Read installment 1 here (on Canon log, waveform monitors & hiring the best documentary DP); installment 2 here (on lighting dark skin, SLRs and recreating ‘Sex and the City’); and installment 3 here, if you missed them any of them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Before you dive in, here’s a reminder of my initial announcement, to remind you what this new series is about, and, for those who may just be joining us…
Her much-anticipated monthly columns on all things cinematography, have contributed much to this blog’s success in a myriad of ways, since she started penning them in 2012, much to the appreciation and education of the many who read each and everyone – the two most popular likely being “The Art of Lighting Dark Skin for Film and HD” and “A Cinematographer’s Plea to the Budding Film Auteur: Move Your Camera.” Cybel Martin’s pieces have been so widely-read, so much that even the late Roger Ebert, before his death last year, shared one of them on Twitter, which we were all incredibly appreciative of, given the many hundreds-of-thousands of followers he has. Needless to say, that specific post was at the top of the most visited S&A articles for that year (2012). Cybel has already covered a lot of ground since her first post, and in order to assist in ensuring that she continues to inform and delight, we both agreed that a bi-monthly column – in which she’ll essentially hold court, fielding specific questions from YOU, the reader – was a great idea! So, you’re encouraged to email any cinematography-related questions (whether you’re a pro filmmaker, or just getting started, or somewhere between) to Cybel at AskCybel@gmail.com. I’m sure she’ll really appreciate it if you kept your questions direct and professional. She’ll then publish bimonthly posts, answering as many questions posed as she’s able to. Obviously, your participation is necessary to maintain this new series; so don’t hesitate to use it, otherwise, it’ll go away! This is something we’ve never done before, so we might make adjustments along the way, if necessary, as engagement evolves. In the meantime, “Ask Cybel” at AskCybel@gmail.com. You can also be anonymous, for those who don’t want their names published.
Here’s installment #4, with 2 questions, from Eric and James.
— Hi Cybel,
Thank you for taking the time to answer a screenwriter slash wannabe director question. :-)
My question: What elements or visual clues do you look for in a scene to help you determine how you want to set up that specific shot? Maybe can you give a quick example?
If you haven’t already, please read my article on camera movement.
I tend to gravitate towards directors who are auteurs. I want the final product to be a reflection of their voice, not mine. I enjoy learning their style and finding the best ways to augment/solidify that. How this relates to your question is I am rarely the one deciding where to place the camera for a specific shot. It’s either preconceived by the director or a collaboration between us.
But I won’t leave you hanging. I went to a friend’s screenplay reading recently and spent half the time with my eyes closed. I had to explain to him afterward that I wasn’t asleep. When I closed my eyes, and heard his actors speak, I saw the film unfolding in my mind. Including where to place the camera.
What triggers camera placement is not exclusively the dialogue nor stage direction. It’s what’s not being said. For instance, I’m very opinionated about how love/sex scenes are shot. The best ones are never about sex. They are about power, boredom, avoidance, forgiveness etc. I might use a wide angle lens and place the camera 15 feet away from the couple to express avoidance. Or stand on the bed, shooting high angle and handheld to capture tension and power struggle.
For obvious reasons, it’s tricky to find examples of what I think are the most intelligent on camera sex scenes. But compare Last Tango in Paris, Happy Together and Cassanova. Remember that the lighting, location and sound design have as much to do with the impact of a sex scene as camera placement.
If my director is unsure how to capture a scene, I’ll ask them to distill it down to one word. Francis Ford Coppola holds a similar philosophy.
— Hi Cybel,
My name is James. I started off as a PA, mainly set & driving. However I want to transition to Grip work.
Any pointers? Oh I suppose I should invest in a tool kit?
To transition from Production Assistant to any other crew position, I suggest people ask to PA in that department. You should apply for any Grip PA jobs. If you are a quick learner and hard worker, you’ll continue to get Grip jobs and work your way up to Key Grip.
Ask other grips during their lunch break or after wrap what advice they have and if they can refer you for more work. Asking personal questions before a crew member has had their coffee can lead to bodily harm.
Immediate actions you can take:
– Invest in a basic Grip toolkit, tool belt and quality work boots
– Visit local grip/electric equipment rental houses. Make friends. Maybe work there part time to increase your network and study the equipment. My time working in Kaufman Astoria Studios rental department was invaluable
– Look up Grip equipment vendors online and familiarize yourself with all the gear and their names
– Look up Expendable vendors online and familiarize yourself with gel/diffusion, tape, sash etc names and numbers
– Learn your knots. Learn about set safety. I studied Harry Box’s Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook. I’m sure similar info is now online
– Read blog posts from Dollygrippery
As always, I encourage readers to offer additional tips in the comment section.
Email questions for #AskCybel at AskCybel(at)gmail.com. Indicate if you’d like your name published or kept anonymous.