The Scene in Cinema Assignment 1

Weeks 1 & 2 Reflections

This is my second studio with Robin after taking Film Light with him last semester. I wanted to be in Robin’s studio again as it felt most relevant to what I want to get out of this degree – to learn about filmmaking. In Film Light Robin had a few classes where he would briefly teach camera coverage, and to me they were the most interesting and illuminating parts of the studio, so to hear that there would be an entire studio dedicated to just camera coverage was something that interested me greatly. I have also always paid close attention to camera coverage when watching a film, so to have Robin expand upon this will be very useful.

The technical lessons in learning about the camera I had already learnt about last semester, and I expected some repetition and overlap between Robin’s two studios, but it is always good to be refreshed on the foundations and to be confident and concrete in them. I am also not going into this studio expecting to gain primarily technical knowledge, unlike my desire to learn about practical lighting last semester. I am instead seeking to gain as much knowledge and perspective on the reasoning behind directors’ decisions in camera coverage.

A lot of the clips that Robin showed in class I had seen last semester, but there was a clip from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, that I had never seen before. I have seen some of his movies before, and they have often left me very unsure and confused. Robin then asked the class what they thought of it, to no answer, and then revealed that he too didn’t have any concrete thoughts of feelings about the shot or how it was covered.

I decided to watch the movie myself, and it wasn’t as if Syndromes and a Century was radically different from his other films, but having seen a clip of his in the context of a class about camera coverage I watching his film with much more sensitivity to why he always ops for these static long takes, and to me, I felt that Weerasethakul was interested in the idea of time, as a lot of other directors who go for these static long takes are. Perhaps the main focus of the coverage in the clip Robin showed wasn’t to place importance on the actors’ faces’, or on what they were saying, but in how time stretched and was perceived when watching it. This was so interesting to me because it was still coverage for a purpose (to emphasise time), just not in the way you would usually think (for example, to use a close up on a dramatic line of dialogue).

Reflections on Tom Reilly’s The Big Picture

Reading these two chapters on blocking I found a few things interesting. The first was how Tom Reilly said that many directors “pretty much give the set over to cast”, allowing for the blocking to be worked around the actors. This was surprising to me because I had previously thought that the vast majority of big directors would have practiced the more pre-meditated type of blocking that Reilly talks about later, mainly through his experiences with Woody Allen.

I personally have always preferred to practice the latter method. I find that this way allows for the blocking to be much more thought out and to therefore have more time to link it thoughtfully to story or thematic concerns, as well as just being safer and more efficient.

Scene Analysis – 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

This is a scene in Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum where the father has just returned from work where he has witnessed one of his friends dying, and the daughter presumably knowing this as well, or at least sensing it. All that we can confidently gather from this scene is that the daughter has cooked for her father perhaps in some way to comfort and console him. It is unclear exactly what the characters know, and it is typical of Claire Denis to be very spare in her storytelling. I have chosen this scene to analyse because it is a good example of camera coverage that allows for subtlety and nuance, as well as remaining observational. There are hardly any lines spoken, therefore the camera coverage operates differently from what you might see in a standard conversation scene.

This scene is done in one shot, and only ever pans slightly to accomodate the actors’ movements. It also does a reframing, the beginning frame has a single shot of the daughter to the right of screen and the fridge taking up the left of screen. She moves away from the camera where we get a small pan along with the second frame: the father is revealed to be cooking and the daughter now occupies the left of frame.

In a scene where the words mean very little, the camera coverage must make sure to capture everything else: the faces and the body movements. In this new frame we are now given a two-shot that holds the benefit of allow us to see both actors’ faces, and Denis makes the scene more interesting by placing the daughter in profile and the father looking at her almost front on. This keeps the blocking natural while allowing the audience to see action and reaction without having to cut into shot/reverse-shot. Although the daughter does eventually turn away from the camera, this is somewhat compensated for with body language, she holds her fingers up to her mouth, and we can still see it even with her back turned to the camera. Finally, the father and daughter embrace as the camera pans slightly again to have them be centred while embracing.

The camera never cutting or moving much keeps the audience at a reasonable distance where they may feel more like observers as opposed to direct participants. The characters are given space to exist within the frame without too much interference.

This is a very restrained example of camera coverage, and what is to be taken away from it is that if the coverage is to be restrained, then perhaps it is an opportunity to interest the audience in other areas. In this scene the actors are moving, doing something with their bodies (eating) down to using their vibrantly coloured t-shirts – these are all things that can now take larger prominence thanks to the restraint of the coverage.