of filmmaking, where this exercise may be rudimentary for them, these exercises are really valuable for me, as I have never been confident with my understanding and competency with light. This made it good that there were other people in my group that had a strong idea of what they were doing, and at this stage, I really did prefer to watch them and their process first before attempting to do it myself.
I would say that our group was mostly successful in following the exercise brief, however, carefully reading the instructions next time and really considering what they are will definitely help out and make things run smoother. for example, reading the instructions carefully in the second exercise that we shot (the Emmaline exercise), would have made us realise that certain elements were not necessary to be shown, like the window in the reverse shot. Had we had a full awareness of this concept we would have been able to block our scene out much more pragmatically, as our insistence on getting the outside window in shot meant that we struggled very hard at getting an exposure that would not blow out the windows or underexpose the actors.
This was closely linked to our main problem and obstacle through the exercise: time. We ran overtime on both exercises and it made realise how much factors such as discipline and efficiency are skill sets that need to be learned, as well as skill sets that are essential to cinematography, despite not being thought of as inherently creative skills.
However, I must note that these problems would have mostly been nullified had we had more time for preparation, and this was not an exercise where we were to extensively plan what we were going to shoot. It was a much more instinctual process, and I guess in this case, it did not suit well.
Observing light in everyday life
I have begun to look at how light operates in the world in a much more analytical way. I would have said in a more mechanical way but that is not true. I have been looking at faces, people’s faces and seeing the different types of light that hits them. I look at how the way light hits their face makes me feel first, before trying to pick apart how exactly it gets to this place.
I have been noticing specifically daylight, and how it gives off a natural and clean feel to a person’s face. I have been actively trying to differentiate and figure out when it is direct sunlight and when it is daylight and have found that daylight, as it bounces around and wraps more kindly on a face, is pleasing to my eye.
Value in analysing paintings
Last assessment task we were asked to analyse the lighting in a painting that we could select. This was very interesting and valuable to me because I had never thought of paintings as a source to study and be inspired by the way that light is depicted in them. Especially paintings such as Caravaggio’s, which are notable for their striking depictions of light.
When trying to think of what scene or shot to analyse, I thought differently than I usually would. I did not go through my mind trying to think of the flashiest or most obvious and expressively lit scene I could remember, something so overt that it would be easy to tell that a lot of effort went into the lighting. Like a scene with many vivid, vibrant colours, or with sharp contrasts and striking shadows or fog or mist or whatever. I just tried to remember a scene that stuck out to me. Not because it was a real ‘cinematographer’s’ scene, but because it was just a scene I remembered and reacted to on a basis that is much more subconscious and instinctual. Because if it was stuck in my head for some reason, if I’m reacting to it, then there must be something that it is doing right, or something about it that affects me in a way I can’t readily articulate.
And that’s how I came to pick this scene of a young girl sitting on a chair outside, watching her father gardening, which is taken from Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, one of my very favourite films. It’s strange that I picked a scene from this movie, as I had never thought of this movie as a particularly visually striking film, at least not in the same way that say, a Tarkovsky or Fellini film is, I just thought it was a standard, non-obtrusively shot film. But I began to look back at the whole movie after being reminded of this shot that I am analysing and I am noticing a lot of visual subtlety that I don’t feel I was entirely conscious of when watching the film. It really is a gorgeous film, and one that can translate its visual flair in a very tasteful and restrained way. The frame compositions are always very balanced, the actors usually feel as if they share the frame with everyone and everything around them – a sense of space is very strongly felt throughout Edward Yang’s films.
I don’t even remember the context of the scene in terms of the plot, but the more I look into this short scene I can come up with a few reasons why it did stick in my mind, despite having no obvious reason to.
Firstly, this shot contains only one character, Ming, played by Lisa Yang. This is notable because throughout the film, most of the scenes contain more than one person. They provide multiple people moving around the same space – or frame. To see such a fixed and definitive frame of a singular character will make it stick out in comparison to the rest of the film. There are rarely any close ups in the four hour long film, and this is not because Yang wants to distance the audience, but because everything must be considered, and work together and relate to one another – person to object, or person to environment, or person to person.
This is why this scene stuck with me. It shares the concepts of what a close up should do – bring us into the character, let it be a moment where we can really hone in on the character, Mina, but it is not a close up, it is shot at a comparatively far distance, perhaps even farther than a mid shot, so we can focus on Mina, but also get a vivid sense of her place in the space and frame. Perhaps it feels like a close up because the shot directly preceding it is a long shot, and the comparative distances allow the viewer to feel things relatively.
The fact that it is shot at this distance means that there is more room to create a striking composition, which this scene accomplishes. It is really pleasing on the eyes. The trees on either side provide another nice frame within the frame, and there is a nice balance between Mina and the bed of flowers in the back. They pop out in vibrant red against the deep black of the coat draped on her. It is a harmonious and peaceful composition, much like the scene itself, and an almost Ozu-like composition with many planes of depth visible, as well as the water bottle to the right providing extra depth, much like how Ozu would use household items for the same effect of filling up the frame, while the wind’s soft movements give it a gentle dynamic.
To my eye it would seem as if Edward Yang has used a wide lens, maybe something between 15-25mm, although thats a complete guess. Everything is in focus, and there is a wide field of view with many aspects of the area and background packed in. This, again, works nicely with the observational feel that the film provides and the lack of a shallow depth of field makes sure that not one subject is too strongly prioritised over another.
If I had to guess, I would assume that there wasn’t too much artificial light in this scene, and that the key light is the natural sunlight. Although, I can estimate that it was either an overcast day or that they used some sort of black cardboard or anything to absorb and spread out some light while lighting Mina’s face. I assume that they did that because you can see with the harder shadows in the background that it does appear that the sun was out somewhat more than it would be on an overcast day, and that on Mina’s torso we can see the light hit her stronger than on her face, which is very evenly distributed, more underexposed and very soft.
Edward Yang cares about his characters, for each and every one of them, good or bad and he holds a deeply humanistic view throughout his films and treats all subjects in his films with care and understanding. When I think of great cinematography I think of this, and how Yang can communicate this, and while it can come out more obviously in scenes where people interact and are together, I can feel it just as much in scenes, like this one, when they are by themselves.