Week 9 – Woody Allen Method Shoot

The edited scene:

The prose (by Sunday Sommerfield):


The morning after NYE, Meg gets a call from her and Jo’s Mother. She wants the sisters to come home to discuss a family dilemma. Meg is wearing a dressing gown, her hair in a perfect twisty clip, and drinking a cup of coffee; seemingly suffering no affects from the night before. She tells her mum that she and Jo will be there as soon as they can; no longer than an hour. She opens Jo’s door and Jo is half dressed, lying horizontally across her bed. She wakes up with a grunt and has makeup all over her face, a party hat crumpled on her head and glitter all through her hair. Meg corrects herself; better make it two hours.

For the convenience of actors, I decided to do two shoots in one day – the Woody Allen method shoot and the Akira Kurosawa method shoot.

Before the actors came to my house, I set up the camera positions and sorted out how many different shots I would have to cover the scene for the Woody-Allen-inspired shoot. Although I initially framed up my shots without using storyboards, I found myself noting down my plans for each shot by drawing them. Thus, I ended up having storyboards without really meaning to. I used tape on the floor to mark out various positions that the actors needed to hit and I stuck tape to the focus rim of my camera so I could mark where and when I needed to shift focus. Even though I thought I was really prepared, everything fell apart during the actual shoot.


I wasn’t focusing on lighting in this investigation, but I was still becoming very frustrated with the change of light every two seconds while I was shooting. It was a windy day outside and so the sun was rapidly disappearing and reappearing from behind the clouds; yet I still wanted to use the sun as my main source of lighting (my ‘key’ light). After shooting this scene and my week 7 scene (link), I have realised that it is impossible to completely ignore the filmic element of lighting when shooting. Even though it might not be my main focus when covering a scene, it still plays such an important role in the overall look of a piece of film. Despite it not really mattering to my individual investigation, ‘bad’ lighting still annoys me so much, to the point where I will spend a lot of (often wasted) time on shoots trying to control it. For instance, in this shoot I was constantly running around opening and closing blinds and doors and altering my camera settings so the shot wouldn’t look blown out or under-exposed. I would try to compensate a lack of light with artificial lighting, which would then mean I had to change my white balance again. And even though I was doing all of this, the lighting still didn’t look great when I got my footage onto a larger screen to edit. Particularly tungsten lighting, which has a yellow colour, is difficult to fix in post production. Whereas cooler whites can be warmed up quite easily, yellow is difficult to ‘correct’ (to get it back to ‘true white’). The lighting problems also weren’t helped by the plain, white wall backgrounds (pictured below). In Wednesday’s class of week 9, Paul told us that almost all film sets have walls that have been painted a colour other than white, because it helps the character’s ‘pop out’ from the backgrounds. He also explained that more interesting compositions are created by having several different planes within a frame. In other words, a shot will seem more dynamic if there is a clear foreground, midground and background, than if a character was placed in front of a flat wall. This is why filmmakers often have something like a window or door in the foreground, which helps to frame a character in the mid ground, with an expansive and complex setting in the background. Although I attempted to frame the character in the doorway pictured below, the plain walls make the shot seem aesthetically boring and they also highlight the yellow stained lighting behind her.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 12.00.01 pm

After all of this, exactly what I thought would be avoided by using this shooting method, was not. I thought that by setting up all of the equipment in advance I would be able to concentrate on the actors and they wouldn’t have to wait around for me to be ready to shoot. Although it probably did save a bit of time having everything marked out before introducing actors, I still felt like I was primarily concerned with how everything looked through the camera. However, maybe this is inevitable, unless you have a really good DOP that you trust.

One of the ‘requirements’ of this shoot was only doing one or two takes per shot. Woody Allen believes that the first take of a shot is generally the most realistic and is usually the one he uses in the final edit (as found in my Week 8 research). When looking back at my own footage, I realised just this. All of the first takes of my shots seemed the most naturalistic in terms of performance. I didn’t give my actors much direction at all; I purposely did not tell them exactly what to say or even give examples of things that they could do. You can see in the first takes of some of the shots that the actor is struggling to think of exactly what to say (as with the shot below). I like this because it doesn’t seem scripted or pre-planned, it looks and sounds spontaneous, and I think this is what makes the scene believable. This also illustrates one of the benefits of using a prose rather than a script.

However, in my final edit I actually didn’t use a lot of the first takes of shots because, most of the time, the second takes had had better composition or smoother camera movement. It was difficult to decide which one to favour (framing or performance) during the editing process, but ultimately I found that poor framing was more distracting than rehearsed-looking performances. In retrospect, I think I should have been even more prepared with my camera setup before I brought my actors onto set; that way I could have made sure that the framing was perfect for the first take of a shot and then used that version for the final edit. In saying this, I’m still not the best camera operator, particularly when I have to pan/tilt/track/zoom/pull focus, so having to do a few takes is relatively unavoidable for me to be able to perfect a shot. I think I will try to use this method (setting up the equipment prior to introducing characters onto set) in later shoots, because I think it facilitates more natural and genuine performances. Although it’s best to get the shot perfect from take one, I don’t think there should be a limit on the number of takes I do per shot. It still annoys me that there is a slight camera tilt down at 23 seconds into the scene. This distracting camera movement could have been avoided, simply by doing one more take.

In terms of ‘coverage’, I tried my best to stick to my original plan and only shoot each shot from the ‘prepared’ perspective, like Woody Allen. However, as much as I had tried to pre-plan my shots, some things just didn’t work when I introduced the real actors into the frame. For instance, I was meant to have a panning shot of Sarah walking from her bedroom to the other bedroom, which would turn into an over the shoulder shot of her opening Michael’s door and looking at him asleep in bed. However, Sarah was a lot taller than I had expected and so she did not fit into the frame from the camera position I had planned. She also blocked the audience’s view of Michael’s bedroom in the scene. I ended up shooting this part of the sequence in three different ways, until I settled on a static mid shot, where Sarah walked into the frame (with Michael’s door already open, enabling more light to enter into the space). By the time I actually shot something that I liked, the spontaneity of the performance had definitely disappeared.


Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 12.26.12 pm

Overall, I think the realism of a scene can be heightened by using a prose, rather than a script, because it encourages the actors to improvise. By having the equipment ready before the actors come onto set, I can make sure that the first and thus most spontaneous take can be used in the final edit. However, I don’t think it is beneficial to have all of the camera positions set in stone before shooting. Although the framing might have been thought out beforehand, there needs to be room to ‘improvise’ or ‘play’ with different shot constructions. Thus, although it is beneficial to have an idea written down and camera and character positions marked, it might also be useful to get more ‘coverage’ than originally planned. As discovered in my Nicholas Winding Refn shoot, this ‘playfulness’ on set can sometimes spawn some really interesting and unexpected shots that would have otherwise gone un-filmed.

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