So you’ve got a script in your hand, a camera on standby, and a bunch of actors at the ready. But before you start shooting, you need to figure out where everyone is going to be throughout the scene. Today we’re going to talk about blocking.
Where are the actors in the scene? Do they move? Where do they move? How does the camera show this? Is it static? Is it panning or tracking?
Blocking is the process of working out the all of this out. It’s like dance choreography, but instead of dancers performing dance moves on musical beats, you have the actors and the camera performing actions on script beats.
This is our method for blocking:
We usually start by choosing marks for the actors. These are static positions where the actors will stand during moments in the scene. You can cue an actor to then travel from one mark to another mark creating a movement in the scene.
One quick note: People rarely stay completely static. So if you want a simple way to help achieve a more cinematic look, or the film look, get your actors on their feet and moving around during the scene. And if they are stood still or sitting, have them move in another way, such as eating, putting on makeup, or drinking a cup of tea.
Once you are happy with how the actors are moving in the scene you can bring in the camera.
We start off by plonking the camera in front of an actor’s mark and framing it up. If they are positioned here for the majority of the scene, this is a good starting point for coverage.
Then think about how to cover the movement in the scene. You want the audience to know where everyone and everything is to each other in the scene, so make sure to cover their movement so the audience can understand the geography of the room. Cutting back to a wide shot is arguably the easiest method to achieve it.
Once you have this all thought out, you can make adjustments to the blocking of the actors and the camera to help: light the scene better, cover the room easier, and reduce or increase movement.
All of your choices will determine how the film feels. The movement of the actors, their body language, where they are standing or sitting, the lighting at each of their marks; this is all up to you to decide, and each decision will be necessary to convey the story you want to tell.
We used blocking to give the audience information about the character, in replace of dialogue. For example, in our latest film Backstage The Medium slowly walks over to the stall to convey reluctancy in his character. He doesn’t really want to help The Flyswatter.
Jenny the Stage Manager storms into the room to convey she is in a state of power. She even blocks the way out with her arm to further identify that “Hey, I’m the boss. You’ll leave when I let you leave”.
You can also use blocking to make adjustments and tailor the set to make it more dynamic. We had the problem of where to place The Medium’s mirror on set.
We needed it positioned in front of him in order to achieve the first shot in one take, but it was too tall on the counter when The Medium gives The Flyswatter a lecture at the end of the scene.
So we made the change to have The Medium pack it away, completely solving the problem AND giving The Medium an activity to perform while The Flyswatter rambles on in the toilet cubicle.
It might not be a fancy light, or a super expensive camera, but something like well thought out blocking can create dynamic, realistic, and a cinematic image, getting you one step closer to achieving the film look.
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