Is There a Scorsese in the House?
April 2, 2004 9:17 PM   Subscribe

Im directing a short about friends moving away from each other. The cameraman has some experience, and we are using an 8k camera, but I wanted to know how you seamlessly move from one P.O.V in the same room to another P.O.V using only one camera. Of course this will take at least 2 takes, but what is a good way to go about this simple film trick?
posted by Keyser Soze to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is an 8k camera?

Please describe the two points of view more fully. I can't visualize what you are talking about.

Is there a famous example of the effect you're looking for?

When you say "seamlessly," exactly what do you mean by that?
posted by tomierna at 9:34 PM on April 2, 2004

Ummm, doing two takes, as you mentioned, then editing it? That's pretty much it.

If you want to avoid doing a lot of cuts and different perspectives like that, rehearse the camera movements and the movements so you can shift the camera around the room to gain a new perspective without a jump cut. For some really wicked examples of this sort of filmmaking check out Tarkovsky's Solaris. There's at least half a dozen three to five minute scenes that are all one take.
posted by The God Complex at 10:07 PM on April 2, 2004

Like tomierna, I'm baffled as to what an 8K camera is, and what exactly you're trying to do. Are the people in the same room? Facing each other?

How noticeable do you want this to be? Are you trying to be showy (nothing wrong with showy when it's well-thought-out) or unobtrusive?

You could do an arc-type move, where the camera is the stand-in for one actor's POV, then circle around to where it's in front of the other actor...but that will necessarily have a bunch of time looking at the wall unless the actors are right on top of each other.

There are lots of other tricks you can do involving camera platforms (especially when they have space for actors on 'em), movable furniture a la Citizen Kane, et cetera.
posted by Vidiot at 11:06 PM on April 2, 2004

8k = $8000 camera?

I don't really understand exactly what you're asking either. Sounds like you have two people talking to each other and want the image to first show one person's pov and then the other's.

If that's the case you have two options: 1. Do it with two camera set ups, one from each person's pov and then edit them together or 2. moving the camera during the shot.

If it's 1, that's pretty self explanatory. If it's two and you have no budget, get yourself a wheelchair, put your camera operator in it, and practice the shit out of the manouever.

Which you chose depends on what you're trying to communicate. Personally, I can only think of one instance in cinema where #2 worked extremely well (The Sweet Smell of Success). Usually I just think, "Oh, they just shifted pov."

If you're just starting out with making movies, I highly recommend these books:

On Directing Film, by David Mamet. The section called "where to put the camera" is particularly infuriating to new filmmakers. However, that's because it's pretty much good, practical advice which, in my experience, they never want to hear.

The Five C's of Cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli.
posted by dobbs at 11:07 PM on April 2, 2004

Which you chose depends on what you're trying to communicate. Personally, I can only think of one instance in cinema where #2 worked extremely well (The Sweet Smell of Success). Usually I just think, "Oh, they just shifted pov."

Like I said, watch Tarkovsky if you haven't.
posted by The God Complex at 11:10 PM on April 2, 2004

Thanks, TGC, but I have. Watch Sweet Smell if you haven't. ;)
posted by dobbs at 11:12 PM on April 2, 2004

Response by poster: What I meant by 8k camera is an $8000 camera, I believe its a Sony model. It does support widescreen, and interchangeable lenses.

Here is a scene I would like to explain in further detail:

Party atmosphere in 3 rooms. Camera focuses on a man talking to two girls, then switches to another scene of people drinking on a couch, no relation except that its a party. Scene of two people talking to each other, then camera is at a 90 degree angle (directly in front of) the person number one talking, then in the middle of the dialog the camera "switches" to the other persons response.

Thank you for the input Dobbs, ill go look for those books.

When I mean "seamlessly", I wanted to P.O.V to appear natural and have the actors not look forced (which is an acting issue, but the camera could give that impression as well), in regards to dialogue. Basically, I know the dialog will be done at least twice, but I am wondering how to overlap the dialog sequences without making the audio in a party atmosphere sound cut.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:13 PM on April 2, 2004

Response by poster: By the way, we are looking at a no-budget film. The camera is borrowed and all editing will be done with my 2.4Ghz PC using the latest Adobe software. (Creative Suite Premium, After effects and Premiere Pro 7)
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:15 PM on April 2, 2004

Will do. I only mentioned Solaris because I think he used the shifting camera to great effect.
posted by The God Complex at 11:21 PM on April 2, 2004

Keyser, you should be shooting the party silently with just your focused characters tallking. Do that from all angles. Then record room tone (the silence of the room with all the actors standing still and not talking), then get people to make small talk.

When you're editing, you edit it all together and then you lay the roomtone under it. Then you lay the chatter on the roomtone. Then you lay the music over that.

For added effect: a. when the actors are speaking, have them raise their voices as if they are talking over music and party noise. They will feel ridiculous doing it but this is how it is done in real movies. b. have the people that are doing the background chatter do it without saying anything while you're shooting your main actors so that their mouths will (very approximately) match the chatter that they do later and their hand gestures and what not will make sense.

If you're shooting your actors rather close in the frame, you won't have to worry as much about the bg people but you should still take them into consideration.

As for your switching pov, you want number 1 from my first post. You basically just shoot the whole scene (with your bg people acting but not saying anything and no music on) from actor A's pov and then do the exact same thing from actor B's pov. Then you edit them together as described above.
posted by dobbs at 11:21 PM on April 2, 2004

Then record room tone (the silence of the room with all the actors standing still and not talking), then get people to make small talk.

I should be clear that here I was referring to just sound. You don't shoot these things--just record the sound so that you can lay it under your actors later and it will sound like a party/
posted by dobbs at 11:23 PM on April 2, 2004

how are you going to be recording the audio? if you've got a boom mic, or you're using the one mounted on the camera, chances are the background noise is going to be pretty much random, so the audience won't be able to hear the cut.
posted by cheaily at 11:25 PM on April 2, 2004

Response by poster: I want to use a boom microphone, I hope I can use a boom mike. If I can't I will have to improv but I know how useful one can be. Should I use a minidisk recorder? Would a DAT tape recorder work better? I might be able to borrow such things. So either way, my audio and video will be on seperate forms of data storage, right? (You know, Digital tape in camera, DAT tape recording from boom mike.... right?)
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:41 AM on April 3, 2004

You can record the audio on whatever device(s) you have available. You can layer tracks together later when you are assembling (editing) the movie. Obviously digital is preferable as it saves the step of digitising the audio afterwards. See the recent thread on recording a radio piece for some options.

This thread is rapidly becoming an intro to filmmaking for dummies - let's hope the comments keep rolling in!
posted by cbrody at 2:06 AM on April 3, 2004

3 shots:

1. POV of actor #1 cut to

2. wider-angle establishing shot of both actors at the party. This establishes the spatial relationship between them and sets the plane of action. Cut to

3. POV of actor #2

You can also start with the establishing shot and the cut from one POV to the other.

This is how I was taught to do this in film school all those many years ago.
posted by briank at 5:57 AM on April 3, 2004

If you're going to shoot widescreen, and the camera is doing a digital widescreen don't use it. Get an attachable anamorphic lens and put it on the front of the camera and then use digital scaling in post. You can edit the entire piece "tall" and then when you're done, scale the height at the end. The reason for this is to preserve the entire CCD's resolution. The digital widescreen modes of most cameras is just a crop of the CCD which causes you to lose resolution.

For a good primer on this subject, read this.

As far as your shooting and editing goes, dobbs is right on target. Shoot each POV separately, doing all of each POV in one set and then move the camera and shoot the next POV.

Audiences are used to intercutting different POV's, as long as there is an establishing shot which includes enough of each POV to orient them.

Get a slate. Use it. Often. Have someone on-site to log the shots. You'll want this when you have two bits of take #36 that are great, but the rest comes from #14. Have someone on-site with a digital still camera to help you with the consistency of your shots from take to take.

When you are editing, learn what J-cuts and L-cuts are for.

In-camera audio on DV decks isn't uncompressed like DAT, so if you can get a DAT machine, and a good boom mike, use them. Lavaliers are also a good option for some shots, if they can be hidden in clothing. Using multiple microphones (of any type) will require more channels of recording - DAT machines give you two channels. DV cameras usually only have two XLR connectors available, so you're limited to two tracks on them as well. As mentioned above, shoot without crowd noise, and shoot crowd noise separately and combine them separately in the editing sessions. Think of each cut in each scene and each audio source as a separate atomic entity and think of the edit and audio mixing sessions to be where the combining occurs. The more atomic you are in your shoot, the more flexibility you have in the edit.
posted by tomierna at 6:32 AM on April 3, 2004

From an editor's point of view (this is what I do for a living), I recommend that you pick several scenes from your favorite films that are similar to the effect that you want, and dissect them piece by piece. By that, I mean literally write down in a notebook every angle, cut, and effect the filmmaker used.

You'll be surprised how complex seemingly simple scenes can be. Once you've done this a few times, you'll have a much better grasp of how to construct your scene. At that point, make your storyboard - it can be simple stick figures - of exactly how you want the scene laid out, down to angle, dissolves, etc. Filming is technically challenging enough during the process, which can very easily drain out that extra creative 'umph' you were counting for on the day of shooting. Going into it with a plan of action is imperative - even Harmony Korine does storyboards.

As far as sound, I assume you are shooting digital with your camera? If so, you can record sound on whatever you want, but you need to clap it.

That being said, I'd recommend that you find people who have experience in certain areas - be it sound recording, lighting, etc. and rope them into your film. Find a film program at a local college, and chances are you will encounter many eager folks willing to pitch in and lend their particular skills, leaving you focus and energy for your creative vision. Remember - filmmaking is a team sport.
posted by jazzkat11 at 6:54 AM on April 3, 2004

Some great advice here! Here are a few other notes off the top of my head:

1) Check the eye-line. If you're cutting between two camera angles in a dialogue scene, you're trying to create the illusion that the two actors are talking to each other. But when you're shooting actor B, you might have to move actor A way back, behind the camera. (So that the camera can "become" actor A.) If so, make sure that actor B is looking in the direction that he would really look if actor A was where he would be in real life. The illusion will be broken if the actors don't seem to be looking at each other.

2) If you have a group of extras in the room (i.e. party-goers), try to keep them all in the room for both camera angles. If a whole bunch of them leave during one of the takes, the ambient sound will change. Even if the extras are quiet, there will be fewer of them for the main character's speech to bounce off of. You don't want a noticable shift in audio-quality each time the angle shifts.

Also, someone else already mentioned this, but I want to stress the importance of recording 30-seconds or so of silence while everyone is in the room. "Silence" with these particular bodies will be different from general silence. And you might need extra ambient sound when you edit the sequence together (i.e. for a dramatic pause you decide to insert).

3) Tomierna mentioned L-cuts and J-cuts. To expand on the this a bit, these cuts (sometimes called "split edits") are the ones in which you hear actor A speaking but see actor B. In other words, the audio is not playing under the video with which it was shot.

Many editors make (at least) two passes throught the scene. The first pass is a so-called "radio edit," in which you see actor A while he is speaking and then you cut to actor B while he is speaking. You always see the actor who is speaking, and you never see one actor listening while the other is speaking.

The second pass is all about split edits. You mess up the radio edit, sometimes chosing to show the listener rather than the speaker. For me, this is the most creative part of editing a dialogue scene -- the part of the editing process in which one editor is likely to make very different choices than another.

When doing a split edit, I sometimes imagine I'm standing in the room, watching the two actors. But I'm standing so close that I can't take them in both at once. I need to turn my head to see each speaker in turn.

Now, if actor A says "How are you today?" and actor B replies, "Fine, thank you," when do I turn my head from A to B? Do I wait until the end of the word "today" (a straight radio edit), or do I anticipate and start turning my head on "you"?

Obviously, there are a million choices, and a million considerations: mood, pace, etc.

If you're new to this type of editing, I recommend renting a DVD of a movie that has a scene somewhat similar to the one you're filming (several DVDs would be even better). Watch the scene, paying special attention to the split edits.

I'm going so deeply into this, because I think split edits are going to be largely responsible for the natural-conversation effect you're going for. If the camera is on actor A and the audience wants to look at actor B, they're going to get an artifical feeling, because in real life they'd be able to turn their heads and look at B.
posted by grumblebee at 6:56 AM on April 3, 2004

Response by poster: Wow. Maybe I should write a one page script and learn the basics from that.

I found out the camera is a Canon XL-1. tomierna pointed out that digital compression reduces pixels in the image. Does this camera do that? We may not be able to get another lens. When I say this film is no-budget, I mean no budget.

Next issue is two of my friends who are going to be in it are saying they want to do different things than what is in the script, to sound "bad ass". I told them if they put their balls before their script I would replace them. What should I say if this comes up in the future?
posted by Keyser Soze at 7:06 AM on April 3, 2004

if what they have to say is better than whats in your script you should use it , let them have a bit of input, its a group process for me anyway.

maybe you could post the lines and the replacements and we could see maybe ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 7:24 AM on April 3, 2004

What should I say if this comes up in the future?

You'd be surprised at what a good actor can add to a film by improvisation. However, you never know if something works until it's in the can.

Everyone has ideas on how a particular film should be shot, especially if they detect the director wavering in any form. My advice? You're shooting digital, so do extra takes. Have them do it their way once, then do it your way. That way, everyone feels like they've gotten their two cents in, you've got the take you want, and chances are something is going to work. Believe me, in post you'll thank yourself at having options.

On preview: What sgt. serenity said - all filmmaking is a group process.
posted by jazzkat11 at 7:32 AM on April 3, 2004

I once learned a great trick from a very experienced director who did a lot of work with non-pro actors. I sometimes use this trick even with pro actors with good results.

Beginning actors tend to overact. Lets say that the really important moment is when the character picks up the envelope. If the actors thinks of it this way, he might pick up the envelope with a hugely over-the-top look of pain on his face.

But try saying to him, "the key part of the scene is when you're looking out the window, so cross to the window and then really WORK it. Oh, and on the way to the window, just stop by the table and pick up the envelope."

Keep the cameras rolling through the whole thing -- knowing that you're only going to use the envelope part.

This is just one possible trick. I think it's cool to trick actors this way. In general, they'll thank you in the end if you make them look good on film.

In truth, you have to come up with a million tricks. Your job is to get the best performance out of each actor in each moment. Each actor is different and each moment is different. So you have to really learn the actors's psychologies and you have to really understand the story you're trying to tell.

And all actors want to contribute. They don't want to feel like chess pieces. So I agree with everyone here who says let them do their thing. Video tape is cheap. If you have one idea and they have another, say "great idea! Let's try it BOTH ways!" In the editing room, you can discard their way or use it, if you like it better.
posted by grumblebee at 10:14 AM on April 3, 2004

Keyser, as for the "improv" thing, I would shoot it your own way and shoot it the actors' way as well and tell them that you'll use the best takes in the editing room. However, if they refuse to do your version because they "know" their own is better, I would replace them.

I'll play devil's advocate to sft and jazzkat11 as I come to filmmaking from a writer's perspective and think most amateur actors don't understand subtext and themes very well (this is of course assuming that your script is well written and has subtext and themes). In my experience, inexperienced directors who let their actors rewrite the script while shooting end up shooting themselves in the foot. I'm not against improv, I just think that when one's writing the script, one has all the time in the world to work everything out. When you're on set and time is money it's not uncommon for the brain (forced to think quickly under these circumstances) to come up with cliche.

So, go ahead and let them improv or rewrite the script, but make sure you also do enough coverage to edit together the movie you wrote.

As a writer, it drives me nuts when everyone and his brother offers "suggestions" on set for how to improve the script. I know a lot about camera work and directing, but when employed as a writer, I don't tell those people how to do their jobs. The same respect rarely comes the other way.
posted by dobbs at 10:20 AM on April 3, 2004

sft=sgt. Sorry Sarge!
posted by dobbs at 10:22 AM on April 3, 2004

As an editor myself, I'd say that jazzkat's and dobbs' and everybody's comments are dead on. I'd definitely watch -- *very* closely -- DVDs of scenes that you like in films.

Lots of people have covered above my exact advice I'd give. I would add the titles of two great, indispensable books -- "The Grammar of the Edit", by Roy Thompson, and the second edition of "In the Blink of an Eye", by Walter Murch.
posted by Vidiot at 11:18 AM on April 3, 2004

Another book: The Conversations : Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje.

(This is a fantastic thread and should be in any Best-of-MeFi collection. I had no idea we had so many people professionally involved with making movies and able to discuss it so well.)
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on April 3, 2004

Second the Ondaatje book recommendation from languagehat...though I'd recommend Murch's "In the Blink of an Eye", as mentioned above, first for someone learning how to do it. "The Conversations" has marvelous insights in it, however, and is definitely worth a read.

And as far as how you've described the scene, Keyser, a cut works just fine and will be seen as seamless -- or at least won't be noticed or seem "off" to the viewer. The main things to remember here are:

--Make sure the shots aren't identical -- it helps if you're shooting people just off-center, so their heads aren't in the exact center of the that way when you edit, it won't look like their heads are swapping back and forth.

(As a general rule, the "Rule of Thirds" works well here -- mentally divide the frame into thirds with vertical and horizontal lines...imagine a tic-tac-toe grid on screen. Put your focal points along these lines or (even better) at their intersections. Dead-center is boring, off-center is better.)

--Also, any interaction or action has a "plane of movement" or "vector line." When two people are talking face-to-face, this line is between their faces and follows their gaze. Make sure you shoot from only one side of this line -- if you don't, the peoples' relative positions will change as you cut back and forth. (This is why football, basketball, etc. games have cameras only on one side of the action. If Notre Dame is charging down the field from right to left, it's confusing to the viewer if all of a sudden they're charging from left to right.)

--I try to cut between thoughts, or whenever a new thought strikes. Blinks are often telltale indicators of this.

--Watch your shot pacing -- varied length is good, unless you're trying to set up some sort of parallel structure or rhythm leading to a payoff.

--People focus on the eyes. Be conscious of where your actors' eyes are looking. If they glance off to the side, the viewers will notice it and wonder what's over there. This is especially true of bad timing vis-a-vis a glance and cutting away to another shot.

--For some psychological reason, things on the right-hand-side of the screen are "heavier" -- the viewer will notice them more. Same goes for things higher up on the screen. And a movement from left to right is often more forceful than the identical movement from right to left.

--Careful with the zoom. Lots of beginning shooters overuse the zoom, and nothing is more annoying to an editor.

--If you're cutting into a moving shot (either a zoom or where the camera is physically moving), it can be jarring. Better to cut just before the move starts and cut to the next shot after it ends. If you have to do it, cutting into a moving shot and then letting it finish is generally less jarring than letting the move start and cutting away before it's finished.

All these are basic things you'll find in textbooks, etc. They're also rules that can all be broken for effect. But there is a visual grammar, and your viewers have learned it (as have you) from watching lots of TV and movies. Once you learn to communicate using this visual language, your movies will all the better for it.

Have fun!
posted by Vidiot at 12:33 PM on April 3, 2004

errr...your movies will be all the better for it.
posted by Vidiot at 12:37 PM on April 3, 2004

i'll just point out the "contender" scene in on the waterfront is improvised.
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:03 PM on April 3, 2004

i'll just point out the "contender" scene in on the waterfront is improvised.

Sorry, sgt.serenity, but I've heard that repeated so many times and it just angers me. I've even read an account where Carlo Fiore, one of Brando's friends and biographers, takes credit for inspiring Brando to improv the contender scene.

It's simply not true and can be confirmed by going right to the source. In the book, Kazan: The Master Director Discusses His Films the director says that all of the scenes in the film are done "as written" and goes on to say that the only thing Brando added was to say, 'Charley,' over and over again.

And, for further proof, the scene/line can be found in Bud Schulberg's shooting script. In those days, no one took the finished film and transcribed it into a script. There was no point in doing that because there was no market for shot screenplays. The line/scene had to exist prior to shooting. The line is also in Schulberg's book, Waterfront.

I can't say positively because I can't find the issue, but I believe that 2 years ago Schulberg was on the cover of Hollywood Scriptwriter and in the interview inside he also contested the improv rumour.
posted by dobbs at 1:47 PM on April 3, 2004

I think the whole improv vs. written argument misses the main point: the only people who should be contributing original dialogue are those that deeply understand the story.

It usually works best when the writer crafts all the dialogue, because USUALLY the writer understands the story best -- because he's lived with it the longest. But we've all seen exceptions, in which a writer seems to stop understanding his own story about halfway through.

Actors are usually brounght into the collaborative process really late in the game, so the changes are that any changes they make will be based on a shallow understanding of the story. But there are huge exceptions to this rule. Sometimes a really smart actor, or an actor who has been part of the project for a long time, or an actor with a great gut understanding of his character, can improvise a line that adds an immense amount to the story.

usually though, a actor will improvise some general gag or insult line, which may be funny or biting, but will probably be gratuitous (not pertaining to the story).

My belief is that the director's main job is to be the guardian of the story. That means he must read the script a hundred times until he has the story in his bones. He must decide what the story IS and what it isn't. And he must make sure that all the collabotors -- writer, actors, camera people, editors, (and in the best of all possible worlds) publicity people -- keep the project in line with the story.

If you can clearly articulate the story to the actors, they will (in general) understand why you're nay-saying their ideas. You can say, "great joke, but can you see how it doesn't move the story forward?"
posted by grumblebee at 2:13 PM on April 3, 2004

Excellent post, grumblebee.
posted by dobbs at 2:50 PM on April 3, 2004

If I were buying an audio recorder now, I would look for a digital device that records directly to hard drive in 16:48/44 AIF/WAV. This saves tape cost and import time. Just add a timecode track before importing into FCP or whatever. You can can archive to CDR. Just think... no tapes or minidisks!

Some good advice here, by the way. I'm impressed with the production acumen of this crew. I wish there were a MetaFilter type site dedicated to just these types of discussions. There probably are, but I haven't found any cool ones.
posted by squirrel at 3:04 PM on April 3, 2004

We could pool all of our expertise and make a MeFi movie -- funded by micropayments.
posted by grumblebee at 5:43 PM on April 3, 2004

Response by poster: That's very smart but a lot like communism, grumblebee: Sounds great on paper, not as great in real life. Everyones advice has genuinely put this idea into a new direction.
posted by Keyser Soze at 5:47 PM on April 3, 2004

hmm i dunno , i'd quite like to do something like that.

I agree with grumblebee and dobbs mostly, my source for that waterfront story is brando's own official biography.

I like the ken loach way of doing things where he gives actors the through line of the scene and gets them to improvise round that , so the storys still intact and it looks really fresh.
Also Mike leighs method of getting actors together to make characters and then writing the story based on those characters is of particular appeal to me.
posted by sgt.serenity at 7:21 PM on April 3, 2004

The one, sarge.
posted by squirrel at 10:05 PM on April 3, 2004

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