Learning How – Scene Composition & Blocking

I’ve wanted to take directing the scenes more seriously for a while now in order to provide a much more professional level of creating these projects but never got around properly to actually learning and taking these elements into proper consideration until now. To note this blog isn’t going to be related to my development of the actual animation and therefore can be skipped; this is more for me personally as I learn about creating a properly directed scene and as such will constantly be added too.

What’s written will probably be taken verbatim from the video I’ve watched or page I read so I can come back to it time and time again to understand it more. But what you will see in brackets, especially if it has a film title or such first, is me watching the scene provided with the video but taking note of camera angles, shot, how its paced and everything as I try and understand this properly. If it is underlined then its something that stands out to me. (if that makes sense).

Composition –

  1. is the visual aesthetics of the shot,the shapes the lighting the colours.
  2. You can compose a shot to allow dramatic introduction and things into the frame like new shapes and new characters. (Unforgiven, 1992 – sawn off lifting into shot behind crowd as man talks to them.)

Blocking –

  1. is the moving and the position of the cameras and the actors; camera tilts etc.
  2. You can block a shot to allow the camera to follow the actions of your characters all while staying in the same shot allowing the viewer to remain in the film for a more cinematic experience (High and Low, 1960 – following mans lowering of gun at the sight of the body and then lifting back up with the tissue to cover his mouth).
  3. An important aspect of blocking is the amount of coverage (Mentioned below)
  4. A good use of blocking – Jaws, 1975 – Protagonist, Brody, is what the director wants you to look at – The audience in the room (An open shot of the room and everyone in, we see everyone have their eyes directed at Brody at the corner of the set, twice; once for the citizens and then again at a new angle for those sitting behind the desk facing away from the camera in the previous shot.) A strategic restraint on close-ups, especially on sole individuals, this allows the audience to understand the most important characters and dialogue in a scene. (the camera snaps close up on the lady talking, once again all eyes directed at her, and then cuts to Brody  but this time without anyone else to distract in the scene. Shots gives distance when we need to see how everyone else in the room reacts to whats being said, once again cutting on the bigger audience and those behind the table.) Classical film making because its all about making contrast through movement and shapes, its all about directing the audience to what they need to be looking at. (Brody says something bad, we are given a open shot of everyone in the scene from a new angle, a close up once again of Brody as the main man says something out of shot to gage his reaction and then a cut to the man who had just spoke to once again repeat his words now directed at the citizens and then their reaction from close up angles of around 3 people per shot to once again Brody and his reaction.)
  5. A bad use of blocking – Super 8, 2011 – the camera is directed with a much blunter style of film making, when people are upset it cuts to people shaking their heads, characters are static as the camera moves around them. There’s also a much larger number of cuts with almost the same amount of shots. None of which have the same care or composition as the previous example. (The shot shows a woman amongst a crowd of people closer up, at the back and moving around her in between. She is talking at someone we see from behind in the same shot but covering half of the cameras coverage. A close up on her as she makes a point. Shot from behind her now showing the man shes talking with less people but with only a few faces and the reactions visible including that man as the camera pans left to right. New shot from the side of some people sitting in a pew, some looking off screen right showing some reactions and listening and one new older lady looking down shaking her head as the woman still speaks. New shot again of more people sitting on a pew reacting, these people nodding as if to agree with her or talking between them. Close up again on woman still making her point. Shot from behind her closer than the last similar shot with just her and the officer visible to show him looking not at her but off camera to the right. Again close up on woman now speaking out of shot presumably at the other people. Distant angle that encompasses the entire hall of people, our woman blending with crowd near another man who has stood in the centre this entire time. The crowd react to the woman, we hear clapping but almost all of them have their hands hidden by the backs of their heads at this angle. New shot of people at pew shaking heads. Long shot from the crowd at the man as he begins to talk, the woman and that same man still in the shot.) Bit players are given close ups even when they are doing jokes, as a result this feels like a very direct but looser style of film making which is fine but does have its drawbacks. (Close up of woman, audience reacts, woman passes mic to that other man standing at the centre but shot cuts to officers reaction before its totally handed over.)
  6. A bad use of blocking small task – Count how many shots are used to show a crane going up in one sequence from same film. ([Shot 1] Opening low shot on utility vehicle on a quiet street as something yellow crashing onto the ground close up. [Shot 2] Close up shot of a mans reaction, he then begins looking down off camera. [Shot 3] Low angle shot at a tilt looking up at same man as he reaches down to something close to him but out of shot. Camera follows his hand down further to reach the controls but remains fixed in place as his elevator crane begins to rise up. [Shot 4] Fixed shot from behind the man with much of his body taking up half the screen and the night sky over the trees taking the other as the crane continues to climb. [Shot 5] Long distance shot of the entire street, utility vehicle is in the bottom right of the scene with not much else but the set and crane continuing to rise for a few seconds. [Shot 6] Side on shot with much of the in focus, him looking off behind the camera. Camera begins to close in once the lift stops and the man fiddles with something near the controls, this soon leaving the shot as the camera gets closer. [Shot 7] Close up of man once his stops fiddling and looks off behind the camera. [Shot 8] Close up behind the man in the right, the night sky taking a lot of the focus. [Shot 9] Angled shot looking up from below the lift. [End: Duration – 24 secs].
  7. Clever blocking not only minimises excessive cutting between shots in something like a tense scene like this, but also rids the film of clumsy staging something that will bring you out of the experience. This can be the camera motivating the action rather than the action motivating the camera. (Same film – Close up of officers face, shot cuts back to show a pack of dogs running towards the officer. Officer notices dogs and steps out with a confused reacts as they all run past with him in the middle. Camera begins to approach towards the right of the officers as he moves back to his original position. [New Example] – Camera starts low and wide looking up at a man coming out of the convenience store [this was behind the officer in the previous shot]. As the man walks out reacting confused to something off camera to the left the camera begins to come in for a better shot of his reaction. The man says “Sheriff?” and remains still as the camera pans left to see a crushed police car back to its original low position. The camera begins to follow the mans legs as he moves around the car.) Why not start at the door and move out after that dramatic beat. This feels slick with nothing gained from it.
  8. Good composition aids blocking (Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014 – [One character threatening another] Open with a group of people leaving a ruins, one human man is walking parallel with another alien man at the lead, shouting aggressively in his ear. They continue walking from a distance. Camera quickly cuts to a close up of just the two men as the alien turns on the human and invades his space now by grabbing his collar. Close up of humans reaction looking down towards the aliens lower half. Close up of the alien showing his weapon holstered by his waist. Cut to close up of alien talking directly at the human in a more calm manner. [Example 2, Unforgiven, 1992 – One black and one white cowboy talking towards a shorter male who is facing away from the camera at the two men. Both men seem relaxed in talking to this guy and the black male reaches down to grab something between all three who following his gaze. Shot low from behind the two men now at the younger male as the black man takes his rifle, shot holds as the younger male lowers his hand near his holstered weapon and warns the black man to let go of the rifle. Side on shot of the men again, level with their faces, both looking at the rifle but turn their gaze to the younger guy as he finishes his threat and then their reaction as they both look towards his weapon. Close up of said weapon then camera pans up to young mans calm demeanour. Close up behind holstered gun looking up at the older men in clear view and their reactions as they look to the younger guy and then each other.) By keeping the weapon in frame while the characters react to it, the threat becomes much more tangible.
  9. With few shots and cuts in total

Coverage –

  1. is the amount of shots and different angles used to show whats happening on screen. Good coverage provides clarity to the audience and gives the directing more opportunities to swap between his/her best takes. (The Iron Giant, 1999 – tracking shot following boy with hand shown behind him up to the doorway where he looks at the person and the finger touches him, switch to face on shot from the hand as the boy pushes it back and looks away again. Close up shot of boy pulling out coin and looking at it then the woman. Back out shot as he throws and hits shelf, and reacts as it breaks, plus the reaction of the woman showing an action; the result and then reactions) Whereas bad coverage can over complicate or undersell a scene (Taken 2, 2012 – Protagonist and bad guy fight, quick cuts, new angles and shaky camera with not many clear actions or reactions)
  2. Film making is constantly evolving, and different styles come and go, each has their own strength, some are brilliant at evoking intensity, but may require a different number of shots to pull that off (Bourne Ultimatum, 2007 – Chase scene) This leads into coverage, different styles require different coverage, but poorly planned coverage can lead to poor direction. When stunt acting is bad it isn’t masked with coverage but by shaking the camera. (Snowpiercer, 2007 – Riot Sequence – Head height camera angle of man beating other man with baton, cuts with attacker first on left to the fight from the right. New shot of a different male grabbing a man on his knees around his neck from behind with a shorter black woman enter from behind. The camera pans to her as she beats another man further back down then turns on the man being held to repeatedly hit him in the stomach, the entire time the camera shaking left to right moving slightly away each time the woman’s weapon hits the man.) But when the stunt acting is good, the coverage also becomes overdone. (High angle looking down on a man running away from the camera across a large piping with people either side cheering him on. Man jumps at the end of the pipe as the camera cuts to see him land in the next room with two or three new men. Our character uses the wall to jump up and clasp a railing above a man in an officer uniform who at the same time is attacking another person. Other characters move out of the shot as the first male wraps his legs around the officers head. Close up of a knife going into officer and then being pulled up.) A fight scene later in the film is much calmer with longer takes with extensive blocking of the acting and camera. Each shot is well thought out and rehearsed and nothing here feels fake. (Close up of man holding a gun aiming behind the camera clearly bloodied and tired. Camera switches to behind same character looking down a long, foggy corridor with many points of cover behind large floor to ceiling walls. Camera holds position as our character moves from the left to right side, himself constantly focused down the corridor only checking the direction hes going once. A man comes out from up ahead and our guy opens fire as the man moves from right to left side. Our guy takes cover blind firing as the other man returns fire ducking in out eventually hitting our guys hand forcing him to drop his weapon and react in pain and cover his hurt hand.) This shows that smart blocking can sell a fight scene.

 

Bibliography:

1 –

  • FOX, D.

    Directing – The Fine Arts of Blocking and Composition

    In-text: (Fox, 2017)

    Your Bibliography: Fox, D. (2017). Directing – The Fine Arts of Blocking and Composition. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT3FZdMqtVk [Accessed 10 Jan. 2017].

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