Mr. 3000 Focal Length Choices
Keeping on track to deliver what all of you have requested on the HurlBlog survey, we are continuing our look into how lenses can help tell your story. Part One went into the internal characteristics of the glass itself. Now I want to demonstrate how using different focal lengths can help assist character development in new ways. I am going to take you through how these choices help create a character arc. Yes, it is not only the writing, story and acting that will take you there. It is the cinematographer’s job to assist in this process.
Composition and Lens Choice
A favorite film of mine that I have only discussed in a camera motion post is Mr. 3000. When I first spoke with Director Charles Stone III about how we were going to tackle this film, we both discussed the vision of THE SHOW. This is an aspiration of every baseball player – to be in THE SHOW. Stan Ross was in the show with 3000 hits and was on his way to the Hall of Fame, only to have it ripped out from underneath him by having three hits taken away. Now he is coming back out of retirement to reclaim those three hits.
Lens Height Matters
How do we take an audience through the use of composition and lens choice to help assist a character’s arc? Charles and I wanted the audience to feel that when Stan Ross walked up to the plate for the first time that it was a no brainer. He was BACK. He was a great player and ready to reclaim those three hits. So we used wide lenses to make Stan seem larger than life, back on the stage, back in the spotlight, back in THE SHOW. We also chose a slightly lower angle on the camera so that he seemed big, a hero. This is a very small adjustment that you can do to make your characters have power. Just lowering that camera under their eye line is huge in a close up and then even lower in wider shots to give your character that hero status.
You can also do the opposite by raising the camera over their eye line and looking down on them to make your character less powerful. Again, these are very subtle increases or decreases in the height of the lens. You will find what’s right once you start experimenting with this technique.
You are not just slapping on a lens and shooting your story. There are conscious choices that you can make as a filmmaker that will help take your audience on the intended journey that YOU want them to go on. In my opinion, zoom lenses make it easier to be a lazy filmmaker. Use primes to educate yourself about particular choices.
Focal Length and Depth of Field
Now Stan is up at the plate for his first at bat. He is in the spotlight, right where he feels most comfortable. He readies himself. We are low, but not super low.
Here is the first pitch, and BAM!!!! The smack of the glove, sound drops out, just Stan talking to himself. Look what we have done with lens choice. We went from a wide low angle at bat with the background slightly out of focus, to a complete voyeuristic view with a 600mm long lens and the background completely out of focus.
Charles Stone and I wanted this to feel like tunnel vision for Stan Ross. He is talking to himself, trying to find his legs again at the plate, but he is unsuccessful. Notice how we set the pitcher’s angles up in the beginning. Not tipping the audience off, we are normal height on the lens until he throws the first pitch. As the camera goes into tunnel vision on Stan Ross, the pitcher’s angle goes low and heroic. Now he has the upper hand, the power angle, the wide lens.
“The Character Arc of Stan Ross’s
Journey of Sacrifice”
While watching this film, you will quickly see Bernie Mac‘s character Stan Ross is out for one thing and one thing only, himself! In a short amount of time, he is torn down with every at bat. The next game is one that I loved shooting because we used super slow motion and the art of surreal to achieve the final product.
Now this tunnel vision that I talked about with the use of long lenses and incredibly shallow depth of field is taken a step further. We used a high-speed camera to shoot 1000 fps. This was shot on film, not in the world of digital. When that camera fired up, it was like a jet engine spooling up to speed. A thousand feet of film in 20 seconds flies through this Photo-Sonic camera.
We set our lens at a 2.0 on a 100mm Primo Prime lens. The ball is thrown 90mph and quickly goes out of focus, which was what we wanted to show — that Stan was having trouble seeing these pitches. He is not on his game. He talks the big talk, but he is way out of his league in terms of delivering the hits.
Then we cut to Stan. I did a little trick here because I wanted to create a little nervous nature to Stan. He just got blasted on Sports Center. He is a laughing stock. He needs this hit; he needs to deliver. So I used a 22 degree shutter angle to create a staccato effect. It made him edgy, hyper sharp with his emotions, no motion blur at all.
The ball, again traveling at super slow mo, starts to come into focus, but not all the way.
Now we are even closer on the ball. It comes into focus. It looks like Stan has found his vision; he is going to get his first hit, and then it all falls apart.
He swings three quick swings on a ball that is literally suspended in air. Then to put the nail in his character arc coffin, we finish the sequence looking down on him from high above, to belittle our character, to make him small and feeling like a failure. This was all achieved with lens placement and focal length — the power of lens choice.
Stayed tuned next week for Part 3: Tricking an audience with camera lens technique that had already been set up prior in the film. We will continue Stan Ross’s character arc, to see how he got out of the trenches to reclaim his hits.