Sunday, 29 April 2012

Reflections on Exercise 5: Camera angles

I have had several responses direct to my learning log (see “Comments”) and below by email. I was happy with this, my second attempt (the first was badly done and not planned properly).
My fellow students seemed to like it but remarked on the distraction – I maybe could have included the mans face reacting to the door bell (see explanation below) and there was a question about whether an alcoholic would have been using coasters. This particular individual has two problems, the second is OCD! I did point out that for continuity, they were great for re-positioning the bottle and glass between takes.
Ideally I would have included turning my head in the pouring shot but I couldn’t get the camera low enough so there was a compromise here. (dropping the bottle cap) The low angle with the bottle dominating the frame worked well. From behind the table, the whole shot was one take that was divided to insert the doorbell sequence. Had I used an actor I could have used differential focussing for the end of the last shot, bringing the bottle into sharp focus at the end as the man consumed his first glass of the day.
Other comments:
From Vaggelis:
“as for you video i have to say it's guite good i can't tell any comment cause mine is not so great but i believe you did a great work .”
From Stuart:
“I think you've done a really good job here, Richard! I felt the edited shots really go together well, too!
I was going to suggest that you would have have had the opportunity to add more depth to the shot in storyboard no. 7 by moving the angle and pointing the camera from the door towards the character (so that the character was looking towards the camera). That would have helped show the distance between the character and the 'interruption'. However, I see that you never ending up using the shot like that. But - you ended up using a similar technique when your character is seated on the sofa and the wine bottle is close to the camera. I like the feeling of depth within the frame that they create. Someone's been reading Grammar of the Shot, haven't they? ;)”
Vaggelis, Stuart, thank you for taking the time to look at my work and also to Emily, Nico  and Margaret for their contributions. You are right Stuart, “Grammar of the Shot” is proving very useful.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Viewing – Leaving Las Vegas

I had watched this film many years ago and remembered most of he story. It is a film by Mike Figgis starring Nicholas Cage as the alcoholic scriptwriter and Elizabeth Shue as the warm hearted hooker. The film is about acceptance, understanding and need. Neither character was judgemental about the lifestyle or actions of the other (Cage’s intention to drink himself to death and Shue’s continuing risk of violent sexual and physical abuse by her clients and pimp). Despite their flaws they showed they still needed each other and developed  a mutual interdependence as their lives came crashing down around them.
This is the first of the films recommended in the course materials that I have watched. I think it was an interesting film.

Other Reading - “Understand Film Studies” by Warren Buckland

I chose this book as background reading. I found it a very useful introduction to film studies covering amongst other topics;
  • Aesthetics, formalism and realism
  • Structure, narrative and narration
  • Film authorship, the director as auteur
  • Genre
  • Documentary types
  • Critique and reviewing
As a result of having read this book, I have a new appreciation of the cinema and I hope that I will be able to get more from watching the films recommended for this course.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Project 4: Camera angles

Exercise 5: An objective POV
Objective: To record the same scenario as the previous exercise but from an objective point of view.
I started with a series of sketches for my storyboard as described below:
(Despite appearances, it is the same person in all of the shots. I’m still struggling with the drawing.)
Frame 1
Ex 5 Frame 01
High angle shot making the sleeping man vulnerable. Perhaps zoom in on the eyes as he wakes.

Frame 2
Ex 5 Frame 02
Eye level  to high angle shot for a normal feel, man wakes and nurses his head.

Frame 3
Ex 5 Frame 04
Eye level again, man looks around the room and his eye is caught by the bottle on the table.

Frame 4
Ex 5 Frame 05
Low angel shot, I want to emphasise the glass and the bottle and make them dominate the frame as they do  his life.

Frame 5
Ex 5 Frame 06
Low angle again, man unscrews cap and starts to pour a drink, looming over the table.

Frame 6
Ex 5 Frame 06A
Close up of bell push and the sound of a door chime.

Frame 7
Ex 5 Frame 07
Low angle, man is distracted briefly……..

Frame 8
Ex 5 Frame 08
……..but continues to to pour a drink.

I’ve had two attempts at producing the required sequence and I’ve stuck to the story board fairly well. I acted the role myself as I wanted to get it done quickly during daylight and there was no-one else available. My first attempt was pretty grim but the second one was better once I had reorganised the set. (I needed more depth for the low camera position behind the table) I realised early on that the frames where the drink is being poured could only include the lower half of my torso and my hands. This is because I needed to use a low table  for the final frames so that I could allow the bottle to assume a dominant position in the frame from a low angle.
While editing, I discovered how to separate the sound and video tracks. This was particularly useful as I wanted to split the two pairs of chimes across the two frames.


As I wasn’t able to show my character’s face reacting to the first set of chimes, I dropped the bottle cap instead during the second set. My finished sequence is embedded below.
To my fellow students, please let me have your comments before I add my own reflections on the piece.

Alcoholic Objective POV from Richard Down on Vimeo.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Course Reading: In the Blink of an Eye

In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch
This useful little book gave me a detailed description  of the film editor’s role in the mainstream movie industry. I read a lot about the process, philosophy and practice of editing. Easy to read and conversational in style, it was full of insightful explanations, e.g “Why do cuts work?” and “Cutting out the bad bits”.
I was impressed by the sheer size and complexity of the task of editing a feature film. I now have some sense of why film credits show such a wide array of people.
Also interesting was Murch’s thought and ideas about the psychology of blinking  and how it indicates to some extent our thought patterns and how these patterns can help when making cuts.

Viewing I’ve Loved You So Long

This film, directed by Philippe Claudel, is about loss, redemption and reconciliation. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein as two sisters separated for 15 years when Juliette (Scott Thomas) is convicted and jailed for the murder of her 6 year old son Pierre. At her trial. Juliette offers no explanation for her actions and is content to accept her punishment and live with her guilt. Her family disassociate themselves from her although her younger sister Lea, believes that there is an explanation and remains convinced that Juliette can redeem herself. The film is set in the period following Juliette’s release from prison when she moves in with her sister and her family and is struggling to reintegrate into society.
The film was shot digitally and there is a great attention to detail. It is photographically  very good to watch. The director says he deliberately kept the camera work simple so as not to detract from the skill of his actors.
I have chosen one example  from the final scene of the film. Juliette has just explained to Lea the death of her son after Lea had discovered a medical report showing that Pierre was terminally ill. The scene up until this point was very intense and emotional. The two women are taking in the enormity of what has just happened, when Lea looks towards the window and remarks on the scene outside. “Look, it’s so beautiful”
Juliette then looks at Lea, the focus changes to her face and she looks at the window,
The shot then changes to the window.  The lashing rain and the weeping willow tree moving in the wind, make constantly changing patterns on the glass. (you really need the moving image here)

The  change in pace with this simple juxtaposition signals a new understanding between the sisters and a new chapter in their relationship.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Project 4: Camera angles

This project deals with the position from which the camera (and the audience) views the action (shot). There are four basic shooting angles and their names are self explanatory:
  • Low angle
  • High angle
  • Canted frame
  • Point of view (subjective of an individual)

Examples of camera angles from the film “The Limey” (1999) directed by Steven Soderbergh for Film Four
Low angle: This low angle close up was shot showing Terence Stamp’s character Wilson, as he reflects on the events of the past days during his return flight from Los Angeles. This intimacy helps to show the emotion of  the character during a complex montage of back and forth cuts at the start of the film.

High angle: A high angle shot like this one has introduced tension, Wilson is about to break into a freight depot to confront some hoodlums and try to gain information about his daughter’s death. There is no way to know whether this is a subjective POV and his approach has been detected or just an objective view showing that he has to overcome a high security fence to enter the depot. 

High Angle: This viewpoint has introduced anticipation to the action. This unusual swimming pool on a hillside house in Los Angeles just has to be the scene of a fatality in the coming action – but who will end up in the bottom of the canyon?

High angle and low angle POV: This final pair of angled shots are shown over Wilson’s explanation of his “incremental” relationship with his daughter. He is looking up at her from the prisoner’s dock to the public gallery. He is relating how, as young girl she would threaten to call the police if he was naughty. It shows how he looked up to her and how important she was in his life. She is looking wistfully down at him with a sort of resignation. (Soderbergh very cleverly used footage of Stamp as a young man from Ken Loach’s 1967 film “Poor Cow”.)