The best shots in a film aren’t always just the fancy, super expensive ones. The most effective shots in a film connect the cinema to the story and communicate the plot; whether that's using a tripod, a stabiliser, or even simply handheld.
This is what motivated camera moves are all about - and today we are going to talk about a move we call “coming to a halt”. Welcome to The Film Look.
Today we are using a page from the book “Master Shots” by Christopher Kenworthy. In particular, his chapter on “Revelations & Discoveries”, page 112, titled “MOVING ON”.
If you want to step up your game and learn how to connect your shots directly to your story, this is the book for you. We haven’t been paid to speak about this book, it’s just a great resource that every filmmaker should have access to.
Master Shots Volume 1: https://amzn.to/2tcPMlo
Master Shots Volume 1: https://amzn.to/2ln4ZMv
Let’s set the scene: EXT. BACK ALLEY - DAY
Jimmy Nine Fingers is being pursued by the police for stealing priceless necklaces from the jewellers. He’s finally made a break from the fuzz and runs into a back alley only to be stopped by Detective Rusty Johnson.
There are a few things that aid the effectiveness of this shot, and it all links to the character and story motivation. Firstly you have the character. They are trying to escape a situation, this is why they are running. Then they collide with an obstacle, this is why they stop.
The shot type changes during the move. The motivation for this is to convey the BEST POSSIBLE story at that particular cinematic moment. We begin with a wide shot then land in a close up.
The actor’s performance at the beginning of the shot is almost entirely physical. They are running and we understand they are being chased. By the time they stop, the performance is in the actor’s facial expression. This is why we are landing so close at the end of the move - the performance is now all in the details.
The movement of the shot is complimented in two ways. Firstly the character is moving at great speed. The camera matches this speed and closes in. The actor and the camera land on their marks at the same time, which gives us a sense of fast movement coming to a rapid halt. It’s almost like the camera is the one stopping the character which serves as motivation for the camera move itself.
If we remove the camera movement and instead use a static camera, the effect of rapid movement coming to a halt is lost but we do retain the effect of the camera becoming the obstacle.
This type of shot would work well if the character knows they have failed to reach their target in time...such as in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy know he will never find Marion in the crowd.
If we have a static character coupled with a moving camera which stops, the rapid change in speed is lost and feels more like the camera move emphasises the character’s slow but strong reaction to something.
This type of shot is also known as The Spielberg Face.
Having three versions of this move is a powerful thing: you can make the choice to add or subtract emphasis on certain parts of this move and tailor it to suit YOUR film.
The tools you use to achieve this move will give you slightly different results. If you use a stabilizer for instance, in our case this is a handheld gimbal, you will get something which looks more clean cut and Hollywood-esque.
If you go handheld, the story beats will be the same but the move will contribute a more brutal approach, which would lend well to a war scene or documentary-style of film.
You can use this technique for a bunch of different scenarios:
A boy needs to get home before his mother gets back from the supermarket only to discover when he reaches the house that the car is already on the drive, or
The protagonist and his love interest are escaping a glass-walled facility but get stopped by a robot killing machine from the future.
Kenworthy goes into more detail about this move including shot height and blocking details. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy of Master Shots if direction and cinematography is your passion.
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