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Camera Motion for Filmmakers

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.

Raby dollies

Worrall Sputnik dolly
 
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.
 

Fisher 10 Dolly

 

Mr. 3000

Mr. 3000
 
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.
 

Dolly move in a spiral motion

Mr. 3000

Mr. 3000

 

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.
 

Mr. 3000

Mr. 3000

Mr. 3000

Mr. 3000

 
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.
 

Mr. 3000

 
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.
 

Mr. 3000

Mr. 3000

 
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.

Author: Shane

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31 Comments

  1. Cool move Shane! I used a jib, dolly combo to push the camera across the messy passenger seat of a parked car, over a steaming cup of coffee in the center counsel, up into a CU of the drivers face. It was a very effective way to reveal his character which is reflected by the car interior in one shot.

    Post a Reply
    • Iain Trimble, that shot sounds insane. I want to see that. Thanks for sharing

      Post a Reply
  2. Shane,

    Great blog! Awesome stuff to think about! I noticed you added motion to the sports center segments as well.

    The part about motion for motions sake is important as well. This reminder helped me for my upcoming shoot. It is a timely post!

    Thank you,
    Bill

    Post a Reply
    • Bill Hamell. Thank you so much for the kind words and support.

      Post a Reply
  3. Shane,

    Great post! I had a situation on a movie where it called for a follow dolly shot, we shot it but the director/dp didn’t like how it looked, (a following shot where a young child was running into a room where a sibling was being abused) so had pointed out if we put a wider lens on the camera, brought it low I could do a hand held shot and it would give him the frantic feel he was after. Another movement I enjoy when it is called for is moving the lights on the subjects face.

    I love the blog, it’s gold!

    Post a Reply
    • Don Hankins, thank you for sharing and thank you for the kind words.

      Post a Reply
  4. Hey Shane,

    Talk about perfect timing! I just picked up a Porta-Jib Traveler, so I’m excited to hear your thought process behind jib movements! Big fan of your work and what you do for the film community.

    Thanks!

    Aaron Almquist

    Post a Reply
    • Aaron, Yes this will be next. Thank you for your kind words

      Post a Reply
  5. In The Fountain (2006) the protagonist embarks on a journey of transcendence through time. Throughout the film Matthew Libatique, ASC frames this character center while pushing in or away from him through various liminal structures. This depicts the characters journey through darkness and ultimate rebirth in light.

    This is my interpretation after watching this beautiful film many, many times. I could be wrong.

    Thank you, Shane for the post.

    Post a Reply
    • Ari Davidson, you are welcome and thanks for sharing that. I love all of Matty’s work. He is an incredible cinematographer.

      Post a Reply
  6. Amazing post! Love the way you approach scenes. Everything dictated by the story.

    Post a Reply
    • N.K Osborne. This is the only way to do it. The characters and their emotions is what dictated everything. The look, the feel, the mood, and the camera movement. Thanks for the comment and support.

      Post a Reply
  7. As usual great post Shane ! Thank so much for educating filmmakers community ! I ve learned so much from you !!!

    Post a Reply
    • Aram Khachaturyan. Thank you so much for the kind words and support.

      Post a Reply
  8. Thanks Shane!

    Would one reason to move be to reveal? Are there a number of “foundational” reasons to move camera?

    Alex

    Post a Reply
    • Alex Potter. That is a very open ended question. I will try to address that in the future motion posts.

      Post a Reply
    • Alex,I’ve been studying camera motion for some time. There are 3 fundamental reasons (motivations) for camera motion: To Reveal (a subject or action), To Emphasize (a subject or action) or To Follow (a subject or action). There are many variants of these three reasons but those are the fundamentals. When studying camera motion, it can become confusing because a single shot can reveal, emphasize and follow all in the same shot (and sometimes at the same time). The motion can also be “transferred” (called “hand off” in the Hollywood Camera Work DVD).

      So, for example, you can follow one subject while revealing a second subject within the same shot. Or you can emphasize a subject(Push-In) and then pan to reveal a second subject and then follow the second subject all in the same shot. Everything should be dictated by story and emotional tone as mentioned by Shane.

      His beautifully choreographed shot referenced in this post is both an emphasis as well as a reveal. Emphasizing Bernie Mac while at the same time revealing the commentators. It is “symbolic motion” as well as Shane mentioned, the spiral camera motion “symbolizing” Bernie’s downward spiral. That is textbook usage of camera motion to evoke emotions. An incredible shot and truly inspiring. I added “corkscrew dolly” (my term for the motion)to my filmmaking lexicon and I will be viewing “Mr. 3000″ just because of this awesome shot.

      p.s. there are different motivations for “motion shifts” but I will save that for another post.

      Post a Reply
      • Finally got a chance to sit down and watch Mr. 3000 (solely because of the great spiral motion shot by Shane referenced in this blog). I am mainly a genre type (horror/sci-fi/fantasy) but Mr. 3000 was an enjoyable film with a positive theme and an unexpectedly powerful, moving ending. Outstanding visuals that augmented the story. My only regret now is not seeing it on the big screen (or at least on blu ray)and I wish that Shane was included in the commentary track. Great job, Shane. An excellent collaboration between Director and DP. Your contributions to the motion picture arts and sciences are inspiring. I am picking up “Act of Valor” this weekend solely because of your cinematography (and I want every other film you DP’d in my library).

        Post a Reply
  9. Great article, thanks for sharing.

    I noticed there was a slight bump in the beginning of the move, and then later. How do you deal with the space of a set, or if in location?

    Thanks again!

    Post a Reply
    • Sareesh Sudakaran. That bump pissed me off. The track was flawed and we did many things to try and get that bump out, but we thought the performance and concept behind the shot was far more powerful than worrying about a bump. We chose that location specifically for this shot. We had to make sure that the living room was big enough and that the couches fit with 25ft radius track.

      Post a Reply
  10. Thanks for the clarity, Shane.
    Nowadays it gets so easy to move the camera, with gear becoming cheaper. Thanks for putting things into perspective with the why, where and when.

    Post a Reply
    • Baron. You are so welcome, thank you for your kind words and support.

      Post a Reply
  11. Hi Shane,

    taking the motion in consideration, can you talk a little about your lighting setup?

    How was your approach to light this 360 scene?

    Post a Reply
    • Rodrigo Prata, wow, that is a whole other post. You got me thinking

      Post a Reply
  12. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing!!!

    Post a Reply
    • Mitsch Schlagel. Thank you for the comment and support.

      Post a Reply
  13. Hey Shane,

    Thanks for this post!

    I think you utilized Bernie’s emotion perfectly. He has very powerful eyes. I didn’t notice the bump in the track at all ;) Awesome scene!

    Post a Reply
    • Gregg Jaden. Thank you so much for the kind words. That’s what its all about, moving the camera to capture the actor’s emotion.

      Post a Reply
  14. Wow, I’ve never had a desire to watch Mr. 3000 before now. You never know what you may be missing. I watched Shawshank Redemption after a textbook discussed it’s use of deep rich color. It is now one of my top 10 favorite movies.

    I’ve never put much thought into the why’s, when’s and where’s of camera movement. This post is going to change my art. I’m still VERY new to this. I came here while researching Dolly vs. Steadicam. Best random link I’ve clicked in the past few years!

    Post a Reply
    • Dustin M. Mankin, Mr. 3000 is a gold mine. Many cool visuals in that film. I am so glad that your random link brought you here. Thanks for the kind words and support. Hope to have you back

      Post a Reply

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