My Method of Working Part 1

Today I had a very short time frame to edit my week 4 exercise and so I had to come up with the most efficient way to finish my scene. I started by going through all of the footage and roughly cutting the shots I thought were usable. I ordered them chronologically on the timeline and colour coded the separate shots so I knew which ones were the ‘best’ out of the different takes.

Generally I would try to work off my storyboard as closely as possible. However, with this scene I knew I wasn’t going to be able to follow our original shot list to a tee because of continuity errors we had made during shooting. Thus I essentially had to just join the shots that I thought fitted best together and that didn’t show any signs of technical errors. To aid me in this process I decided to quickly go through all of my cut footage and write down which shots ‘I had to use’ (because there were no other options for the same shot/piece of dialogue) and shots I was considering using and why they might be used. I think it was beneficial to hand write these notes because it allowed me to draw rough diagrams and add linking lines between ideas. Once I physically wrote everything down it was clear that there were really only two shots out of the final four that I wanted to play around with. So I joined the two definite shots I wanted together and then looked at which takes of the other two shots worked best continuity-wise. I found that ‘cutting on action’ was a smooth way to join shots, as well as continuing the audio over from one shot to another.

After roughly assembling the scene, I started to go through the cuts meticulously, making sure they all looked seamless. Then once I was happy with the visuals, I went through the audio, constantly layering sounds from different shots so that there were no sharp or noticeable changes to the background noises throughout the scene. Lastly I added transitions and an adjustment layer which allowed me to colour grade my piece. I find it is best to do these things last, because if you end up changing anything in the visuals it can stuff up the audio or might cause you to have to re-do transitions, which ultimately just wastes time.

Week 4 Found Scene Deconstruction

Requiem for A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000, USA)

Scene 1



The opening scene to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream establishes characters, thematic ideas and stylistic approaches that are continued throughout the film. Aside from the very first and last shots of this scene, the entire sequence utilises a split screen composition. This layout is repeated several times throughout the film, enabling two equal perspectives to be portrayed on screen at the same time. This can be seen as a motif for the film, which is essentially about four different people’s perspectives on addiction and obsession. Both of these concepts are also commonly investigated in other Aronofsky films, such as Pi (1998) and Black Swan (2010).

The opening shot of Requiem for a Dream is a shaky, fast-moving, hand held camera shot, which initiates the restlessness of the scene. The camera tracks backwards as Sara (the mother) runs away from Harold (her son) and begins to lock herself in her cupboard. Meanwhile, the camera pans past the doorway, turning the right side of the screen dark. This movement has enabled the editor to transition seamlessly into the split screen format. The audience can now witness what is going on inside the cupboard with Sara and what is happening in the lounge room with Harold, both being framed in mid closeups. This intimate framing creates an intensely emotional atmosphere, as viewers can see both characters’ expressions up close, emphasising Sara’s fear and Harold’s anger.

As the left side of screen changes to a stationary point of view shot through the cupboard’s key hole, the right side of screen tracks Harold as he attempts to steal his mother’s TV set. Instead of having two different shots on either side of the same frame which could potentially become confusing for audiences, Aronofsky has essentially just repeated the same shot, but from different ‘perspectives’. This highlights the action and also simplifies the scene for viewers as it means that even if they are only concentrating on one side of the split screen, they are not going to miss what is happening in the story. A close up of the TV aerial (seemingly from Harold’s point of view) is also shown on the right side of frame to convey the the desperation of Harold’s situation: this television is clearly old and worn, yet Harold is still willing to steal it from his mother in order to pawn it for cash which he will spend on heroin.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 3.26.29 pm

This focus on the aerial also draws attention to the object falling off the television in the next shot, which the audience can view from a further distance through the key hole, as if seeing through Sara’s eyes. As Harold goes to catch the aerial, the back of his head is framed in a mid closeup on the right of screen and the audience hears him yelling at his mother. The left side of screen cuts to Sara’s reaction shot: the light from the key hole spotlights her eyes in the dark, as she looks down, almost in tears. This shot of the side of her face is framed extremely tightly, which mirrors this idea of Sara quite literally being confined to the small space of the cupboard, as well as figuratively being trapped in the cycle of Harold’s heroin addiction. (The audience later discovers that Harold frequently pawns his mother’s television and she buys it back every time).

The right side of screen then cuts to a closeup of the chain which is keeping the television attached to the radiator in the wall. These extreme closeups are a trademark of Aronofsky’s films, which regularly weave many quick shots of extreme closeups together to draw the viewer’s attention to particular things, rather than covering a sequence in one long take or wide shot. His first feature film Pi also has a number of sequences that a ‘told’ through a rapid montage of extreme closeups, frequently cutting away to things like coffee cups, gold fish, newspapers and keyboards in order to illustrate a point.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 4.18.45 pm

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 4.19.02 pm

Maximillian Cohen in Pi discovers that everything in nature can be explained through maths, even the seemingly random formations of milk being poured into coffee and cigarette smoke being blown into the air. The spiral-like shapes are highlighted by the extreme closeup framing.

The right side of screen then cuts to a bouncing hand held camera shot from Harold’s perspective as he marches towards the cupboard. On the left side of screen Aronofsky quickly returns to the key hole view of Harold thumping towards his ‘ma’. This shot, paired with the consecutive extreme closeup shot of Sara’s eyes, evokes a sense of fear and suspense as the audience wonders whether she is safe from her aggressive son. The right side of screen cuts to a mid closeup of Harold yelling abuse at the door, while the left side of screen lingers on Sara’s anxious face. The slight hand held camera shake of both ‘screens’ creates a feeling of unease as Sara decides whether or not to give into her son’s requests. The right side of screen then cuts to an extreme closeup of a key being passed under the door to Harold, as Sara bows her head on the left side of screen. The hand held camera tilts down to follow Harold as he picks the key up and the left side of screen returns to the key hole view of the lounge room, this time without Harold in frame. Both screens then exhibit each character side on; however, the shot of Sara is left on screen for much longer than Harold’s and her face is also framed much closer. At this point the camera framing and editing suggests that viewers should be sympathetic towards Sara whose despondent expression is the focal point of the shot.

The left side of screen continues to flip back and forth between the closeup of Sara and her view through the key hole; while the right side of screen switches back and forth between a mid closeup of Harold and his view of the door. The camera follows Harold over to the television at a fast pace, as he unlocks the chain from the wall. The unlocking of the padlock is magnified by framing the object in an extreme closeup on the right side of screen, while on the left screen Sara closes her eyes tight in reaction to the sound of the lock clicking open. The hand held camera then follows Harold as he rolls the television set towards the cupboard. The tone of the scene changes dramatically at this point as Harold begins to speak in a soft, apologetic tone towards his mother.
Up until this moment in the scene, the cuts are rather fast and the movements of the camera unsteady, which help to intensify the action on screen. The signature music of an Aronofsky film is also layered over the dialogue to increase this effect. The opening sequence begins with a slightly off beat overture of string instruments, which slowly transforms into the techno/piano motif of the film. Aronofsky has consistently worked with music composer Clint Mansell to create foreboding soundtracks like that of Pi, The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan and Noah (2014). Mansell often uses a string instrument and techno beat combination which builds towards a climax. In Requiem for a Dream, the eery piano riff comes in at the point where Harold shows his more sensitive side: he quietly tries to coerce his mother out of the cupboard. During this closeup shot of both characters, the movement on screen almost stops altogether. The music seems to conjure feelings of despair and sorrow. Both characters refrain from speaking for a moment as Harold waits to see if his mother will come out. Aronofsky allows the audience to have a god-like perspective over this scene; as a result, they are able to see Sara is crying inside the cupboard.

Once Harold believes he has waited long enough, he turns to leave, rolling the television out and disappearing to the left side of the right screen. The left screen is then ‘pushed’ to the right, so that it now encompasses the whole frame again. The audience is left with a closeup of Sara in low key lighting, still huddling inside the cupboard as she speaks to her deceased husband, assuring him that everything will turn out ‘alright’ in the end. This dark finish to the scene foreshadows the bleak ending of the film. Overall this scene works to showcase the idea that addiction not only causes harm to the individual, but to others as well: a theme that underpins the entire narrative.

Week 4 Epiphany – The Scene in Cinema

In Wednesday’s class this week, our week 3 Exercise shoots were pretty much shot to pieces by Paul (and inadvertently Robin as well). I was quite surprised, as you can probably tell by my week 3 reflection. Although I knew that this was not the greatest shot I’ve ever directed because we were incredibly pushed for time, I thought it was at least a more refined version of the shot I had constructed in week 1’s exercise when I had the same script. In saying this, on the day of the shoot, I never actually looked back at the takes we had done because we needed to rotate roles as quickly as possible. I am now realising the huge importance of this task. When Paul screened our shots from week 3’s exercise in class, I noticed quite a few little mistakes I had made in terms of composition, particularly leaving too much head room for characters in the frame.

By simply looking back over the footage on camera during the shooting process, I could have potentially constructed far better scenes than I have done over the past few weeks in this studio. Firstly, if my group and I had have watched our footage from week 2’s shooting exercise, before packing our equipment up, we may have been able to re-shoot the shots we had forgotten to white balance properly or possibly chosen another location so that our shots were not so overexposed. During the editing process for this scene I realised how hard it is to try to salvage footage that is out of focus or ‘blown out’: it is essentially impossible. Therefore, I have realised that it would be worth trying to get the takes as close to perfect as possible during the shooting process instead of having to fix things in the editing room.

I am now facing a similar problem with week 4’s exercise. I have just looked over the footage we shot and realised that there are quite a few takes where the reflection of our camera and crew are visible in the glass of the suites where we were filming. Granted: it was a difficult location to shoot in because there were reflective surfaces everywhere and we don’t have display monitors available to us to be able to have more than one person overseeing the take. However, I think we should have looked over our footage once again after we thought we had finished our scene just to make sure everything was ‘usable’. This problem could have of course been helped if we had more time (we didn’t even get to shoot every shot we had originally planned), but as Paul and Robin have been drumming into us: there is never enough time, even in the professional industry of film production.

Other than the reflective problems, I thought our shoot went well. After having delegated roles, blocked out and roughly planned how we were going to realise our script on Wednesday, the group put together a shot list, storyboard and floor plan. This organisation meant that we were able to start shooting as soon as we were set up in our location on Friday. Nevertheless, somehow after all this planning and rationalising, I feel like we lost a lot of the creative ideas we had for covering this scene during our early discussions about the script. Maybe it was because the location was quite restrictive (it was difficult to move the camera around in a tight hallway of reflective doors), or maybe it was due to time restrictions; I think when faced with constraints a lot of people go into automatic mode and revert to ‘easier’ shots. Originally, we had talked about doing a lot of ‘frames within frames’ shots, because the location and the script (titled ‘Doors’) was almost shouting at us to do it. Although we got a few frames within our compositions, I think we could have utilised this part of the set a lot more. We were also talking about using the reflections from the glass to our benefit by possibly pulling focus from one character to the other character’s reflection by positioning the camera at a 45 degree angle from the glass. But during the manual process of actually getting all the equipment in there and positioning the actors, I think our more experimental ideas were thrown out the window and we regressed back into a more conventional mode of filmmaking.

I guess one of the things I’ve taken away from this exercise is that this may be the only time we get to break the rules and make mistakes with our filmmaking, so why not make the most of it? Today we ‘crossed the line’ and we filmed two subsequent shots from a similar angle that may turn out to look like a jump cut. But why not? We wouldn’t be able to play with camera coverage this much in a professional circumstance, so we may as well do it at university while we can. It’s really a great place to stuff up, if we stuff up at all, because whatever happens, we are still able to learn from it. I am really enjoying this course at the moment because it is giving us this freedom to make mistakes and in doing so, some really interesting, experimental scenes have been created.

Week 3 Epiphany – The Scene in Cinema

I thought Wednesday’s class was great in regards to the ratio of theory versus practical learning. Although classes where you learn something and then you put what you learnt into practice seem quite commonplace, I don’t generally appreciate how beneficial this process is to my understanding. In this class we looked at a Cohen Brothers’ film Blood Simple (1984), which helped to demonstrate what an L cut and a J cut is. (An L cut being when vision leads and a J cut being when audio comes before vision in a sequence). This concept was also illustrated with a diagram of an editing timeline.

I felt that this method of learning (auditory and visual) aided my retention of information. Immediately after this we also physically practised these concepts in our own work, which I think helped to fully supplant this new knowledge in my brain and also improved the quality of my edit.

Although Friday’s practical exercise was quite rushed, this was probably my favourite out of the exercises we have done so far. Firstly, we went over the technical skills of using the camera and and audio equipment, which gave us all a good chance to revise before going out into the field. We were then each handed a script from a previous week’s exercise that we had to choose a shot out of to direct individually. I received the script that I worked off for the first exercise we did for this studio. At first I thought it would be boring to cover a sequence that I had already done before; however, having played around with the camera and actor positioning for this scene already, I was able to configure an interesting idea for a shot rather quickly. Because I had had the experience of working with the script in physical time and space before, I could immediately start to storyboard the shot I wanted to create and map out the camera positioning, knowing what would and wouldn’t work to a certain degree. Having this planning done on paper made the actual shooting process much more efficient in comparison to usual as well. Even before really seeing the place I was going to shoot in, I already knew what camera angle I wanted, what shot type I wanted, what camera focus I wanted, where the camera was going to move, how it was going to follow the character in the frame and where the microphone could be positioned to enable best signal to noise ratio. ‘On set’ I was able to clearly and quickly explain what I wanted the camera and sound operators and the actors to do, so that after only five minutes, one rehearsal and two takes, my shot was recorded successfully. In saying this, it would have been beneficial if we had gotten the chance to block and rehearse our shot in the location before settling on a particular type of coverage, as well as having more time to shoot alternate takes.

I think I am coming close to discovering what the ‘ultimate shooting process’ for me might be. This would include a thorough rehearsal and experimentation process in front of camera within the real life constraints of time and space (as done in week 1’s exercise);  as well as ‘refining time’ where the ideas for the sequence are put onto paper and concreted so that the shooting process is relatively simple and problem-free (as done in week 3’s exercise).

Found Scene Deconstruction – The Scene in Cinema

Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971, USA)

Scene: ‘He Seems Very Nice’

1. Camera pans around room, following the Butler as he leads Candy towards Mrs. Chasen. Long Shot. Candy is positioned at the centre of screen (focal point).
2. Butler moves to the side as Mrs. Chasen comes into frame and shakes Candy’s hand.
3. Butler walks out of frame to the left. Camera pauses for a moment as Candy and Mrs. Chasen introduce each other.
4. Camera pans to the right again, following Candy and Mrs. Chasen as they walk over to sit down. Characters are positioned centre screen. They walk closer to the camera so that it becomes a mid shot.
5. Mrs. Chasen waves to Harold who is outside. Characters are positioned either side of window frame.
6. Cuts to mid-closeup of Harold waving back at them from outside. He is framed within one of the window panes on right side of screen. He points to Candy.
7. Cuts to reverse mid shot of Candy pointing to herself as she looks out at Harold. She waves to him.
8. Cuts back to mid-closeup of Harold framed in window pane as he waves back to her again.
9. Cuts back to two shot of Candy and Mrs. Chasen, with long shot of Harold standing outside, framed by the left window pane.
10. Camera tilts down, following Candy and Mrs. Chasen as they they take a seat. The camera is positioned over Candy’s shoulder, facing Mrs. Chasen. Harold walks away to the left, now offscreen.
11. Cuts to a reverse mid shot of Candy. Camera is now positioned over Mrs. Chasen’s shoulder.
12. Cuts back to over the shoulder shot of Mrs. Chasen. Harold is seen walking into screen in the far background, framed by window pane again. Candy points to Harold when talking about him (as well as the framing, this action helps to draw the audience’s focus to what is happening outside).
13. Cuts back to reverse, over the shoulder shot of Candy.
14. Cuts back to over the shoulder shot of Mrs. Chasen. We can see Harold covering himself with a flammable liquid in background.
15. Cuts back to reverse, over the shoulder shot of Candy. However, this time the camera is positioned lower so that you can see Candy’s entire body. This shot shows the great physical distance between Candy and Mrs. Chasen.
16. Cuts to mid shot of Mrs. Chasen’s reaction. In the background Harold is framed slightly closer than he was before, so that audience can see that he is continuing to pour flammable liquid over himself.
17. Cuts to mid shot of Candy laughing. She is positioned on the right side of the frame.
18. Cuts back to mid shot of Mrs. Chasen. Right side of frame is filled by Harold in background.
19. Cuts back to mid shot of Candy.
20. Cuts back to mid shot of Mrs. Chasen’s reaction.
21. Cuts back to mid shot of Candy telling her story.
22. Cuts back to mid shot of Mrs. Chasen responding to story. She continues to smile as Harold (or what looks to be Harold), blows up in flames outside.
24. Cuts to mid shot of Candy screaming as she looks outside.
25. Camera tilts up to follow Candy as she stands yelling out for Harold.
26. Cuts back to two shot of Mrs. Chasen sitting down, Candy standing up (mid-long shot) and the flames burning outside framed by the window pane.
27. Camera pans up to follow Mrs. Chasen as she stands to welcome Harold who walks in front of camera from right side of frame.
28. Camera pans to follow Harold as he walks to left side of frame to stand next to his mother.
29. Camera pans to left and slightly tracks forward to follow Candy as she runs out of the room.
Camera pauses as Candy realises she’s run out the wrong door and then pans to follow her as she runs through the correct door on the left.
30. Two shot, mid-closeup of Harold and Mrs. Chasen watching Candy run out of room. Harold is in clearer focus and is positioned higher in the frame than his mother, thus becoming the focal point of the shot.

Overall, Ashby has utilised a traditional, over the shoulder ‘shot, reverse shot’ coverage of a conversation between Mrs. Chasen and Candy. The scene essentially conforms to classical Hollywood continuity editing style as eyelines have been kept constant throughout the scene and the camera does not ‘cross the line’.  Ashby makes dramatic use of different planes in the mise-en-scene and draws attention to the background by consistently framing Harold through the window panes of the house. He also highlights certain characters by employing camera movement. For example, every time the focus is on Candy, the camera will follow her so that she is positioned in the centre third of the frame. The distance that metaphorically grows between Mrs. Chasen and Candy throughout the scene is emphasised by the physical space that seems to expand between them. The shots begin as mid-shots of both the women, over the other one’s shoulder. The framing then transfers to over the shoulder long shots, so that the floor between them is clearly displayed. The shots then shift to individual mid-shots so that the two characters do not seem to be connected at all by the end of the conversation. These closer shots toward the end of the sequence also help to intensify the scene, bringing it to a climax as ‘Harold’ lights himself on fire.

Week 2 Epiphany – The Scene in Cinema

I found week 2’s practical exercise quite difficult because we were told to ‘edit in camera’, which also meant we were not supposed to re-shoot any shots. This is not something I am used to doing, because I would normally shoot out of sequence and edit the scene in post production to fix any glitches. Furthermore, I would usually do at least three takes of the same shot so that I could decide which one worked best in post production. I don’t think I would chose to shoot a scene using this method again; however, I did discover that shooting in sequence aided the flow of the scene and also improved continuity. For example, because the scene was essentially performed continuously (aside from when we told the performers to freeze and the ‘crew’ would move the camera), there wasn’t any accidental discontinuities in the mise-en-scene e.g. when one shot in a scene shows a girl with her hair behind her ears and in the next shot her hair is over her face. I think that shooting in sequence may be a good way to film a scene (when it is a viable option), however, I believe that unless a scene is one long take it is practically impossible to create a comprehensive sequence without editing in post production.

For this ‘epiphany’ I felt it would also be worthwhile to list my initial thoughts on what this studio will entail:

1. We will be learning about ‘cinema scene coverage’ through doing (to some extent). We will be putting cinema theory into practise by creating our own scenes. I am looking forward to this aspect of the course because I have always thought that film theory and film making are too segregated in high school and university courses. For instance, in my cinema studies course at RMIT, we study the theory of cinema, but never put our research or findings into practice. Similarly with the more practical subjects, the focus of the course is generally to improve technical skills and refine creation processes, instead of looking at the theory behind it. Thus I think this course will be a good opportunity for me to not only study cinema history and research different ways that filmmakers choose to cover their scenes, but actually use that information to aid the creation of my own scenes.

2. We will refine our own filmmaking methodologies. This will be accomplished through practical research and experimentation, as well as looking at how directors and cinematographers have covered scenes in the past and how this has become part of their ‘signature’. This is something that particularly interested me in Week 1’s lecture. Robin asked us what we thought a director actually did, because it is quite a difficult job to define. One thing that he identified as being a director’s responsibility, was the coverage of a scene. Although it may be the cinematographer’s job to control the camera, the way that the camera is choreographed to work with the performers and the environment of the shoot is up to the director. And this is essentially what creates a director’s ‘trademark’: what we think of when we say things like ‘oh that has to be a Tarantino film’, or ‘that is very Blake Edwardsian’. I think that this course will enable us to generate new ideas around ways a scene can be covered as well how we can work as individuals in the actual process of creating a scene.

3. We will concentrate on the coverage of a single scene rather than an entire film. By doing this we need not worry so much about the overall narrative and scripting of a text, but can focus on how best to position cameras, actors and cuts within a scene.

All in all, hopefully we will develop as filmmakers in a technical and intellectual sense over the semester.

Week 1 Epiphany – The Scene in Cinema

For our first studio class of The Scene in Cinema, I was in a group of four and we received a ‘blue print’ of a scene in which we were asked to create. We were limited to only panning and tilting the camera and the entire scene had to be ‘covered’ in one take. This was an interesting task for me because I felt like the ‘final product’ that we created was far more considered and compelling than what I have produced in the past as a result of ‘traditional’, industrial filmmaking methodology. This is mainly because of two things. 1. Our team worked well together and we all rotated roles; and 2. We did not script or storyboard before we began rehearsing the scene.

By rotating roles, each of us was able to have a go using the camera. At first we all expressed what we thought was going to be the best way to ‘cover’ the scene, primarily in regards to where we were going to position the camera. However, the original camera angle, shot type and camera movement that we had decided on was changed several times as we rehearsed our scene, due to the movement and positioning of the actors. For instance, one of the characters was described as being ‘tense’; so we decided that he should be pacing back and forth as he delivers his first lines. This performance then determined how the camera would move: we chose to begin the scene by following the character as he walked towards the two other characters and then as he sat down, the camera would tail him by tilting down. In this instance it was beneficial for each of us to have a turn controlling the camera, because we were then all able to contribute our own ideas about shot composition. In effect, I think we ended up with a more refined product than if each of us had have individually created our own version of the prose.

Usually when making a film I would spend a lot of time scripting and storyboarding a scene before I would physically begin to block and film it. However, our Wednesday class was very different because we were thrown straight into rehearsing, without writing anything down beforehand. I found this to be quite an enriching experience because we were able to plan the scene within ‘real’ space and time constraints. Although it can be good to meticulously plan every camera position and performance before going ‘on set’, I found that by practising with real life people, seen behind a real life camera, we were able to devise more interesting forms of camera coverage. In essence, this way of constructing a scene gave us more freedom to play around with camera and actor positioning, within the constraints of our environment. Furthermore, there were a few times during our rehearsal where we all thought that a certain camera movement would function well in theory, but when we physically tried it, it didn’t work. For example, we tried to follow the pacing character as he walked back and forth, but when we looked at the recorded footage we noticed that the camera was moving too fast and the scene was thus dizzying to watch.

Ultimately my ‘epiphany’ from this week’s class is that it might be time to change the way in which I approach filmmaking. Maybe beginning with floor plans and storyboards, like I have always been taught to do, isn’t the best way to go about covering a scene. Maybe instead I should begin in the real environment I am going to shoot in with other people who can help to block the scene with me. This would aid in the generation of ideas and would also reveal restrictions to do with camera and performer positioning due to space. Maybe after this process I could then refine the scene through scripting, storyboarding and floor plans in order to devise the ‘best’ way to cover the scene.