S&I – Analysis and Reflection

THE ABSTRACT – HAIKU EDIT

View my Fine Cut versions for the Abstract – Haiku exercise below:

Fine Cut Abstract V1

Fine Cut Abstract V2

PRODUCTION

From the abstract exercise’s production, I realize the essence of capturing images that are not only aesthetically beautiful but also effective, meaningful and poetic. By looking at traces of reflected, refracted or dappled lights, I have opportunities to improve my eye for details. Exploring beauties in hidden or unusual places is a good practice exercise for a visual producer. Although after reviewing the footage, there are several things I could improve next time, I am truly inspired by this exercise to always open my eyes, observe the world around and subconsciously search for potential good shots.

For this type of shooting, without any restrictions of human subjects, I find that we are free to shoot in whichever way we desire. However, being “free” is not as simple as it sounds. When there are multiple options to approach a shot, it would also take at least multiple tries to figure out which option works best. It forces us to move around, experiment and try out different things (for example, close-up or extreme close-up, top-view or side-view, symmetrical or asymmetrical, etc.). I personally feel that getting familiar with the mentality of being “free”, is what I need to work on to improve.

POST-PRODUCTION

When editing the abstract exercise, what I look at is the transition of shots. With a great collection of footage with no restricted order of storytelling, it is essential to pick the right order of clips, of how one image leads to another, in order to create a consistent flow or to deliver a message. In my Fine Cut v1.0, the film starts off with a larger-scaled image of a building, then gradually shifts into finer, smaller architectural details. All of the shots are confined in symmetrical visuals, which is the theme for the video.

Additionally, I also look at experimenting and exploring different options of mixing audio elements together (sound, voice, music). I personally find that having great control of the level (volume) of each audio layer is crucial in generating a hierarchy of sound and translating my artistic intentions. While in Fine Cut v1.0, I explore a more concentration on the interplay of music and voice, in Fine Cut v2.0, sound and music take the main roles.

THE INITIATIVE POST – COLOURS IN FILM

One thing that strikes my interests in filmmaking is the use of colours in storytelling. According to Brown B. in the 2013 book “Cinematography: Theory and Practice”, colour is one of the most important aspects of cinematography, not merely because it can help generates visually beautiful scenes, but also its capability to reach people at a gut emotional level. For this reason, colour can be a powerful tool in creating visual subtext.

In order to use colours effectively, a filmmaker needs to understand the fundamental effects and principles of colours, in the way it affects viewer’s eyes and emotions. For example, based on the infographic created by StudioBinder, a red-dominant scene could be representing violence (blood, fire, etc.), lust, anger or danger. On the other hand, a blueish tone could be used to convey coldness, isolation or mystery. A thoughtful choice of colour and tone in a scene could affect the viewers much more profoundly than their straightforward actions.

To control the colour in a scene requires a collaboration of aspects: colours of objects (production design, costume design), colours of lights (lighting), colours of the setting (location, time, etc.) and colour-grading (editing).

In the production of Lenny, we tried to control the combination of colours in the choice of costumes and locations. In the scene, Lenny wears a bright red shirt that metaphorically represents his vibrant, innocent personalities, while Sharon wears a full outfit, which brings out her coolness, mysterious-ness, comparing to Lenny. The two sit on different sides of the bench that are opposite to their outfit’s colours (Lenny sits on the black side, while Sharon sits on the red side), to bring them out more in the scene, as well as emphasizing in their contrast personalities. However, the background and lighting of the scene were overwhelmingly yellow-ish that we had no control of.

 

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Opposite colours choice in ‘Lenny’

 

PROMPT – READINGS

SOUND DESIGN

In ‘Audio in Media’ by Alten S. (1994), I am extremely fascinated by the countless possibilities that a successful sound design can greatly contribute to convey the underlying meaning or message of a shot. As Alten S. said, “sound design represents the overall artistic styling of the sonic fabric in an audio production” (1994).

Up until now, after shooting Lenny, I only thought of sound recording as a mean for the audience to hear what is said. However, the potential is way beyond that. In an example by Alten S. (1994), of a couple’s conversation, hinting at the inevitable collapse of their relationship somewhere down the road without being visually heavy-handed, there are several ways a sound designer can achieve that through the use of microphone, its placement and the surrounding acoustics. For this instance, a microphone that records crisp sounds, placed further away from the subjects in a sound-reflecting environment would successfully do the job. The thoughtful selection of additional sound effects would also profoundly enhances and elevates the meaning of the shots, and achieves the desired results. The same thought process could be applied in any other shots with any other intentions.

Learning about the importance and potential of sound design makes me rethink the Lenny shoot, in how I could apply this knowledge in sound design into improving the result of the exercise.

SIGHT AND HEARING

“If sound is an obligatory complement of an image, give preponderance either to the sound, or to the image. If equal, they damage or kill each other, as we say of colours.” (Bresson, R. 1986)

In this quote, Bresson R. talks about the importance and unimportance of sound and image in certain situations, by making the comparison to the use of colours. Being fairly experienced in illustrating and painting, I found this comparison appreciably speaks to me. In a painting (or an illustrative design), the use of colours is significantly crucial in communicating the idea of the artists. A colour or tone must stand out from the rest, depending on the intention of the artists, whether to have viewers specifically concentrate on a subject or aspect (still paintings, portraits, etc.) or set-up the mood of the painting (abstract, landscapes, etc.). If two or more colours clash in terms of importance (intensity, coverage, etc.), the painting will become bland and monotonous, consequently, confuse the viewers.

By applying the same concept in film-making, I’ve learned that sound and image must be well thought-out by a cinematographer, in a way that they successfully fulfill their intended jobs (tell the story or communicate) but not step on each other’s toes. This does not mean it should be all image or all sound (imagine going through an art gallery of all hot colours, you’d be craving for some cool colours), but rather give them their turns to stand out. As Bresson R. says, “the eye solicited alone makes the ears impatience, the ear solicited alone makes the eyes impatience. Use these impatiences.” (1986). If these impatiences are tailored and used intelligently, they might be able to result in some satisfying viewing experiences (the cool-coloured painting you find after some hot-coloured ones would be very pleasant to look at). I find Bresson’s statements to be verifiable since the lack of concentration on either would be tedious, while too much concentration on both would be overwhelming.

LENNY – REFLECTION

Lenny 3 Rough Cut V1

Lenny 3 Fine Cut V2

Lenny 3 Fine Cut V3

PRE-PRODUCTION

 

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During the creative pre-production stage of Lenny, I learned that the process of making storyboard (while not all the time necessary or sufficient for some), is a great method to assist the directors and crew members in the later stages of the project. By quickly sketching the proposed shots on to papers (or alternatively using still images), the director can easily visualize their ideas and reflects on them before the actual production. I found that my storyboard sketches greatly help me (as a director) communicate my ideas with Katie (Director of Photography) and Lynn (1st AD) for discussions and development.

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One of our major decisions in pre-production, changing the character’s positions (Lenny and Sharron) from being next to each other on different sides, to directly opposite to each other, was influenced by the research into a precedent scene from Breaking Bad (Season 5, Episode 13), in how to execute an unusual back-to-back conversation on screen.

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The preparation of a shot schedule was a very important process before the actual production that we found. If designed thoughtfully, an effective shot schedule would help sufficiently maximizing the available time (least movements from locations, equipment re-arrangements, etc.), and potentially allowing the crew to abandon unprioritized (or unimportant) shots when the time runs out. Fortunately, we followed the schedule strictly and finished the shooting right on time.

PRODUCTION

During the production process, I found that besides planning the angle/direction of the shots, the actual placement of the camera is as equally important. In the medium close-up shots of Lenny and Sharron, we had the camera placed too close to the subjects. This resulted in two unwanted mistakes that we didn’t foresee until we review the footage in the suites:

– The focal length of the camera didn’t allow it to focus on the subjects in such a short distance. The subjects turned out slightly out-of-focus and blurry. Although they are not terribly unusable, they are not exactly in the quality that we desired.

– The person sitting behind was evidently “smaller” than the main subject in perspective, because of the drastic difference in their distances to the camera. This made the shots appear visually odd and irritating if we cut to the other “correct” shots in post-production.

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Luckily, Paul’s unexpected visit on-set helped us to rectify the mistake in the later close-up shots, which appear much better. This will be kept in my mind for any future projects.

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As the director, I profoundly treasure my first-hand experiences in directing the crew of many people (and the sheer pressure that goes along with it). I realized that communication skill is essentially important to a director, in order to translate ideas into words that others can understand, and sufficiently supervise and instruct all the departments (sound, camera, actors, etc.) at the same time. The presence of a First AD greatly helps. I am personally proud of my first experience being the Director, although absolutely sure that I’d do better next time.

POST-PRODUCTION

To me personally, editing Lenny footages in Premiere Pro was my first experience of actually using this software in a project. Luckily for me, I am fairly experienced with Photoshop, After Effects and a few other Adobe’s software, so it didn’t cause me much trouble getting used to the interface. However, same as most other software, Premiere Pro has its flaws too:

– In the edit suites, the ‘Create Subclip’ function does not work properly as intended, causing a minor “hiccup” in the syncing process of image and sound.

– Later when working at home, I was unable to import .mxf files into my Premiere Pro CS6, without being able to figure out the cause and resolution.

These issues led me to think that it is a media maker’s duty not to be complacent about anything, to expect the unexpected and have the mental ability to problem-solve and work around those issues. To work closely to the deadline is a risky choice, considering a million things that could possibly go wrong anytime without our control. To learn different ways to do one job, or to learn different software, might be the solution to “save the day”.

To be organized is extremely important in editing. This was stressed many times by Paul but I didn’t see it until I actually do it. To organize all the bins, clips, sounds and sequences in a clear, professional and manageable ways might be initially time-consuming, but as the editing progress, it truly reveals its benefits. In a well-organized project, I can easily make decisions to change, try something different, or revisit previous experiments in minutes without a hassle. I feel that it is a crucial profession itself, to organize your work professionally, especially in the media industry, where people most of the time have to work with a large amount of content.

 

Lenny - Premiere Project
‘Lenny’ Premiere Pro Project

 

TAXI DRIVER DECONSTRUCTION

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Office encounter scene in Taxi Driver (1976)
STREET

In the first shot of the scene, Travis (Robert De Niro) looks out of the cab’s window in a close-up shot, with his eye level perfectly fits into the rule of third. He then walks out of his car and towards the office with the camera tracks his movements in one continuous single shot. At this point, the camera zooms in as Travis approaches the office and is about to enter the door, subtly introduces Betsy into the scene, a bit further away on the other side of the door.

The street appears to be a “boring” setting (empty road, empty sidewalk, empty walls with only black and white), with the intentional emphasis on the slightly more colourful office banner.

ENTERING THE OFFICE

Once Travis enters the office, we can clearly hear the background sound changes from the outdoor “city sound” (traffic, engines, etc.) to the “office sound” (phones ring, people talking, paper works, etc.) that slightly echoes to give the impression of being indoors.

The camera tracks Travis’s movements backward, capturing his facial expression. When it is cut to Betsy and her co-worker, the camera continues tracking towards them, as if it is from Travis’s point of view. The tracking stops as soon as we get a medium close-up view of Betsy, showing the “target” that Travis is walking to, as well as showing Betsy’s facial expressions.

THE CONVERSATION

The colours of Betsy and Travis’s outfits match with the hot colour and tone of the interior of the office. These red colours substantially stand out from the surrounding, clearly shows the main subjects of the scene that the audience should focus on. While Travis wears a deep maroon, Betsy wears a bright vermilion, metaphorically represents their differences in personality. Interestingly, the supporting character, Tom, wears a light blue outfit, completely opposite to Travis’s, hinting at his “rivalry” attitude towards Travis.

As soon as Travis initiate the conversation, the office sound is turned down, reserving the emphasis onto the lines of the characters.

During the conversation, the director chooses to shoot the two characters from the outer side of the eye line (Travis is looking right screen, while Betsy is looking left screen), to show the inside of the office, which is filled with Ballantine’s promotional posters. This background is shown in most of the scene with a short focal length (at one point showing the secondary character – the coworker in the background, suspiciously watching the conversation), except the close-up shots (long focal length) to focus on the facial expression of the characters.

At the beginning of the conversation, Travis is introduced in a mid-shot position, then slowly tracks towards him in the following shots into a close-up, as if Betsy is trying to get the first impressions of a stranger. It then tracks away, back into a mid-shot as he talks about what he thinks of Betsy, as if she is getting a better, clearer picture of Travis and what kind of person he is.

Despite the height’s differences of them (Travis is standing up while Betsy is sitting down), the dirty over the shoulder shots of the dialogues are at a lower height – same as Betsy’s eye level. This, in my opinion, is to show Betsy is in a comfortable position – sitting, while Travis is awkwardly standing, as he said it himself in the scene.

Most of the conversation is cut back-and-forth to Travis and Betsy, however, there is one shot that stands out from the rest, that briefly shows Betsy’s desk and Travis’s hand gesture. It shows a lot about Betsy’s life inside the office (being repetitive and boring) through the use of props. However, when it is cut back to Travis, his hand is not moving at all, interrupting the scene’s continuity.

For the whole conversation, the subjects are lit by natural light through the office’s window, as the source of key-light. Standing in this position allows Travis’s on-side of the face to be lit up, instead of the usual off-side. Similarly, Betsy started off the scene with the key-light from her back, then it turns into on-side lighting later in the scene.

I FIND A SCENE – LA LA LAND (2016)

 

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‘City of Stars’ scene in La La Land (2016)

 

City of Stars – La La Land (2016) (0:02 – 2:22)

SCENE STRUCTURE

The scene is a more than two-minute-long continuous shot, with multiple camera movements, interlaced by “stopping moments” where the camera is held still before it moves to the next position. The scene is deconstructed in a chronological order

STOP 1 – THE WALL

The scene starts with an abstract image of the wall, with shadows casting on it, clearly shows a person entering the house. It is a way to subtlely introduce Mia into the scene with her surprised expression appearing over the wall corner in a mid-shot, which is much more powerful than showing her opening and closing the door.

The wall is well lit by (presumably) artificial lights, giving an impression of a natural light source projecting through the door. Comparably to the other walls, it draws viewer’s attention into watching its happenings (shadows). When Mia enters the frame, the same key light lights up her back and partly her onside. Her off-side is slightly lit by the reflection from the walls.

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STOP 2 – PIANO ROOM

When Mia starts walking through the hall, the camera slowly tracks backward, keeping her at the left vertical one-third of the screen, and stops when Sebastian is in the frame as a medium close-up. Mia is kept a mid-shot position, until she walks into the kitchen, further away from the camera into a wide-shot position. The camera’s focus is adjusted onto Sebastian.

The previous “natural light” is a harder light comparing to the soft key-light from the lamp and windows when she enters the piano room. The key-light transitions from natural light (from the door) to the lamp, and then natural light again (from the window).

In this camera stop, Sebastian’s (main subject) eye level is kept at both vertical and horizontal one-third of the frame, looking screen left. The “line” separating the window’s curtain and dining room is perfectly aligned at the center of the screen. In the other room, Mia is at the other vertical one-third on the other side, looking right screen, directly opposite to Sebastian through the dividing line, making it a beautiful frame. As soon as Mia turns back, the camera readjusts the focus onto her.

The key light on Sebastian would be higher on the ceiling of the piano room, with the blueish colour natural light from the window would be the fill light, although they are in the same intensity. For mia, the cool natural light is her key-light, with evidence of the dining room’s light being the back-light. The dynamic between warm and cool colour lightings make the scene looks aesthetically pleasing, at the same time differentiate the piano room to the others (because of its obvious importance).

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STOP 3 – MIA

The camera slowly tracks forwards, towards Mia, who is standing between the two rooms, moving from a wide-shot position to a medium close-up. Again, she is kept at the left-hand side one-third of the screen.

The lighting is kept the same, with the “natural” key-light softly lights up the offside of Mia’s face. The background is entirely warm colour, displaying a contrast between the two.

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STOP 4 – PIANO ROOM AGAIN

As Mia slowly walks into the piano room, the camera tracks backward, keeping her in the same position of the screen, only moves to a mid-shot position. Unlike the previous piano room stop, she now becomes one of the two main subjects, with her eye level at the horizontal two third of the screen.

Although being in the same location as the previous camera stop, the framing is slightly different, judging by the curtain line being off-centered. It gives me an impression of the “warm” background of the dining room is slowly edged out of the frame in each stop (completely gone in the next stop) to make way for the “coolness” of the piano room, metaphorically resembles the same way as Mia gradually getting drawn into Sebastian’s performance, and eventually becomes a part of it.

The ceiling light quickly becomes Mia’s back-light as she leans on the piano. I personally feel the ceiling light is to imitate a spotlight on a performance stage.

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STOP 5 – PIANO

The camera slowly tracks Mia’s movements as she comes closer and sits next to Sebastian. The camera position changes from mid-shot on Mia to a medium close-up on both of the subjects. As mentioned, the background is now entirely blue.

The cool light from the window now becomes the backlight at a different angle, with the “spotlight” being the key-light on the two subjects. The warmness colour of the key-light brings out great contrast between the subjects and the cool background.

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CONCLUSION

In overall, this scene from La La Land is a very interesting example in how camera framings and movements, as well as the interplay of multiple lightings, can greatly help conveying the director’s artistic vision. The film won Oscar awards for Best Director and Best Achievement in Cinematography.

 

References:

Alten, S. ‘Audio in media’, (p. 5-12, p.266-286). Belmont: Wadsworth, 1994.

Bresson, R. ‘Notes on the cinematographer’, (p. 50-52). London: Quartet, 1986.

Brown, B. (2013). ‘Cinematography: Theory and Practice’, 2nd ed. Waltham: Focal Press, pp.227-228.

Risk, M. (2016). ‘How to Use Color in Film: 50+ Examples of Movie Color Palettes’, [online] StudioBinder. Available at: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/how-to-use-color-in-film-50-examples-of-movie-color-palettes/

 

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