The Why, The Where and The When
to Move the Camera
Using a Dolly
Many of you have asked me to write a post on camera movement that encapsulates the three questions of: Why, Where and When. Motion is a very powerful tool in telling your story. It can create tension, evoke tears, make you laugh and keep you on the edge of your seat. I love moving the camera, but only if it helps the story. Moving a camera just to move it is not a good rule. Read the scene and ask yourself how will movement make this better? How will it support your character’s Emotions?
“Your tools to move”
We will be looking at one of my movies that I have not really discussed much to date. It is one that I am very proud of. Once I start watching it, I can never stop, always a good sign. Mr. 3000 was a film directed by Charles Stone in which we used many ways to move a camera. For the next few weeks, we will discuss their usage in different scenes. We will show a sequence from the film. Then we will discuss the choices that we made.
Let’s start with our first motion tool.
The Dolly: This tool has been around since the beginning of cinema in one form or another. It is a very useful device to support your camera system.
You cannot only move left or right with it; you can also use its boom, which evokes other feelings into your shots. My favorite dolly is a Fisher 10. I love the way it moves, inherent support and stability. There are many dolly manufacturers available, but this is my first choice.
WHY: I wanted to immerse the audience in Stan Ross’s (Bernie Mac’s) headspace and his emotions. Good storytelling is always about the emotion. Stan had just come out of retirement. He has a huge ego. He was named Mr. 3000 for the 3,000 hits he supposedly made. Three of these hits were later taken away. As a result, he did not get into the Hall of Fame. He comes out of retirement to get his three additional hits and to make history.
His first post-retirement game and his first at bats do not go the way he hoped. He strikes out, swinging like he had never held a bat before. He comes home after this game, depressed, down and somber. He turns on the television to see what Sport Center thought of his performance. Stan surfs the many networks hoping to find some good news, but it never comes.
WHERE: We are in his living room. He is eating some leftover Chinese food while he clicks his remote control. He finds that every single sports channel shows him flailing at bat. Everyone is making fun of him; he is a joke on every channel. As he takes this all in, we start to dolly around him, starting in front and then moving right to left. I wanted to use a circle track. This would show the emotions that he was feeling. The announcers’ comments were sending him in a downward spiral. Why not evoke that emotion with a spiral move? Now this is where it gets interesting. We establish that he is absolutely alone with a wide shot. I used moody lighting to fit his mood, dark, depressed. Two practical lamps and a TV light effect and some deep kitchen lighting in the background are all that illuminated his world.
WHEN: As we start our spiral, he is watching Tom Arnold and the boys discussing his lackluster performance on the TV when all of a sudden we pass an out of focus figure in the foreground, which then reveals that he is now in a room with Tom Arnold and the boys. They are all talking about him, but they are not only on the TV; they are also in his living room.
I loved this whole idea when Charles Stone approached me with this concept. As a result, I added the spiral move and I think it is a one, two knockout punch. The spiral move keeps going to the back of his head. We never throw focus to Tom and the boys. All of this is in Stan’s head, so that is what stays in focus.
To give the move the spiral effect, we could easily have just moved around him, but what if we inject a zoom in to all of this? Now, we get a spiral effect that is more three-dimensional. We keep our move going to reveal more people in his living room until we end full frontal on Stan in an extreme close up. He picks up the remote and clicks it off. We immediately cut wide and see that his living room is empty.
The power of one move, one great concept to go into Stan’s emotions, puts the audience right there. This is an example of why you move, when you move and where you move.
In the coming weeks, we will demonstrate how to use a character’s Emotions to motivate your Motion. When it comes from the heart, you never will go wrong with movement.
What interesting dolly moves have you used to tell your story?
Next motion maker will be the Crane. Stay tuned.