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How Lenses Assist Storytelling: Part Three

Mr. 3000 Camera Lens Restraint

Last week, we discussed Stan Ross’ character arc journey in Mr 3000 and how lens height and focal length with adjusting depth of field could really help assist in storytelling. We will continue this, but also go into many different lenses and how lighting and color get involved in this process.
 

“Camera Slight of Hand with Stan’s First Hit”

Once Stan Ross missed that first pitch on his first at bat, we use a wide shot on him again. We are tunnel vision, long lens voyeuristic cam all the way. But watch the camera transition to help assist Stan’s arc in his comeback attempt. When he hits the ball, we stay long lensed, but once he actually is safe, the camera starts down with him in the dirt, wide angle, background not so out of focus. As he stands up, we deliver a power angle; the hero is back.
 

Mr 3000

Mr 3000

Mr 3000

Mr 3000


 

“His Second Hit”

Director Charles Stone and I discussed that this hit needed to come totally out of left field. Please pardon the pun. We did not want the audience to get comfortable in the fact that just because Stan got one hit, he is going to continue on that streak. We did not start low with the camera; instead, we chose at eye level. He is not at a power spot. Notice that the background is more in focus than his previous at bats. He is getting the batter’s hawk eye back.
 

Mr 3000

 
Compared to his first at bat when he gets tunnel vision-
 

Mr 3000

 
“Camera slight of hand” helps our character’s journey because this is going to play out seamlessly on his final at bat. I will keep you hanging on that thought for a moment.

So we keep eye height; he swings and all of a sudden gets ahold of it and actually not only gets a hit, but launches a home run.
 

Mr 3000

 
To finish this scene and to empower him, we shot the high angle that we used when he struck out on three straight slow mo pitches. The frame is not with one person; it is with his whole team in celebration of his amazing feat. I love this stuff! It is what making movies is all about. This is when Stan crosses over.
 

Mr 3000


 

“Tricking an Audience with a Camera Technique

That Has Already Been Set Up”

We are at the final game, Stan Ross’ last at bat. In this sequence, the camera is wide, low angle; the background is more in focus; Stan is on top of the world. He is back in THE SHOW. He is in the SPOTLIGHT. He is all set to get his 3000th hit and reclaim his name, get into the Hall of Fame — in two words, GET HIS! Everything to this point has been a build to this exact moment in our character’s journey. As a filmmaker, you have to practice restraint. You have to set rules of engagement to follow and try not to break them because you can always go for the cool shot. You can always give your audience that WOW moment, but will it assist the story? Will that amazing shot help our character’s arc? These are sound questions to ask yourself when you are in the heat of battle. This is why prep is so important – to establish these rules and to live and die by them. This is one of the most perfect examples of how it pays off. We have successfully educated our audience. They now know that when the camera is low, heroic things are going to happen. Stan is in the driver’s seat. We specifically could have gone extremely low angle for Stan’s first at bat coming out of retirement, but then there would be nowhere to go. We would have peaked too early. Here is the first at bat again.
 

Mr 3000

 
Now here is his last at bat again. Look at the difference. It is huge and the reason for camera restraint. An option would have been to use this first up in the movie, but we didn’t. It was a creative choice.
 

Mr 3000

 
Just to throw a little lighting in this lens post, notice that the lights are flaring. We wanted you to feel like Stan was back in the Spotlight; he was on top again.
 

Mr 3000

 
Also, I subtly increased the saturation as Stan slowly gets his hits. The color starts to increase in saturation to the point of this final game, vibrant green, popping whites, saturated reds and golds. We used Tiffen NDs as well as the color enhancer to give us that super saturated look. This is it! You will have to go back and view the movie as a whole to see all of the subtlety. Here is a little inside tip. You can download the film and scroll quickly through all of the scenes and you will see this color shift in a more pronounced fashion. A few examples are as follows — Stan coming up the plate before he gets a hit, without the support of his teammates, considered an outsider.
 

Mr 3000

 
The final game where he is back in the pocket, with his batter’s hawk eye and the support of the team.
 

Mr 3000

 

“Building the Suspense Factor”

We have to build suspense. At this moment, we have led the audience to believe that he is going to get his 3000th hit. The pitcher and the batter duel was something that you cannot leave out. It is what baseball is all about. We build this tension with calculated shots to show how the pitcher is moving the ball around the plate so that Stan cannot get a piece of it. At the climax, at the very last pitch, we bring the zoom lens back. As we go in, Stan Ross’ hawk eye vision comes into play. He has it back; he sees that Pennebakker is going to hit and run; he sees his lead; he examines the pitcher’s form.
 

“Swing and Tilt Unconventionally”

How would one do this? I imagine you could get on a long lens with shallow depth of field and single out specific things that Stan is looking at, or you could use something a little more out of the box. That is what Charles and I thought would work the best. You have seen brilliant Swing and Tilt photographs by Vincent Laforet. He and many others use it to create this weird feeling that the world is all of a sudden a miniature. Neat idea, but I wanted to use the swing and tilt to show the audience where Stan was looking, his hawk vision that he so desperately needed to get back. I did not just put an area out of focus on the same plane as an area that was in focus. I actually moved the whole lens within its bellows while rolling. Unconventional, but effective. I feel that this approach puts you in it. It makes you a part of the game and shows you what Stan the Man is focusing on, the subtle nuances of the runner. This is visceral and makes the audience feel inside the game. I shot the long lens with a 600mm Canon L series.
 

Century Swing Shift System

Century Swing Shift System

Swing Tilt Canon Lenses

Swing Tilt Canon Lenses

Mr 3000

Mr 3000

Mr 3000

Mr 3000

 

“My Dad’s Journey”

Why do I get so into all of this baseball? Not many of you know this, but my Dad was a pretty impressive pitcher in his day, throwing speeds of over 100mph. He was drafted by the Red Sox and chose to give up THE SHOW because of a promise he made to his grandmother. She had raised him since his mom died when he was five years old. “Please come back and run the farm; your Grandfather has died,” was the call my Dad got one spring while he was playing Triple A ball for the Red Sox franchise in New Jersey.

My dad was a powerhouse on the mound and he shared all of his wisdom and talent with me. I was playing baseball at the early age of four and was Batting Champion and threw several no hitters in my years in high school. My Dad and I would always go to the State Fair in Syracuse, New York to test our speeds. There was not a Juggs gun in high school baseball like there is now. We had to go to the carnival section of the fair to see how fast we could throw the ball. My Dad, at the age of 53 years old, could still throw the ball over 92 mph. It was nothing like I had ever seen. He was Superman. He taught me to throw a rising fastball that was un-hittable. In my prime, I was up to 94mph. I had a vast array of pitches and quickly threw my arm out by the time I was 18. My Dad told me not to throw all this junk. He would say, “You will ruin your arm. Stick to the fast ball and the change up.” I look back at this mistake and think that I probably had a shot. I had the passion, but then where would I be? Certainly not writing this blog and shooting movies. Sorry to get side tracked, but I just wanted to give you a glimpse into who I am. I have always been all about choices and which ones are the right ones. It gave me the grounding to make the day, to take the hill and always to know your punt was your Plan A.

Now watch how we continue to build suspense with the last pitch. We hold focus on the wind up and then only throw focus at the last minute. The reason for this is to continue to hide Stan’s true intention from the audience, which was to not be for himself for once. He was going to do it for the team and not Get His! So you never see the bunt coming until we, the filmmakers, want you to see it.
 

Mr 3000


 
Setting up rules of engagement is so important. What have some of your rules been? What camera restraints have you used to assist your storyline?

Read part one.
Read part two.

Author: Shane

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23 Comments

  1. Its such a great film and your post is a valuable insight into the methodology of a cinematographer.

    My fellow Brits struggle to understand why most of my favourite films are set in or around baseball, well, there’s little magic in soccer! Thanks Shane.

    Post a Reply
    • Jim, thank you so much for your kind words of support. I loved making that film. I am glad you enjoyed it. Soccer is good too.

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  2. That was great! Thanks for sharing a little about yourself too.

    Post a Reply
    • Mitch Schlagel, I am glad you like that. In our survey everyone wanted more personal pieces so I thought this would be a good one.

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  3. To even imagine that you listen to our requests and make tutorials on them is simply astounding. You are God sent Shane. Thanks a ton : )

    Post a Reply
    • Fiftybob, this is what we do at the HurlBlog. Right!!!!! thank you for your kind words

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  4. Shane, thank you as always for your insight. It is very much appreciated. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little more on increasing the saturation. I had never heard of using ND to increase saturation. Also by what do you mean the color enhancer?

    Thank you again sir.

    Post a Reply
    • John M., The ND did not increase saturation, the color enhancing filter made by Tiffen did along with the DI.

      Post a Reply
  5. Dear Mr Hurlbut,

    Your blog and site is an awesome…. Incredible! Your site is clearly the best masterclass in cinematography next to the American Cinematographer magazine one can get!
    I’m just preparing to shoot my first feature on a Nikon DSLR and I’m kinda confused with the ND filter possibilities out there. So I thought, why don’t ask the Man himself who collaborated with Tiffen? One solution would be to use the fast and cheap variable ND filters (like from Tiffen or Heliopan), the other way would be fixed filters like the Tiffen Water White ND kit. I’m kinda departed from the variable NDs thanks to your blog, but confused what should I get in the Tiffen WW series? I thought maybe I could get away with the HV Indie Kit (0.3-1.2). I have a Nikon D7000 camera and I’m not sure about its in-camera IR filtration. Can I use the 1.2 ND without IR? Is it a huge mistake if I would go with the 0.3-1.2 IRND set instead of the ND? Can I stack these filters? For example put on a 1.2 ND and a 0.3 or higher IRND? Does it work the other way around too? Putting on a 1.5 IRND and 0.3 ND on it? Or just go with the ND kit and get an additional Tiffen T1 IR filter and use that?
    I’m little fearful of fixed NDs as changing them could be a pain in the ass, but hope that the quality they produce will compensate me. :)

    Thanks,
    Gabor

    Post a Reply
    • Gabor, thank you for your kind words, I am so glad you love our blog. The Canon and Nikon’s have very good IR filters in camera. I would not go with any variable ND’s. Get both kits the Indie and Indie plus so you are completely covered. Do not purchase the T1 IR filter, that is no good, only good on the Red One. This is how you make movies and it is not easy. So changing filters is what you do. I change them every day. It is simple, they screw on fast and it will be the best for your image and your vision.

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  6. This can’t have come on a better time.

    I’m currently working on a short where it’s all about restraint. A story about bullying in private all boys school.

    My director and I have decided upon zero camera movement, with every shot carefully planned out, focusing on, height, focal length and lighting to make create the rules in the world, as well as associate each look with a feeling or emotion.

    Still a lot of research to be done and these posts are brilliant! I love reading about the choices why you made them. Can’t thank you enough.

    Post a Reply
    • Jack, that is awesome. Yes the rules are so important, keep it up and thank you for you wonderful words

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  7. Camera movement. Kept things static in the beginning and added movement as the character developed.

    Post a Reply
  8. Shane,
    Thank you so much for sharing these concepts! They are extremely helpful! I am a junior in high school, so I have not yet had the chance to attend a film school or a college with a film program, but I am trying to learn what I can from reading and doing.

    Reading this series was the first time that I realized just how much one can tell a story with lenses and shot angles! I especially appreciate your thorough explanations of how you linked your shots together to show Stan Ross’s character progression in “Mr. 3000.”

    I am currently working on the storyboard for a short film that should be finished by April 2014, and I am applying the storytelling tools that you outline here. I am trying to find the best way to plan out my shots so that they all work together to tell the story. How do you approach a film and create a sequence of shots like the examples above? Do you have a workflow/outline that allows you to draft the highlights of the sequence before filling in the details, or do you work in a linear way forward through the story one shot at a time?

    These are some of my favorite posts that you have written because they are so story focused, yet you explain the ins and outs of the cinematography involved.

    -Jonathan G.

    Post a Reply
  9. Hey Shane,
    I wanted to start off by thanking you for the broad insight on the types of glass, and colors to use creatively. I just have one question on “height matters” – Part III.

    On the top of the page you explained how it was a creative choice to choose a slight “below the eyes” rather than a dramatic low camera angle and saving this for the end. I understand the reasoning behind this, training your audience to detect where a hero is now more powerful than when he started. If this is the case shouldn’t the camera be above his eye line since he will be striking out. This would reveal to the audience that the pitcher has beaten him ( strikes him out ) or show his weakest moment?

    Post a Reply
    • Rob, The slightly below the eye line was for his first at bat. We did not want to go above the eye line because we wanted the audience to think that Stan was back in his old form and was going to get that hit. Then when he strikes out it has the power of going from a wide lens to a incredible long lens and tunnel vision. I hope this helps explain what I was thinking

      Post a Reply
  10. I just found your blog today. I have been reading the articles in it for like 6 or 7 hours now. It is just absolutely amazing. What you are doing, by sharing your experience and knowledge with the world is really admirable. You are truly a good man. Your advices will definitely have a great impact on my future work. I wish you the best of luck and many more exciting and challenging projects.

    I just have a little thing to add… I perfectly realize why you mostly use movies you have shot as examples, but don’t you think that this way you are covering just around half of what could be said on the subject, because the movie you are giving as an example just didn’t include a lot of different situations?

    Please excuse my English, but I am not a native speaker :)

    Post a Reply
    • Georgi Kerezov, Welcome to the HurlBlog and I am glad you are digging in. Thank you for your wonderful words and these comments is what inspires my team to keep the sharing going. I write about what I experience, so it is immediate, it is exact. I do not want to try and inexpert what another cinematographer was thinking or why he was lighting it a specific way.

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  11. Stumbled upon this post while researching the next lens I’m going to get. Had no idea you were such a baseball fan and impressive player! I used to play as well but have since turned to filmmaking. What an inspiration your dad is staying true to his word. I don’t know that I could have done the same (nor many people at my age in this generation). This was piece a did senior year with my teammates who were also film majors. Wish this post was around then! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwbRpmFxVNA

    Post a Reply
    • Daniel, thank you so much for sharing. I will take a look thanks so much. My Dad is a very loyal man and respect him so much.

      Post a Reply
    • Daniel, So sorry it has taken me so long to get back with you. My DAD was one amazing player and I wished I had the patience to truly listen to all his advice. I wanted to forge my own path and hindsight being 20/20 I should have listened. He is such an amazing teacher, he was so strong, God could he throw that ball. I was mesmerized as a teenager what he could do with the ball. His rising fast ball I swear would break more than 3 feet. I will take a look at this, but to do this can you submit it in the filmmaker’s spotlight section of the blog. This is where my team and I review work. We get so many requests, much appreciated.

      Post a Reply

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