I wanted to thank you all for the huge response on part one of Storytelling Through Composition. Now we move into the tighter side of framing.
This frame is another favorite. It can be used to show characters coming together because they are in love or for a particular cause or set of circumstances.
The person whose shoulder is being shot over is dirty, out of focus in the frame. To do these frames effectively and give your actors room to breathe, I suggest going on a slider, which in this instance we call “The Over Keeper” because you slide to keep your perfect dirty over. Sometimes your actors can lean, move, adjust themselves, and you don’t want to not see the actors’ eyes.
Other times, you can do overs that do not include the actor in the foreground. The director John Stockwell and I did this on Crazy/Beautiful in the beginning and used this style as a vehicle to bring the two together in a subtle way. We did not want Jay Hernandez and Kirsten Dunst to feel like they were together at first, so we shot clean overs. Then as they befriended one another, we started to link them together in wide dirty overs. Jay and Kirsten’s dirty overs became more and more claustrophobic as they fell deeper in love. We visually showed this by slowly narrowing that gap between them until they were literally on top of each other in the dark room scene.
I have been asked many times by colleagues, “Do you think anyone notices this?” I always turn to them and say, “Not in 30 seconds, but in two hours, I think you will feel it, and that is what being obsessed with the subtle style of filmmaking means to me.”
This shot is like a medium close up; you frame right at the waist. I use this shot to show body language and for a good comedy frame. You can see their stance, their aura.
I like to use this with women. I think one of the most beautiful areas on a woman’s body is her collar bone because it can show a necklace, the seductive top of cleavage, costumes, fragility, innocence, or just plain beauty. You can show her full head in this shot or bring the top of the frame to just above their eyebrows.
Again, this shot comes from the master himself. Ford took his camera all over the place: to mountaintops, secret valleys and isolated caves where a dolly could not be placed at that time. Also remember that the cameras were very heavy and bulky.
What Ford liked to do was to play with the actors’ blocking and have them walk into a close up. I have used this on many of my films. Rob Cohen, who directed The Rat Pack and The Skulls, introduced me to this term, “John Fording,” and I have used it ever since. He is one wise and talented filmmaker.
I love this term for an extreme close up. This shot puts you inside the character’s emotions, their thoughts, dreams, struggles, the journey, and their world. It chokes the actor by framing it just below the chin and just above the eyebrow.
There are many more that I could go into, but the shots above just happen to be my favorites. Remember, classic and elegant shots will never go out of style. It grounds the story, characters, and your visual language. Subtle composition that showcases the art of storytelling without attracting attention by using a sledgehammer is my favorite way to shoot.
What shots are you most proud of in your movies or commercials?
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