The Scene in Cinema Assignment 4

Final Project

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:

Exercise 14

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.

Exhibition Post

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.

The Scene in Cinema Assignment 3

The Scene in Cinema Assignment 3

Basic Research Project

For my research project I wanted to explore something that I felt very unsure of. I had been watching a lot of films by Robert Bresson recently, thinking that some were very underwhelming while others were amazing. This was interesting to me as I couldn’t really pick out why I liked one over the other exactly, and Bresson’s style didn’t vary much from film to film. So I decided to look a little bit into his form. A particularly useful video that I found was one by David Bordwell where he compared the different methods of analytical editing and constructive editing. Analytical editing was the method of introducing a space through an establishing/master shot and then going in to closer shots of that same space and ‘analysing’ them. Constructive editing didn’t use the master shot, and instead usually had a bunch of closer shots build off of one another, with the assumption that the audience could create meaning and link one shot to the other. It was a method that was pioneered in early American and Soviet cinema but it was the use of constructive editing by Bresson that I found interesting as he would use the opportunity of tighter shots as a tool to place emphasis on unconventional aspects of the body such as the face and legs as opposed to the face. Constructive editing was also a good way for Bresson’s films to constantly be invigorating, as the lack of a master shot meant that each shot had to ‘progress’ into another, without any safety net of a master.

With all this in mind, I wanted to do something along these lines for my own research project. I didn’t think I could achieve the sophistication of constantly progressing and compounding one shot into another in the way that Bresson and Renoir did so I just tried to simplify it a little bit into this specific goal: Create a scene without a master shot.

I chose the simple action of two people eating almonds as I wanted an action where the actors would be able to use their hands – keeping in mind Bresson’s utilisation of the hand – and picking up and eating almonds seemed like a good choice.

I knew that to make a scene without a master shot I had to understand a few things. One was that the audience will be able to fill in a lot of the gaps through common sense and understanding eyelines and screen direction. I also thought it would be easier to follow if I established some rules (or habits) of screen direction. For example, a hand comes in from the right of frame to pick up an almond, the next shot is a man eating that almond in profile faced towards the left of frame. Although we don’t see the plate and the face in the same frame ever, we now know where the actor is placed in relation to the space. The same goes for the other actor in reverse.

I thought that as I was already relying so much on eyelines to help orient space, and with so much focus on them, that I would take the chance to double up and think of a scene in which the eyes had to communicate a lot. There is only one word spoken in the scene and I think I tried to make the rest of the information be communicated through the hands and the eyes.

A few things that I think I could have improved with the scene would be to direct my actors’ eyes more. I found that because I didn’t tell either of them that much about how to control where there eyes look and how long they should be looking, that I was limited a lot in editing. There were a few moments in which I wish I had Ryan’s character look for a little longer.

I also don’t really know if this is a mistake exactly but I tried something which I was not entirely sure would work in the end. This was that Kerry’s close is a lot more front on than Ryan’s. My reason for doing this at the time is that Kerry holds the only word and therefore the most dramatic moment of the scene, and that I thought he deserved a slightly more intense framing than Ryan’s, who is covered from an angle that is further from the middle, and therefore less in-your-face. In the end I don’t find the difference in angle distracting as eyelines still match but I wonder if others watching find it off-putting.

Exercise 10 Reflection

This was probably the most satisfied I’ve been with a group exercise. Things went smooth the entire time and the group came in with a plan of what they wanted already. Sophia was the one who had written a storyboard already so she naturally fit into the role of director. She made many good decisions that I don’t think I would have thought of. One of them was for Brigid’s character to cross over to Isaac to pick up the landline. I had originally though to just have the landline be right next to her cellphone and bag as I thought it would be more convenient if she didn’t have to move much, but seeing Sophia’s way, the added reason to move made the scene much more dynamic in terms of blocking, and at little extra cost (a simple pan). I also liked that there was an insert of Brigid going through her phone settings. I have a natural tendency to want to leave things in the master shot, as I usually don’t think cutting in all the time makes that much of a difference, so my original thought was to just have Brigid check her phone in the master and then just do the crossover past Isaac. Seeing the edited version with the insert I think it worked much better and got rid of any possible confusion as to why she checks her phone and puts it back into her bag.

I think that the insert worked for this because the scene had already made several cuts. It starts on a close up of Isaac doing the crossword and also has the closeup of Brigid looking out of the window. I think my natural aversion to the insert happened only because I was thinking as if the entire scene was shot how I usually would like – in one master – only with the insert included. This would have been very wonky and jarring as the entire scene would have been consistent in the master only with this one close up insert sticking out badly. In the realised product the coverage had already been established and therefore the insert worked fine.

Dancer in the Dark

I had recently watched Dancer in the Dark for a second time. It is a movie that I think will elicit a strong reaction on either spectrum, and however unsure I was if I actually liked the movie or found it frustrating first time round, I think the second time I feel more confident in my admiration for the film. I think to explain why I’m talking about this film, and am so interested in it, and how it makes me ultimately think of courage, I want to talk about what I think or felt Lars Von Trier is going for (or what gimmick he is implementing if you are one of those who does not buy it).

Through most of the films I’ve seen of his, there is a huge emphasis placed on restriction, or rather, obstruction, and I think that he purposefully obstructs his films in the hopes that it will concentrate the attention on another aspect of the medium. For example, the handheld camera movements, the lack of clean audio transition between cuts and the absence of any altered lighting in his preceding film The Idiots is there so that you will pay attention to the performances and the story – two things which Von Trier values above all else. Von Trier hopes that because everything else is so horrible, you have no choice but to funnel your attention to the actors and the story. This is Von Trier’s gimmick. For me, I think The Idiots is a complete failure and a painful watch. The obstructions aren’t obstructions but simply distracting and bad, so much so that I don’t even care what merit the performances or story may have offered.

Dancer in the Dark inherits more or less the same principles but with perfect execution. It may be because it is not so extreme in its adherence to Von Triers philosophy, it is more than presentable in its aesthetic. To me, why the film is so successful in its impact is because all the restrictions and obstructions do bring out the most in the story and performance, but perhaps what I find so interesting about the film is that Von Trier is essentially letting the viewer know the entire film that everything is contrived and shoving the artifice of film right in the audience’s face. The plot is completely implausible on any realistic level and serves only to bring misery upon the main character, the dance numbers are filmed on stationary digital cameras that have a very ‘fake’ and ‘cheap’ look to them, and the editing is extremely jarring.

With all this Von Trier is upfront about his manipulation, as well as cinema’s inherent manipulation, and it is almost a joke that he plays to the audience that even though every bit of this film is so undeniably fake and manipulative, you are still going to care, and you are still going to be devastated by the end, and I guess the entire film kind of rests on this hope that the audience will care. At least to me, once I became aware of this, and once I bought into it and accepted the artifice, the film became so much more powerful. I asked myself why was this film so impressionable on me, and a lot has to be given to Bjork’s performance which gains so much power out of how sharply it clashes with the film’s aesthetic. It is pure and innocent while the film and Von Trier are conniving and manipulative.

Now to stop this from becoming simply a review I’ll try to circle it back to how the film takes these concepts and applies it to coverage. The most obvious thing to talk about is the editing and the lack of adherence to spatial continuity and convention, the 180 degree rule is broken throughout the entire film. But is a rule really being broken in this film, or is it simply following and establishing its own set of conventions? It is unlike the breaking of the line in The Shining where the rest of the film does not break the line and that the one shot that does is supposed to be incredibly jarring. Dancer in the Dark operates like this for the entire film, therefore it is less like it is breaking a rule and more as if it has never even acknowledged the rule. Perhaps this is why the film is so frustrating on first watch and easier to grasp on the subsequent viewings. In a way, the viewer on second watch has now been accustomed to convention, only its Von Trier’s specific conventions.

I know this didn’t have a great deal to do with coverage but I chose to write about this film because it excited me. It inspired me and although this style is so far removed from my own personal style it has allowed me to think greatly, and more valuably, feel even more. Von Trier doesn’t always pull off what he cleverly tries to go for but this is one where the gimmick works, which I guess means that it is isn’t a gimmick.

Thoughts and plans for Assignment 4

With Assignment 4 approaching I have been thinking about what I should do. It wasn’t too attractive to me to just go off and explore a completely new area of coverage, as that would essentially just feel like I’ve done two Assignment 3’s. So I’ve tried to think of Assignment 4 as more of a progression of Assignment 3, a more advanced version. In thinking along these lines and exploring constructive editing and the abolishment of the master I have thought a lot about Jean Renoir. The article that Paul Schrader wrote breaking down his coverage was incredibly interesting to me and Renoir has been a filmmaker that I have explored a lot of recently so it seems natural that I would try to study him in detail next. It kind of takes what I have tried to achieve in Assignment 3 a lot further. I wrote in my reflection for Assignment 3 that I didn’t think I was skilled enough to conjure up coverage that would progress and move through the scene, and opted for the conservative goal of simply showing a scene with no master shot, so I think this would be a good challenge for me to do next.

A large part of why this style is so attractive to me is that it very inconspicuous. The first time I watch The Rules of the Game it did not feel to me as if it had any style at all, and it was only the second time that I saw it as well as read up on it that I understood the intricacies of its form. This is a style that I would want to implement myself, something that is interesting, well-crafted without drawing attention to itself, and ultimately for the benefit of the entire film, and to take this on as an experiment will help me learn more about how to execute it myself in my own projects.

The Scene in Cinema Assignment 2

Exercise 3 Reflection

For Exercise 3 I was working with Sophia, and as I had already done Exercise 3 last semester in Robin’s studio I thought it would make more sense if Sophia controlled the camera and I could just help out if there were any questions. Instead of focusing the writing more on what I learned in this exercise, I thought an interesting way to look at it would be to compare it to how I did the exercise last semester.

One thing that I notice is that I am a lot more confident with the camera, and just the exercises in general. Last semester in the beginning I would always find the exercises intimidating, and the interesting thing is that I don’t think the confidence has come from knowing how to use the camera and knowing where all the buttons are, but instead just from the fact that I have always managed to get the exercises done. The familiarity with the idea of tackling a problem/exercise has made me confident more so than a practical understanding of the camera.

I actually liked the end result of the exercise more than how it turned out last semester. I think a large part of this has to do with the location that we chose. Last time we chose a library and it wasn’t so much that it was a bad location, it was more that the location that we chose this time was more interesting. The background had an electronic sign that really gave the frame more depth as well as being a good signifier or point of comparison between the deep and shallow depths of field. There was also a downlight that we thought looked interesting. We opted to go for the interesting downlight at the risk of underexposure and I think it turned out well.

Exercise 5 Reflection

For this exercise we were given one page of a script and then went outside to cover it. This was a fun and engaging exercise and after doing a lot of theoretical analysis, I felt prepared to apply it practically. Our group decided on the coverage by planning what we wanted beforehand, going through questions regarding what we need and want to show, as well as if we want clean shots or over-the-shoulder shots, and if we wanted a shallow or deep depth of field. We then calculated that we would need four set ups and then went outside to being shooting.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the entire exercise was finding a good location to film in. We went upstairs and into the main areas but found that there were either no unoccupied spaces or that it was too noisey or that there was difficult lighting.

The shooting went smoothly as everyone fulfilled their role well and we managed to finish 15 minutes early. This is most likely attributed to the fact that our group knew exactly how many shots we wanted and simply executed a plan.

We reviewed the final product in class today only to realise that there was a jarring edit regarding the action and screen direction. Lili had entered from the opposite side of the screen that Khang was looking at and it resulted in action that didn’t logically make sense to our eyes. This was valuable for Robin to point out as I really don’t think it would have ever been something that I could have picked out in the moment when filming and it was only ever something that I think I could have learned through making the mistake.

What do I think coverage means?

When I think of camera coverage the most instinctual and surface level definition that comes to my mind is simply what the director chooses to show as well as what they choose to leave out. In my mind as well I have always thought of it in a more strict story sense, as how to adequately cover what the story needs.

Robin had another perspective to coverage and giving it more thought and really thinking about it I should perceive it more as how to adequately cover a film. I never exactly thought of coverage as only strictly pertaining to the narrative but as that is how it is viewed in most of mainstream cinema it does tend to end up feeling like the standard, conventional and accepted definition of the concept.

So now I am thinking of this in more precise terms. That is, to think of how much – even in mainstream cinema – is not directly a realisation of the script, but how much of the film is just ‘film’ as opposed to narrative. I’m now thinking of all the asides and digressions that can be found in every film and how some may view these as the markings of self-indulgence.

Although it may not be mainstream cinema, the example that always comes to mind when thinking of coverage in a less narrative-focused way is to think of Yasujiro Ozu and what are called pillow shots, taken from pillow words used in Japanese poetry. These were shots that Ozu would use to bookend his scenes. These were often very well composed shots to just look at that did not contain any of the central characters in them, many times of nature and exteriors. They did not have any direct relation  or advancement to the plot, but were instead used as a form of punctuation, whether that means accentuating the emotion of the scene or just to give the audience a moment of breathing space. I like to think of coverage in this way. To think of a shot as not useful to a narrative but useful to the film.

Scene Analysis – The Scent of Green Papaya

I have chosen the film The Scent of Green Papaya, as I wanted to pick something that had coverage that wasn’t exactly concerned in a traditional narrative, and instead used coverage in more poetic means.

The scene that I have selected is a short one in which the main character, a young girl named Mui, picks a papaya from a tree in preparation for a family meal later on.

It begins with a hand in the centre of the frame gliding up a tree, eventually reaching for a papaya. This is a film that is concerned with translating a sensory experience. That is why throughout the film, and in this shot we see only the hand and not the face or rest of the body of Mui. There is a larger importance placed on hands and feet than the usual film, and perhaps director Tran Anh Hung finds that this helps achieve a more sensory experience much in the same way that Bresson (a noted influence on Tran) had an obsession with hands.

Also notable about this shot is that the hand moves very slowly, gliding up the tree. This is not a natural movement at all, people do not move in this way. To Tran, this does not matter, and the aesthetics of the hand gliding up the tree and the feeling it conveys is more important than adhering to naturalism. It also helps to not allow the audience to see the papaya until the very last moment, providing the shot with a build up and payoff, however small.

We are then taken out to a static wider shot of the tree branch by itself, and framed through a window, with a bird cage on the lower right hand side. There is a small focus pull from the tree branch to the bird cage as Mui appears into the frame. She gives a smile before we are taken to a cutaway of a papaya and a shoot with juice dripping off of it. In the same way that Ozu would use a pillow shot, Tran here punctuates the previous two shots with a close up that seems to convey the sensuality that can be found in the fruit, or food.

Then there is a cut to Mui preparing the papaya. It begins on a mid shot of her only to tilt as well as slightly pan to her chopping the papaya. A rhythm is also present in the soundscape – Mui chops the papaya at a fast tempo while a calm water drop can be heard in the background. They seem to play out a rhythm in the preparation of the food, liking it to a performance.

The camera has remained with the papaya, again showing that Tran is concerned with everything and not just the face. The grandmother of the family appears to take away what Mui has prepared. Again we only see the hand of the grandmother, the entire focus is on the papaya, it is almost a bridge and a connector between the two of them. The grandmother tells her to throw away the rest of the papaya but Mui decides not to. She begins to slice it open which is intercut with a close up of Mui. Now it is important for Tran to show Mui’s face. It is not that Tran is diminishing the power of the face throughout the film, rather he tries to find significance in everything, and the two shots of both the papaya and Mui’s face show that the two can be brought together in a harmonious manner, without one overbearing the other.

The last shot of the scene is an extreme close up of the inside of the papaya, and it is fitting that Mui’s finger enters the frame to gently touch the papaya, as this encapsulates all that Tran Anh Hung has been concerned with. Food and human together as well as gesture and sensuality.

Scene plays from 46:26 to 47:52.

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.

Film Light Assignment 4

Day 1 Shoot

This was the first day of shooting for me but the second day for the group as I was not available on the first day. We shot both Kerry and Ryan’s projects. As Adelle was handling the lighting and Ryan was operating the camera, that left me to operate sound. I don’t mind operating sound in this context as not being so directly involved in the process allows me to closely observe what Adelle and Ryan are doing, and I think that I learn best when I can first watch closely and understand why people are making the creative decisions they make, and to then implement what I have absorbed later.

Having the other members of the group go before me also helped as at that stage I would say I was still not entirely confident with operating external lamps such as the 1K, Kino and Dedos, and seeing the others use the equipment made the whole process feel a lot more approachable than it had seemed before starting this studio.

I think that the shoot went smoothly, and that our group has learned to operate well together, having worked on projects together beforehand. We did not feel the need to crunch for time while also managing to get all the shots that we needed.

A large part of this efficiency has to do with everyone understanding and sticking to their designated roles. I, as the sound guy, did not try to interfere with what Adelle and Kerry were trying to do when figuring out the lighting of a scene. It was this understanding paired with the fact that we were all trying to make our own individual product that made it easier for us to play into our roles. I think that if we were all trying to make one overall product from the four of us that the workflow would have been much more messy and cluttered as it is more likely that everyone would be trying to enforce their ideas, maybe to the detriment of the overall product.

This is because having individual products meant that we were all trying to produce one person’s vision. Having a hierarchy and one dominant voice each project meant that there was a lot of clarity with the expression of ideas.

Day 2 Shoot

Today I had to shoot my own project, which was an experiment with deep focus. I decided to explore deep focus as it was something that I had always been drawn to when watching movies, while also being something that seemed challenging and out

 of my comfort zone. The main challenge with my 

project was that the high f-stop that I would have to shoot would require a lot of light in the scene.

By examining the location that I would be shooti

ng at beforehand and having time to think about the space as well as having the other members of the group go before me proved to be valuable. By having the other members shoot their products before me allowed for me to observe how light behaved an operated in this space. For example, for one of Ryan’s shots they had decided to put a Kino in the outside window shining in to simulate daylight. Seeing the amount of extra volume that the Kino brought in encouraged me to use it for my own shoot, which I did and was very happy with how it worked.

The overall shoot and project was very satisfying and encouraging for me as the lighting plan that I had thought of had virtually been executed exactly as I had planned except for a few minor adjustments. The adjustments themselves were also very satisfying to implement as they proved that I could be flexible and malleable with my process as well as being able to think in the moment and make decisions according to the situation.

Another thing which I think we prepared well for was rain. We knew that it was likely to rain on the day that I was shooting and that we needed to put a Kino outside where it would be exposed to rain. We found a solution to this as I had brought an umbrella to which Kerry and Adelle had set up the umbrella on a c-stand to cover the Kino from the rain as well as cover some of the electric wire with plastic.

My lighting setup for my shot ended up being:

A Kino coming in from the left proving extra volume of cool light

  • 1K coming in from the left with a blue gel illuminating the foreground.
  • 1K from the right directed towards the ceiling bouncing and spilling light all around the room
  • A Dedo on the right providing front light on Kerry’s face
  • A Dedo on the right providing a key light for my face
  • A Dedo on the left in the mid ground illuminating both Kerry and I once we meet in the middle.
  • House lights that were switched on

The two changes that we made to my lighting plan were:

  • I originally had a dedo light set up in the room that Kerry emerges from, intending it to be used as a rim light for Kerry. This was moved to the frontal light on Kerry.
  • I had originally wanted to have the dedo key light come in from the left of screen. After realising that this would not make sense as the key light was assumed to come from the right I changed it to its position coming in from the right.

Something to note about how I was able to decide and make changes to my lighting setup was that a lot of these ideas came from the other members of the group. They were able to point out and suggest that I try to light the scene in another way. For example, Adelle noted that the original rim light on Kerry was barely registering in camera and suggested that we light it front on as that would be much noticeable and useful in a situation where we need as much light as possible.

As I had never really collaborated for something that was my own project I found this part of the shoot very inspiring as my product no doubt turned out much better as a result of everyone’s input and suggestions.

Other things that I had to take into very close consideration when shooting my project was finding the right f-stop to shoot at. Ideally, I wanted to shoot as closed as possible, but once I was there at the location and experimenting with the different f-stops I realised the sheer amount of light I would need if I wanted to shoot at something like f/22. Even with all the lights the shot was still heavily underexposed. I ended up compromising and shooting at f/17, which I think still managed to achieve deep focus relatively well.

Writing a script and blocking

For this project I decided to write my own script for it. I wanted to do this as I really didn’t want to come out of this studio with just a lighting experiment, and wanted to have something more complete and tangible. Even though what I wrote was just a singular scene, I tried to write it so that it could still work on its own as its a complete piece. I also really wanted to write my own scene as I think that lighting is essentially useless unless it is motivated, and having some semblance of narrative to springboard from was a lot more appealing to me than coming out with shots that simply looked nice or interesting.

When writing the scene I wanted to make the most out of the fact that it was going to be filmed using deep focus, and this became my motivation while writing. The main thing that was running through my mind when writing was that I had to move the actors around, and to make sure that the blocking of the scene corresponded with the power dynamic of the characters. If the character was passive and on the back-foot, they would be at the back of the room and minimised; if they held power they were placed in the foreground and took up a lot of the frame; if they were at a stalemate, then they were both in the mid ground.

As I had decided to use deep focus due to being inspired through its use by people such as John Ford, Kenji Mizoguchi, Jean Renoir and Orson Welles I tried to study how they made the most out of deep focus and used it to its full potential. One particular scene that I took great inspiration from was a scene from Citizen Kane in which Kane is speaking with Thatcher and there are these windows in the background that feel as if they are normal sized windows at a reasonable distance away in the background. Then when Kane walks all the way to the back of the room and you realise that these windows are extremely far away and are very large. It is a great use of deep focus photography as well as scale and perspective.

I wanted to do something somewhat similar to this. I attempted to do this by having my character stay in the foreground for the majority of the scene, where he is largely dominant and you perceive his physical size and presence to be equal to that of Kerry’s. It is not until the dynamic changes and Kerry’s character gains equal footing that I have my character move into the middle of the room and you realise that my character’s physical presence is essentially diminished as it becomes apparent that I am shorter than Kerry, achieved through something as simple as moving from foreground to mid ground and changing the scale of the character.


Although I was very happy with the final product there were aspects of it that I think could be improved. Most notably was the fact that I think I made a mistake with the blocking. For the majority of the scene, whenever my character would turn to talk, his face would be away from the camera and you would not be able to see his words as he spoke. After watching the scene enough times it started to become distracting and gave off a feeling that the audio was being dubbed as the connection between seeing him speak and hearing it was not there. Eventually it gets to the point where during some of the emotional peaks of the scene you really should have a clear view of my face and how I am reacting, but due to the poor blocking and coverage it falls short of what it could have been.

I was disappointed in this mistake as I think that I really could have fixed it if I had just thought through enough about the blocking. I could have had my character talk more while facing the camera front on or even have him talk in profile and see if that would have worked and felt natural.

There were also a few noticeable shadows in the background falling on the wall to the right. It isn’t to noticeable until the end when I move the box to the other room that they become more apparent. It’s not a big deal to me as I don’t mind hard shadows but if I wanted to get rid of all the hard shadows and achieve a more naturalistic look then I could have tried to improve this aspect. As to how I would have done that I am not too sure. The only way I can think of right now would be to diffuse the light source causing the shadows although that would mean that there would be a lot smaller volume of light coming in and at that point I would rather achieve deep focus and have a better exposed picture than worry about expelling of all hard shadows.

Final thoughts on the studio

This was my favourite studio of the entire course by far. I felt like whatever expectation I had going into the studio was met and that I was learning every single lesson. Before I had started this studio I had very little confidence with operating lights and had trouble even thinking of light in a critical and practical sense part just thinking that something ‘looks cool’.

I can say that coming out of this studio I feel much more confident with understanding light and making decisions about light that feel informed and motivated. I will without a doubt continue to learn as much as I can about light after this studio and continue to experiment and challenge myself to understand cinematography more.

Film Light Assignment 3 Reflections

Exercise 8 Reflection

This week we spent a class working together as a crew to set up and light a very simple conversation scene between Aria and Ryan. I really enjoy these exercises as they are what I had in mind when I signed up for this studio. I also realised that when we have these practical days I actually prefer to not be one of the people involved in the crew and to instead be an observer the whole time. I feel that if I were assigned one of the crew roles it would take up too much of my mind to be able to properly concentrate on what is happening within the scene. If I am simply watching then I can observe every aspect of the crew and have a clearer understanding of why everyone is doing what they are doing and absorb the exercise that way.

I always love watching these practical exercises as there are always things pointed out or decisions made that I would have never thought about, mostly in the vain of me not being meticulous enough in analysing the light in the scene. For example in this exercise I specifically remember a moment where Robin and the Crew decided that a spot of light on Aria’s neck was too bright and hot and that it needed to be cut down because it overpowered and dominated the frame. From my memory they solved this by either cutting or diffusing where that specific spot of light was coming from and when I saw the difference I was very impressed by how such a subtle change really made the picture look better. I always have several of these moments any time we have practical exercises such as this and I think it really helps me to sharpen my sensitivity to light and to have a clearer vision and more conviction in my mind in regards to cinematography.

Presentation Summary

Our group (mainly Ryan) presented our idea to the class which I thought went reasonably well considering how unsure we were about what we finally wanted to do. We know that we want to find a good location and return to it every week to refine whatever it is we have in mind that we want to film. We all at the start wanted to have a very individualistic mindset to this project, each hoping to come out of this with something to show and claim primary ownership of, but thinking more about it we decided that this would be unnecessarily overwhelming and that it would be better to have at least some overlap between our ideas. We eventually settled on a sort of compromise where we would all visit the same location and film things that were very similar, but that each of us had a different thing that we wanted to investigate, and that that would be enough of an individualistic satisfaction to be gained out of this project.

For me, personally, I want to investigate and experiment with deep focus photography. Lately, having watched a lot of films shot by James Wong Howe and Gregg Toland I have found myself very drawn to deep focus, and I think its because I have always been naturally inclined towards aspects of filmmaking such as blocking and frame composition, and I think that deep focus allows these two aspects of filmmaking to really shine, while also allowing for achievements in cinematography to be attained.

I am thinking of writing a short 1-2 minute scene which will take advantage of the different planes (foreground, midground, background) that will be available because of deep focus and to have the characters I write and the conversation to lead them to move within these plains. Hopefully I will be able to write something good enough where I can move them around the dimensions of the frame with motivation that stems from the narrative desires of the script.

The iterative aspect of the project can be focused on the difference between achieve deep focus in black and white and in colour, and how these two approaches produce different results. Another potential iterative aspect that I am thinking of is first shooting with the EX-3 that we use in class, and then shooting with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera that I own, and seeing how I will have to adjust the lighting according to the cameras’ specifications.

Thinking about the obstacles that could come up from this project I found a few main ones. One is that I am probably going to need a large volume of light to pull off deep focus, and I will have to remember this when deciding how many external lamps I will take with me to the location and the logistics of it.

Another obstacle could be my desire to write my own scene and to block it accordingly. This is a potential obstacle as I can potentially see myself become too wrapped up with the idea of writing and staging actors that I draw too much of my focus and energy away from actually trying to light and achieve deep focus, which is the main priority of this project.

Lastly, I will be very dependent on the location. Watching the films that have contained deep focus by Toland and Howe I have noticed that pretty much every room that they used has been very large. I may have some trouble finding a location that is adequately large enough so that the deep focus that I pull off feels effective, as deep focus in a large area often feels much more impressive than in a smaller area.

Having found a specific area of film light that I want to investigate, I have become excited to start this project and to see what results are produced. It is also a challenge to me as I am experimenting with something that I have virtually zero experience with.

Presentation Reflection Response

Looking at everyone’s presentations this week I was really impressed by them, seeing how well thought out and articulated everyone else’s vision was made me realise how unfocused our own group’s idea is. I was particularly interested in the group that wanted to shoot outside a place that had red neon lights and to shoot from inside a car. I really liked how they had already storyboarded some shots as well as gone through a lot of potential shortcomings and obstacles comprehensively. In general I think that their idea has the potential to turn out really interesting, especially if they implement some of the things mentioned such as rain/water or superimpose the neon lights.

Something I really liked about the pitches was the feedback from both Paul and Juliet as it was always very practical advice that could be realistically implemented. Juliet’s advice especially I thought was really great as she came from a background in production design, and therefore got us to think a lot about what we put in front of the camera, something that maybe you can tend to forget when getting too wrapped up in lighting and camera stuff. I particularly liked the advice in regards to the Psycho recreation in which she advised them to be mindful about what walls they use and how this will absorb and reflect the light differently as well as telling another group to be mindful about the difference between using a 25mm MFT lens and a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor.

Moving forward after hearing everyone’s pitches I think that our group will try to hone in and refine whatever it is exactly we want to do with this project and to have a more define and articulated vision.

Cinematographer Research Project – James Wong Howe

Basic Research Project – James Wong Howe

I have decided to do my research project on the legendary Hollywood cinematographer James Wong Howe. My primary reason for choosing to research Howe was because I had really only developed an eye for cinematography that was modern, and more specifically, in colour. I was very ignorant towards black-and-white cinematography and what exactly made it stand out. Therefore I thought it would be a good idea to choose a cinematographer who has really encapsulated as well as pushed the boundaries of black-and-white cinematography, as well as cinematography in general, as a means of educating myself.

James Wong Howe got his start as a clapper boy for Cecil B. Demille pictures before eventually, through many steps, becoming a cinematographer. He began his career at the dawn of Hollywood, making his first picture in 1917, stretching his career all the way to 1975, having shot well over 100 films. He was notable for a lot of technical innovations in cinematography, most notably his use of deep-focus photography in his 1931 film, Transatlantic, 10 years before Gregg Toland used it in Citizen Kane. Other innovations include using black velvet to make an actor’s blue eyes register as dark on screen, as auto chromatic film stocks during that time made blue eyes show up as white, as well as operating a camera while sliding around on roller skates to capture boxing scenes in the 1947 film, Body and Soul.

In watching Howe’s films and looking at interviews with him he comes across as a very pragmatic, no-nonsense cinematographer. He had a very logical approach to his lighting and problem solving, often showing a very resourceful process to many problems.

For example, for 1958’s The Old Man and the Sea, “the script called for a bird to land on Spencer Tracy’s boat, and for Tracy to talk to it. But all the birds flew up to the rafters; none would go anywhere near Tracy’s boat, which was floating in a big indoor tub representing the ocean. Finally Howe suggested weighting the birds with B.B.s, so they’d have to land on the boat or sink.”

In a documentary about James Wong Howe, he goes over much of his philosophy regarding cinematography, and there also includes an interesting segment where he demonstrates and runs through his lighting process. For interiors, he will usually start by figuring out the key light first, then working all of the other lights to match the key light when filling out the rest of the room.

Howe was known for his use of hard light, which a lot of the times resulted in very interesting and striking contrasts of light. This is evident in both Sweet Smell of Success, as well as Hud. His use of high contrast lighting on his actors faces were always linked to its use in a narrative sense, often to elicit a particular feeling regarding a character.

Here, in Sweet Smell of Success, Burt Lancaster’s face is lit with hard light, creating hard shadows stemming down from the frame of his glasses, providing a sinister and dangerous feeling to his character, while Tony Curtis is lit much more evenly in comparison to Lancaster. The hard shadows also fall on Lancaster’s suit, making the blacks in it even deeper. This shot is cut in response to this reverse angle below:

Here, we can see that these actors are lit much more conventionally, and in response to the shot of Curtis and Lancaster. The man on the left is cast into shadow, the blonde woman lit very flatteringly and the man on the right shot much more evenly in comparison to Lancaster. All of these lighting decisions come from character and narrative motivation, where Lancaster’s intimidating nature is emphasised by Howe’s light and the senator that he is talking to is lit in a way that diminishes him in respect to Lancaster.

Howe was always motivated by the script and lit his actors accordingly, he notes in an interview with Roger Ebert that he lit “every character to emphasize that character’s inner quality. For Melvin Douglas, shadows and isolation. For Paul Newman, contrast. For Brandon De Wilde, open and simple lighting to emphasize his youth”. Howe was always motivated and consistent in this sense, even saying in an interview once that he was “subservient” to the script, that the script could not be changed and that it was the cinematographer’s job to work around the script.

Here are some frames of how he lit his actors in Hud.

Here we can see an example of his signature use of low-key lighting, which is both very striking to look at while also remaining consistent with the narrative motivated decision to create contrast on Paul Newman’s face.

Here is another shot that contains dramatic low-key lighting from The Rose Tattoo, where the key light is very low in volume and what lights Marisa Pavan on the right is what would otherwise be the fill light.







Here is one of the most striking uses of light in Hud, everything from the composition to the very dramatic lighting has stuck with me. Howe has cleverly managed to show both Patricia Neal and Brandon De Wilde’s face in light while obscuring Paul Newman’s face in almost complete darkness. The constant sharp contrast between white and black throughout this shot is astonishing, not just on the actors’ faces, but also the balance in black and white regarding the props (beds, desk), to the even black and white split down Paul Newman’s left arm.

Even though Howe used hard light a lot of the time to create shadows that caused contrast in his actors face, he could also light them very flatteringly with hard light, here is an example from the same movie and of  Patricia Neal and Paul Newman as well for easy comparison.

The light on both actor’s faces is very flat, and the lack of contrast that you see reflects the scene’s warmth.

Here is another example of Howe’s style of lighting actors, only this time with soft light. The key that comes in from the left is very soft and adds a texture to the actress’ hair, while also giving off a radiant glow that seems even more prominent because of not just the hard but the coat. She is also very evenly lit, with no discernible or obvious shadows falling upon her face.

Here are some examples of when James Wong Howe used deep focus photography in Hud, as well as Sweet Smell of Success.

After studying James Wong Howe’s cinematography I feel much more comfortable understanding classic cinematography and especially black-and-white photography. Seeing a lot of Howe’s work has inspired me in two main aspects: hard light and deep focus. I have now become a lot more interested in learning how to use hard light and the discipline and precision behind it. His very malleable and adaptable style has influenced me a lot with making me think of cinematography in a more holistic sense and from a bigger perspective, as well as in a very pragmatic and logical approach. The cinematography must serve the narrative, but as James Wong Howe has shown consistently throughout a career of over 50 years, that doesn’t mean that you can’t produce beautiful and striking images.

Film Light Assignment 2

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.

Scene analysis

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.

Film Light Studio Reflections – Weeks 1 & 2

My aspirations for this studio are to be able to understand what it is exactly that I want when lighting a shot, and then to be able to practically implement and realise it.

I want to be able to be able to understand the theoretical and abstract concepts regarding cinematography, as this will help me in the creative sense, and then to learn all the technical knowledge and logistics that must be learned to achieve it. I currently feel as though I am lacking in technical and practical film experience, mainly in the cinematography department, and I hope that this studio will help me overcome my anxieties and shortcomings with cinematography.

The classes in the first week were exactly what I was hoping for in this studio. I enjoyed how we started off just learning how to manipulate natural light, as beginning from this perspective feels a lot more natural and lays a solid foundation into understanding light.

I also like the balance between practical and theory so far. I found the analysis of various scenes and how they were lit to be very informative and eye-opening in many instances and I hope we continue to dissect how scenes are lit.

The interview exercise that we did in the first class was a good introduction into thinking about natural light and how to be resourceful and to use what there is around you. I feel like we did the exercise without putting much deliberate thought into how we wanted to light the shot, instead going more off instincts and what looked nice to our eyes. It was interesting to be able to go through what other groups shot and to break down how their shots were lit.

Then after going through everyone else’s shots it made me want to put more thought into how I light and compose a shot, to try to consider everything.

In this scene from In the Mood for Love, the lighting is very expressive.

The key light shines on Maggie Cheung’s face, coming in from screen right. It covers most of her face flatteringly, but leaves some deep shadows on the side of her face. It appears to be soft light as there are no hard shadows coming from her eyelashes or under her nose. Something that makes the light behave slightly different from a completely conventional shot is that Maggie Cheung’s face is at an angle that is almost in profile but slightly off. This angle allows for the light to wrap around most of her face and for the fill side of her face to be relegated to a smaller area.

Tony Leung’s face is more softly lit, much darker, and the light wraps around his face much more evenly and with less contrast than Maggie Cheung’s face.

The colours of the light are all very warm, making striking uses of deep reds and oranges.

There is a narrow lens being used in this shot, as you can see by how shallow the depth of field is.   


In this painting Cardsharps by Caravaggio we can see a main light source coming in from the left and going to the right of the painting. This strongly illuminates the men on the left and the right, while the man in the back’s face is less affected by the light as he is blocked slightly from the source by the man on the left. Therefore, the man in the background’s face is much more evenly lit as the main light source does not directly hit him like it does the other two. The man on the left having a strong key to fill ratio and the man on the right, being in profile, we are only able to see the side of his face that is lit by the main light source.

There is also an emphasis on where the light is placed on the hands, the man on the right’s left hand is exposed and lit clearly in the middle of the painting, while his other right hand that he uses to deceive the other man is tucked away behind his back, with less light on his right hand, and shadows mainly covering it.

Final Post

Week 8

This week I decided to just film. Not so much worry about what the footage will end up doing or how it will work in the editing room but to just film. I feel it is very important to just get a start on my project. I decided to select one of my proposed scenes, which was my parents sitting around watching TV. At first, in my mind in terms of framing I had always pictured it as rather symmetrical, with the TV down the middle splitting the frame, while also acting as the key light source. However I found that the lens wasn’t wide enough for the camera to be placed relatively close behind my parents, so I decided to go a lot further back, into another room actually, and shoot on a very long focal length. What I found from doing this was that although, I couldn’t get both my parents in shot, I found I could frame very nicely if I just focused on one of them as the subject. I eventually got to the frame of my father watching TV, where I decided to include a lot of the household objects in the frame, which to me, doubled up to give the frame greater depth as it added layers of dimension. It was something that I felt was very in tune with Ozu’s framing, which is fitting seeing as how the theme I set out to achieve with this project was family.

After I had got a frame the I really liked, I next worked towards figuring out the lighting. At first, all the room lights were on, and, while this looked pleasing, I began to experiment with turning on and off the many different lighting configurations that were available, as my living room is directly connected to the kitchen without any walls. Eventually I turned all of the lights off except a small kitchen light and the light from the other room that I was actually shooting from. This left it so that it appeared as if the only light source was appearing from the TV, but in reality there was actually enough light coming from behind the camera to light the back of my father’s head and his hands.

I have yet to edit any of this together as I will need other footage to match this with. Next week when I have other footage filmed I will see how this works in conjunction with editing in a black screen.

Week 9

This week I spent time with my nieces so I decided it would be a good time to get some footage of them. I had shot a lot of footage of them, from them watching TV, to them eating ice-cream to them drawing, to them brushing their teeth. I think that I got mostly decent footage, but I was extremely fortunate to get footage of them playing with a flashlight in the dark. This was by far my favourite thing that I filmed, as the colour of the light against the complete darkness of the room lead to some very interesting lighting dynamics in the footage. I think that the constant switching between complete darkness and the light shining will somehow fit well into how I edit this with the black screens in my final project.

I haven’t editing anything together yet but I will begin to edit the footage shot this week with the footage from last week.

Week 10

This week I have decided to make a significant addition to my project. I have decided to add in an audio conversation that I recorded with my father about a year ago. Originally I had recorded this audio with the intention of making a film very similar to how this current project is turning out: scenes from my family with my father providing a voiceover. Now I can use my father’s voiceover for my current project. I also think that this works well in conjunction with my exploration of black screens, as I think that the result of my father speaking over a black screen will turn out interesting. I also shot a little bit of footage this week, the most notable being my mother cooking and preparing some food, as well as footage of my father sitting at his desk working. I think that it would be best to wait until I have gathered sufficient footage before beginning editing, as right, when attempting to edit, it feels too sparse and disconnected. I would rather have the feeling of enough footage, which would help me conceptualise a through line with my editing and have it be more focused.

Week 11

The major piece of footage that I shot this week was a family dinner that we had at home. I had many different options for what to film during this event. I shot everything from master shots of my family all sitting at the table to my father and sister talking to each other to my mother preparing food again. The most striking scene that I shot was a shot of my father talking about his life while drinking wine. I was really interested in the content of what he was saying, and after deciding I was going to mix in audio from a recorded conversation I had with my father, thought that the relationship between what he said in the solitary audio and what he says diegetically in this scene might turn out to be interesting.

On another note regarding the audio, I decided, somewhat out of circumstance, to just use the low-quality on board mic to capture audio for the scenes that I filmed. I had made the mistake of not using my Rode Video Mic Pro for all the footage that I had shot, so I thought that it would be better to keep the audio low-quality and consistent rather than to have some scenes capture high-quality audio and others to capture low-quality audio. Furthermore, the lack of need to set up the microphone meant that I had more flexibility and mobility with capturing scenes on the fly, which is a trade off that I don’t mind.

Week 12

This week I finally began editing. I pretty much spent the entire week editing and refining my project after having a more clearly defined idea of what it was going to be. It was very a relatively smooth process, one where I could clearly recognise what needed to be changed from iteration to iteration. The biggest challenge for me in the editing process was deciding when to cut to and from black. This is a really tricky thing as there are not real signifiers for when you should cut, and it is almost a purely instinctual decision. It felt like because there I could literally cut at any time, the fact that I had all the options in the world actually meant that I had no obvious options to cut. Eventually I decided to just go off of what felt best. A lot of times this would be by listening to solely the audio and cutting where I thought I expected a cut to take place.

Week 13

This week I focused on refining the rough cut that I made in Week 12. The only thing that I decided to reshoot after having a rough cut of my project was a scene where my parents are sitting around the living room with the sunlight streaming through, with nothing but complete silence. I reshot it as the previous footage I use was very poorly framed, with the ceiling in shot and the two subjects (my mother and father) having very uneven spaces within the frame – overall it was a very flawed and imperfect shot. I reshot it this time with a certain composition in mind, my mother and father sharing equal parts of the frame, with the TV splitting the frame down the middle, quite similar to what I imagined the ‘Parents watching TV’ scene to originally look like that I talked about in Week 8.


Although I worked alone, I still had to collaborate with those who appear in my film, most notably my father. The first act of collaboration came from those who appear on screen in the film. For my mother and my father, I didn’t really give them any directions, but rather just filmed them doing their everyday activities. My nieces were the same as well. I was very fortunate that they were not camera shy and acted naturally in front of the camera, not acknowledging its presence much. The opening shot of them playing with the flashlight was perhaps the only thing where I had some form of direction, and even then, all that was was telling them to continue doing it, as they were already doing it before I had even begun filming. Overall in terms of filming, the nature of my content did not require much on set direction, as I wanted to capture people being themselves, my family being how I see them, and to interfere with any direction would interfere with the authenticity of what was filmed.

What I think was more in line with the concept of collaboration was recording audio of my father speaking about his life. I found I had to guide him so that he could best explore and speak about the topics that I wanted him to discuss. I learned throughout the conversation that I had with him that sometimes I had to wait and let him run out whatever topic he was on, even if it was a digression and not directly pertinent to what I thought would suit the film, but in doing so, he might say something unexpected which would be better than anything that I had planned or had in mind. Although keeping this in mind, I also had to know when to end a certain digression and ask him a question to let him begin a new line of thought. This conversation with my father felt like a very collaborative process as we had to both sculpt and shape how to get the most interesting conversation we could together. It was an aspect of collaboration where, although I was not the primary subject, I still played an active role, which was the role of the listener. I took away the idea that the listener is not always a passive subject, and can steer the conversation with more control than you would think.


I think that my final project answered a lot of the curiosities I had about my initial research question, the experimentation that I had with cutting to black and black screens in general turned out some very interesting results. I am glad to say that the final project turned out a lot better than I could have ever imagined, and that it made direct and appropriate use of black screens.

The big turning point and change in my project was when I decided to include the audio recording of a conversation that I had with my father. This helped the project progress from just being a bunch of strung together technical exercises to something that had some real emotional and thematic value to it. In the process of this addition, I also believe that I began exploring something else just as deeply as the study of black screens and could be another research question: the study of my father, his life and my family. I became just as interested in this other aspect of my process, and I became even more excited when I realised that I could blend these two interests together, to allow the black screen to inform and accentuate my father’s story and vice versa.

I became interested in forming a narrative, and knew that the through line of this narrative would be found in my father’s audio, and what I would select from it. At first, I gravitated towards the very dramatic aspects of his life, really searching for the things that I knew would capture or shock an audience, something entertaining. My father’s life had been very difficult, and initially I wanted to capture the immigrant experience through him. So it was all about his struggle to try and build a life for himself when he moved to America. But slowly, as I began to listen to all the audio again and again, and to look at the footage that I had shot over and over, I realised that I wanted something different. I began to not find these very dramatic parts of my father’s life as the most interesting things that he said, but instead I began to really hone in and listen to what he was saying whenever he talked about his family. Whenever he talked about his childhood, or the first time he met my mother, or the first time he had kids, for some reason that stuck with me a lot more than stories of him wandering through California homeless or his feelings of alienation from American society. I realised that I didn’t want to paint my father as an immigrant that had made it in America, I wanted to paint him first and foremost as a man who had struggled, a person who contained flaws and a lot of virtues, as my father and as a person.

So with this in mind, I wanted to touch on the four bits of conversation I had with him that really interested me, and that also fit into the theme of family: his childhood, when he met my mother, his experience parenting and his views on death. I began to form the narrative not just with the audio, but how the audio fit into whatever image was playing. The very first shot in the film arose out of convenience – I was exploring black screens and the scene contained a very obvious dynamic between light and darkness, so it fit into the form I was experimenting with. The scene also worked on a thematic level and created a juxtaposition between how my father was describing his broken childhood and my nieces playing without having any apparent worries.

Before starting this project I thought that the black screen would accentuate the beginnings and ends of whatever image it bookended, but the biggest thing I learned about black screens while making this project was that there was meaning and emotion to be felt while the black screen was actually playing. I realised that it made the audience consider what they were looking at, even if it was a pitch black screen, with a sort of intensity. I think I came to this realisation because of the effect that only a black screen and audio produced, it really made you listen very closely to the words that my father says, and from this I realised that even when there was literally nothing but a black screen playing, you still paid attention with a sort of intensity. I acted a little bit like an inversion of the black screen serving as bookends for the image – once a rhythm became established, the images became bookends for the black screen. This realisation that the black screen could carry as much excitement and meaning as the image put me at great relief, as it laid to rest my worries that when the black screen would be playing, that people would switch their minds off. I feel that I have very sufficiently explored what I had initially set out to do and even explored other areas that I found just as interesting as my initial question.