This week I decided to do some further research into the shooting methodologies of various directors. I was trying to find someone who was ‘in between’ the organic shooting style of Nicholas Winding Refn and the calculated shooting process of Alfred Hitchcock. I found Woody Allen. Although I think you can tell that his process of filmmaking is not completely planned out in preproduction, (because of the naturalistic dialogue in a lot of his creations), I never actually knew how he went about shooting his films.
He proclaims that he lets the content of his films ‘…dictate the form’; meaning that his camera coverage is first and foremost designed to respond to the narrative (Geffner 2008, para 2). Rather than storyboarding his shots however, he rigorously blocks out the camera coverage and character movement on the day of the shoot. This is because he attests to having written all of his films with certain shots and character movements in mind. He will spend the majority of the shooting day setting up and choreographing shots before bringing in any actors. He prefers to frame up the shots himself and then show his DOP who will give him feedback and then light the scene.
In regards to actors, he doesn’t like them to rehearse, so when they come on to set, he will just show them exactly where they need to stand at certain points in the script and the rest is really up to them. In an interview with David Geffner from the Directors Guild of America, Allen says that ‘more than 90 percent of the time, the actors are fine with my blocking. But sometimes they’ll say they want to change it and, of course, we try that. I’m certainly not going to force an actor into something he doesn’t feel good about doing’ (2008, para 4). Allen is renowned for letting his actors have quite a lot of freedom with his material. He will only ever really ‘direct’ them if they make a mistake that contradicts the story (Prigge 2013). He was quoted saying ‘I give my actors a lot of freedom to improvise. I never want an actor to feel stuck with my dialogue, or that if he has ideas he can’t bring them up during the scene’ (Geffner 2008, para 5).
In terms of actually filming shots, he only ever does one or two takes. He believes that once everything is set up and the actors are working well, the first take of a shot is usually the best. However, he generally does a second take, just to see if the actors can ‘top’ the first, but he claims that mostly, they don’t. He also only shoots a shot from the one perspective, he doesn’t ‘do any coverage’ (Geffner 2008, para 8). Although some directors gain time through shooting a shot or a scene from multiple camera positions, where the order of the shots will be determined in editing, Allen gains his time ‘in really perfecting the setup’ (Geffner 2008, para 8).
I think Allen’s shooting method may work well for me as it builds on Nicholas Winding Refn’s filmmaking style. What I didn’t like from last week’s shoot is that I found myself feeling quite unconfident on set because I felt like the actors were waiting on me. However, if I do my ‘improvisation’ (setting up camera positions and lighting) prior to having actors in, this pressure will hopefully be lessened. This should also allow for a more relaxed shooting environment, where the actors will feel comfortable to ad lib (within the constraints of a prose).
Geffner, D 2008, ‘Working with Actors (Woody Allen)’, Welcome to the Machine, viewed 27 April 2015, <http://onewaytv.blogspot.com.au/2008/12/working-with-actors-woody-allen.html>.
Prigge, M 2013, ‘‘Blue Jasmine’ cast talks Woody Allen’s odd directing methods’, Metro, viewed 27 April 2015, <http://www.metro.us/entertainment/blue-jasmine-cast-talks-woody-allen-s-odd-directing-methods/tmWmgy—64R6yu23yrYaQ/>