I was happy with how my last practical project turned out. I think that I successfully accomplished what I set out to do and what I was curious in.
I chose to look into the discarding of the master shot as it seemed like the logical conclusion from my practical piece for Assignment 3. They both did no use the master shot, although whereas Assignment 3 had shots that were very segmented and mostly had close ups of details, Assignment 4 was an attempt to do the same thing but with less self-contained shots, and ones that had a sense of freedom and fluidity about them as opposed to rigidness and restraint.
When actually trying to visualise how I would execute this I gave myself a guideline that helped a lot as a constant reference point, which was to never repeat the same setup. This is one of the fundamental aspects that separated this assignment from the last, in that the last project had 5 very precise setups that were constantly referred back to, whereas this one had no repeating setups. It was interesting look at the two to see that they share the same foundation of having no master shot but can be executed in two polar opposite ways.
There are some things about the final piece which I think are flaws, and they are primarily just technical.
The first is the dirty lens/sensor. Usually I can get away with this but seeing as how I was shoot in broad daylight there was no hiding it. I’m not too fussed by it but it is a distraction.
The second major flaw/mistake are the reflections. I was shooting with glass in the background that was very dark, which means that reflections appear very visible. There is one shot where Kerry is walking away and begins to order the pizza on his phone where you can see Ryan in the reflection. Here you can see that Ryan is not facing where he should be at that exact time, and that he is acting as if he cannot be seen in the shot, which just breaks the immersion. Hopefully on first watch people do not notice this but having watched the footage so many times it is all that I can see.
I did have other takes which were better in other ways and worse in other ways. There was another take that did not have Ryan in the reflection but did have me in the reflection slightly. I decided that it was worse to see the cameraman than it was to see a continuity error in where the actor is placed so I went for the take that had Ryan in the reflection.
I guess the simple thing to fix all of this would just be to have more forethought and planning going into it but I think that it was more the fact that I just couldn’t see anything on the monitor. The sun was so bright and the screen on my camera wasn’t bright enough to match it so I was just barely seeing the outlines and shapes of the primary subjects. It was just impossible to be able to catch out the details of what was appearing in the reflection purely from the monitor. I did try to cover my head and the camera with a black shirt but that didn’t really help either. Next time I will just be hyper aware of when I am shooting in a space that is very susceptible to catching reflections.
I also became even more aware of how shooting in a reflection-susceptible environment will change how you can move and position the camera. There were a few shots where I originally wanted to move alongside either Kerry or Ryan with them in profile but after realising that this would result in me appearing in the reflection I had to opt to stay a bit behind the actor and to shoot on an angle.
Another thing that I think I would do differently if I could would be to control the performances a bit more. It was fine for the most part but Ryan asked if he could act a little silly and I said it was fine. Looking back though I wish I took the performances just a little bit more seriously and it wouldn’t have been hard to tell Ryan to just play it straight. I know that this leniency comes from a mentality that it is just an exercise but the silliness does take away from it just a little and it isn’t a bad thing to take every project or exercise, no matter how small, with the same tenacity as ay other project.
Some things that I was happy with regarding the product was the lighting of it.
I knew that I would be using some form of staging and I knew that I would have no option of pulling focus so that meant that I had to shoot somewhere that had enough light where I could shoot at a very closed aperture. I think that the closed aperture worked not just well logistically but I thought it looked very nice. I was really happy with how the highlights turned out, and the fact that everything was in focus meant that you could see the highlights bounce off of the edges of many things in full detail.
I was happy with how the colours turned out as well. I didn’t have to colour grade too much in post apart from boosting the yellow/orange in the mid-tones as everything was pretty well exposed, not needing to toy too much with contrast levels or saturation either.
The part that I’m most proud of with this piece isn’t the technical aspects at all but simply the découpage of it. It was very enjoyable as well as challenging to think of sufficient coverage that adhered to the restraint that I had imposed on myself. It was also extremely satisfying to know that everything cut together pretty much exactly as I had envisioned. It was a bit nerve wracking to know that you had no safety net of a master shot to return to, and that each shot had to build off the next, but the reward of the ease of editing with just placing one cut in front of another because you had done the work beforehand felt very satisfying.
I had begun and was initially interested in this form of coverage thinking of Jean Renoir, but coming out of it I realised that I was taking a lot of cues from Federico Fellini, mostly through the way I tried to move the camera.
There is one particular type of shot that I think I got from watching Fellini and those are the two shots of Kerry both when he’s walking away and when he’s walking back. Fellini would often just cut to a character as they are walking away, many times with the camera behind them, a lot of times there would also be a small ellipse in the cut, a bit of time would jump to when the character has already started moving, cutting out them going from stationary to walking, and this was a good way to help the scene feel alive and constantly moving. I also knew that to accomplish more smoothly that it would be easier to cut into this shot from a shot that did not include the moving character. It was easier to get away with an ellipse when we can’t see the sudden jump in time easily from shot to shot.
Overall I am very satisfied with this project and I think it has helped me become more confident in areas of découpage that I wasn’t previously, primarily, camera movement.
Link to final project:
This was a very difficult exercise to do, especially under the time allotted as it contained multiple scenes. In addition, the majority of the exercise was action-based, with little dialogue, something which I would say naturally needs more thought attached to its coverage, as there seems to be less restriction and endless possibilities in comparison to having dialogue, and oftentimes having too many choices when it comes to coverage can be very overwhelming.
I was an actor in this exercise as I hadn’t acted throughout the entire semester and thought it would be a nice change. Isaac and Sophia both directed different parts of the exercise. It was very interesting being an actor for this exercise as you basically have to trust that the director knows what they are doing the entire time and to just go along with it.
As Isaac was directing and shooting from quite a number of angles I was honestly a bit confused as to how it would all work and cut together, but once I saw the final product I was very impressed at how cohesive it felt.
I also enjoyed the music that was playing in the background, maybe we lucked out with it but it really gave the scene a melancholic feel that I did not see that strongly from just reading the script.
The group was also very efficient in how they were working, with everyone willing to play their role and listen to the director’s vision. Everyone seemed a lot more comfortable and confident than they were at the start of the semester and seemed eager to accomplish what they set out to do. It was a very nice exercise to end the studio on.
How has this studio affected my ideas of coverage?
I think that a good way to end my posts about this studio is to think about how it has changed or formed how I think I will undertake découpage into the future away from the studio. I think that I have formed a much clear idea of what I think I’m drawn towards in terms of découpage as a result of thinking about it so deeply for the past semester. If I had to describe it in broad terms I would say that I like découpage that is seamless and fluid, in the manner of not attracting attention to itself. I think this preference came about as I began to go through many of Jean Renoir’s films, and realising how fluid the coverage was. I remember I had seen a few of them a long time ago and was a little puzzled by the huge reputations attached to them, thinking that they didn’t have an obvious visual flair that lived up to the reputation and expectation that had been built around Renoir. It was a style that was not so distinctly obvious as Fellini’s, Welles’, Hitchcock’s or Kurosawa’s. However, this time watching Renoir I had realised that he did have a style, one that was actually very dense and intricate, but that it had the – now much more appreciated – benefit of being unobtrusive.
I viewed Renoir’s films in a much clearer light this time. With the aid of being able to pause his films at my command, I was able to see how thoughtful his selection of shots were, and I think that was has changed in helping me appreciate Renoir more than when I saw his films a while ago was that I really value style that is not so obvious and outwardly ostentatious. It can only be achieved with some form of humility, to not force your personality or style so strongly upon an audience, and the most admirable part of all this is that it all comes off as a style that has the grandeur of a master, but the outward presentation of humility, nonchalance and restraint.
Another reason why I think I came to the realisation that I am drawn to this type of invisible technique is that I have always naturally been drawn to Asian cinema, which, in very general terms, seems to practice restraint, simplicity and economy more than cinema from other cultures. This type of restraint complimented the unobtrusive aesthetic that I was naturally drawn to, with many Asian filmmakers implementing static shots, often with the intention of remaining observational and even-handed.
Where my thoughts on coverage over this semester changed, or rather merged with my preferences was that Renoir still shared the same invisibility that many Asian films had but also had a greater sense of fluidity, as well as a sense of active agency within the filmmaker. This isn’t to say that the Asian filmmakers were passive, more just that I came to the realisation that I didn’t have to be so strict and ascetic in style, that there was a kind of perfect medium of sorts that could be achieved.
Similar to how Renoir’s direction relies heavily on staging, though I was already very appreciative of it, during this semester I began to really admire classical Hollywood staging and coverage. Watching some films by Alexander Mackendrick, Orson Welles and Michael Curtiz all became very inspirational examples of the power that heavily blocked scenes could contain, and they all kind of followed in the tradition of Renoir, often employing the use of depth staging and subtle push-ins or panning and tilting to reframe a shot. I really liked this type of coverage as well because it seemed to be very economical, and decisive, and it would allow the actors to live and sink into a shot more, as opposed to the usual method of shot/reverse shot which needs a lot of fragmentation.
I think that this is why I was always drawn so much to Edward Yang’s style. When I had first watched his films I never noticed any style, but now having seen a few of them numerous times I can see that he is almost an exact synthesis of all that I have talked about. He employs the common Asian style of distant for the sake of remaining observational shots that were locked off and very controlled with the detailed staging and blocking that you would find in classical Hollywood films.
I had begun to think about coverage and découpage before I began this studio, but it would always have to be something that really felt self-educated. I searched the internet and commentaries for scraps of directors talking about why they selected this particular shot and what effect they hoped that shot would have on the audience, but it always felt strange that you really had to dig to find information on what is a very large part of a director’s job.
To hear that there would be a studio that would be dedicated to studying camera coverage seemed invaluable, and The Scene in Cinema managed to cover a lot of ground within the realm of coverage, but in the most inspiring way possible, it seemed to unearth just how much this aspect of filmmaking needs to be studied. Lessons would often end with questions, allowing us to think more in terms of why this particular style of coverage works in this particular way, and it was exciting to know that there was this huge, central part of filmmaking that was hard to grasp and mysterious and that it will be a lifelong pursuit to try to understand it.
One of the best ways to try to understand it is to go out and create something in response to it. There was an equal amount of focus spent on creating practical pieces, whether for our own assignments or for class exercises, and oftentimes these were made to help demystify a particular area of coverage that we felt drawn to or intrigued by. Then we would look back at our exercises and voice any observations we had about them. This system of providing feedback was also central to us gaining a greater understanding of the large topic of coverage, as perhaps coverage can come from as much an instinctual part of us as it can come from a cerebral part, so to go back and to pick apart what we had shot made some of the cerebral decisions clear as well as the instinctual.
The Scene in Cinema and Robin did a great job of attempting to present an under recognised and very elusive concept into a manageable and consumable area of study.