© 2015 ellathompson




The discussion about the previous week’s exercise was enlightening. Robin reminded us that these exercises are about making scenes, not short films. They are fragments of a larger whole. So, for example, we do not need to feel obliged to do a wide establishing shot each time. It’s not necessary to reveal what everything is about. It’s not necessary to tell a story. Or to explain anything. We are focusing on a small subsection of something that may or may not tell a story. Not everything is about story. And this studio certainly isn’t.

It was refreshing to hear these words. I’m sick of every teacher – every filmmaker – putting so much emphasis on story. I’m aware of the importance of story. But film is not story. Film is form. Story is part of that form. Sometimes. It’s more that meaning is part of that form. But story is not always king. I explained this in a previous blog post from 2014 (last paragraph):

A lot of people talk about story often being the most important element of film. I don’t disagree. At the same time, I think it’s incredibly reductive to be so focused on story. Film is far more than story. It’s kinetic and sensational. Visceral. It doesn’t even need story to be powerful. BUT, there’s no point having a good story if everything is too crappy to suspend disbelief. The audience will forget the story in a second. Because the film isn’t believable. Doesn’t have enough impact. People are lazy. They can’t be bothered to appreciate unless something forces them to appreciate. Cinematography (and editing) is so incredibly powerful. It’s often the first thing people notice. It’s memorable. It makes stories believable for audiences. So, I want to get better with a camera.

However, I now change my mind about story – I do disagree that story is the most important element. What is most important is form. Rather than a single element, what is most important is the composition/combination of elements: their quality, their relationship, their inventiveness. I especially value inventiveness. What is important is the individual extension of each element as well as their collective form. The way that honed elements come together and move symphonically. Form is cinematic. Story alone is not. I love the idea that we are looking at form over story in this studio. We are looking at a key section of what makes cinema cinematic.

There was also discussion about the importance of good acting for a shot to work. Robin went as far as to say that perhaps it’s not possible to have a good shot if the acting within the shot isn’t good. If the performance is off, if the actors are un-photogenic (this doesn’t mean they need to be good-looking; it means that they need to have striking visual characteristics for the camera), if they don’t sound good (for the cinema), then the shot won’t work.

We watched the real train scene, which was drastically unlike our (at least my own) home-made train scenes. Robin emphasised the superior pacing of the real train scene. Sarah talked about how well the cuts were placed to achieve this pacing. I went on to suggest that perhaps acting is so important within a shot because it equally governs the pacing of a scene. A scene is not only paced by transitions from shot to shot; it is paced by all action/movement of and within the frame (as well as the sound), including actions/movements of the actors within the frame. Perhaps this is the reason why successful shots rely so heavily on good acting. Of course, other reasons would be to suspend disbelief for the audience, to help make frames aesthetically pleasing/interesting, and so on. But I absolutely believe in the importance of pacing to make a shot/scene/film work well.



The exercise we did was brilliant. It was daunting, but exciting. It was a long awaited task – I’d been a little unsatisfied by the recent years’ assignments/tasks/exercises where “everyone is the director”. Students are (unintentionally) led to think that it’s how the industry works. But it definitely is not. In fact, we don’t practice the strict specificity of film production at all. We borrow their branding word, “collaborative”, to also brand our approach. However, our process is often not quite as collaborative as it intends to be. It can be inefficient and, consequently, not all that fair. People are often put in the same production role each time. Louder people “direct”. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’m fine with practicing this approach for the class tasks/exercises (it can increase idea-flow by removing the stress/pressure of individual responsibility), but not for assignments. We shouldn’t practice and endorse unprofessional methods while neglecting practicing the way things actually work out in the real world. That’s one reason why I’m so excited about this studio’s assignments being individual work.

But this task went brilliantly, despite the daunting pressure! It was wonderful how smoothly it all went. It was fair as well. (Although, again, I was told to act in half of the shots… However, it was far fairer than any other task.) Everyone acted. Most people touched the camera. Most people touched sound. Everyone directed. Individually. Everyone brought their own vision to at least halfway fruition. I was proud of the reasonable efficiency of my group. Every single person wasn’t that fussy about location. We didn’t uproot ourselves from the classroom area and this saved us a lot of time. We all shot either inside the classroom or in the corridor directly outside. We all made interesting, creative shots. We supported each director from whichever role we were put in. We were accommodating and cooperative in our respective roles. It was fantastic. And efficient. And fair. It was great, despite the directing part being so daunting.

A lot of our group wanted to make shots that involved focus pulls and a shallow depth of field. However, the Sony EX3 camera that we use has a fixed lens that does not allow for this kind of depth of field. What would be great is if we used DSLRs and different lenses for a couple of the class exercises so that we are able to opt for other elements like focus pulls or shallow depth of field and so on.


For my shot, I chose the train scene. I wanted to try a shot with three stages:

1. Side-profile ECU of Lucinda’s eye

2. Pan to hand-mirror that Lucinda is holding (OTS Lucinda; ECU eye reflection)

3. Leon enters frame in the mirror reflection and delivers his line, “Can I help you?”

Sarah suggested that it might be cool if Lucinda closed the mirror after Leon’s line. I thought that was a brilliant idea. I put Sarah on camera and Angus on sound. My actors were Kai and Polly – “Leon” and “Lucinda” respectively. The shot wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. I should have had the camera linger on Lucinda for a little while before panning, instead of immediately panning to the hand-mirror. I don’t think the pan worked that well. It might’ve worked better as a pan and track, so that the camera tracks left while panning right so as to move from the side-profile shot of Lucinda’s eye to almost an OTS of her looking into the hand-mirror / ECU eye reflection. Then I was going to get Polly to tilt the mirror so that we could see Kai entering the reflection, stopping at her side, and delivering his line. It didn’t quite work that smoothly though. It also wasn’t as tight an ECU as I wanted because of focus limitations. But I was happy that I was able to attempt this shot. I really enjoyed this task, even though it was a daunting challenge to be put on the spot.




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