Week One: Film Basics
This PowerPoint recaps, as we saw in class, the basic “building blocks” of movies. Some examples for viewing follow below.
Sometimes, during dialogue between two characters, a film will alternate one and the other using what is called a “shot-reverse shot” sequence. Note how characters are shot so that they are apparently looking at each other – one on the left, looking right, and the other on the right, looking left (reverse). Eyelines must match, preserving the sense that they are really looking at each other, even if the two shots were done separately.
Three O’Clock High (Phil Joanou, 1987)
Terminator 2 (James Cameron, 1991)
Casablanca (Warner Brothers/Michael Curtiz, 1942)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017)
How many shots in the average scene? Well, it depends not only on the length of the scene, but on what needs to be shown and more importantly, on the style of the film. Some directors favour a rapid cutting style, breaking their scenes into many quick fragments from many different angles. Other times, a scene might be only ONE shot, such as this spectacular “long take” performed on the Steadicam by operator Larry McConkey, which constitutes the 5 minute opening scene of Brian de Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities (1990).
By contrast, watch this 5 minute scene from John Woo’s Hong Kong action film, Hard Boiled (1992). Just for fun, try and count the shots!
And who could forget Alfred Hitchcock’s famous shower murder scene, from 1960’s Psycho, using the rapid-fire “Russian montage” style of editing so that we think we are seeing a stabbing, even though we never do!
From the film Penn and Teller Get Killed (1989), here is a funny scene that is also flawlessly constructed. It is a great example of single-camera continuity shooting and editing. Watch how the different shots are used, changing distance and angle to show us exactly what we need to know to understand the joke Teller is playing on Penn. And using one camera, with the actors repeating the actions over and over for the different takes, the shots are combined so well that it flows as though in real time. Watch in particular the clever blocking and camera positioning that keeps all the screen directions clear, even though Penn is moving back and forth between Teller, and the airport security officer on the opposite side of the metal detector. If you find a continuity error, let me know!
James Cameron’s Terminator 2 is not just a blockbuster action film filled with special effects and explosions. Cameron knows exactly where to put the camera, and when to cut, to keep us fully invested in his far-fetched story about a robot who has come from the future to save the life of a future leader of the revolution against machines…
Watch for great camera movements, pulling focus, seeing through the Terminator robot’s eyes (a special effects POV shot), a nice build up of tension, quick stunts, and a few laughs – all packed into one short scene.
On a movie set, who is responsible for watching over continuity? Someone has to make sure the actors keep their glasses on in every take, use the same hand to lift the coffee cup, and a thousand other details that need to match from shot to shot if the film is going to look truly continuous. That position is called the Script Supervisor – armed with a clipboard and the film’s script, multi-coloured pens, and a stopwatch, as well as incredibly sharp observation skills.
In this video, a professional Script Supervisor illustrates the importance of her job by showing how continuity errors can be avoided by paying attention to details during the shooting.
Paul Reubens was a popular comedian with a character named Pee Wee Herman. Before a sex scandal put an end to his career, he hosted a kids’ show called Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and starred in two films: Tim Burton’s first feature, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), and a zany follow up called Big Top Pee Wee (1988). In that one, Pee Wee is a farmer and one day, a tornado deposits a circus onto his property. Pee Wee falls for the sexy Italian trapeze artist, getting him into hot water with Winnie, his kindergarten schoolteacher girlfriend.
For fun, look for all the film elements we have spoken about in today’s class: transitions like cut, wipe, and dissolve; shot-reverse shot sequences, match cuts, jump cuts (watch Pee Wee get down from an elephant’s back), continuity errors (watch the four brothers come out of the store), keeping screen directions clear with the 180 degree rule, and much more. Oh yes, and in the second part – watch for the longest kiss in cinematic history… so long, the music ran out and had to start over!