Many of you have expressed an interest in composition: what makes a good frame or a bad one. There are a few classic frames that I customize to give them flare. I think this will help all of you find your compositional voice. Remember that the best creative inspiration can come from not always following the rules.
This usually is used to educate the audience on place and geography. The establishing shot lets the audience know where everyone is. In my opinion, these frames are underutilized. I like seeing where my characters are, the time and space. It sets the tone, the mood, and it is where all light comes from, all motivation, all conception. This can be used to show the peril that your character is about to face; it can show scope; it can make you cry; it can ground you, create a sense of loneliness, move you, have you just say “WOW!” There is power in a wide shot. I have been spinning film through a camera for about 20 years now, and I still go to movies and drop my jaw with the incredibly talented cameramen/women who bring this art of cinematography to life.
Depending on the film, it can be a helicopter shot, a sweeping crane shot, a slow moving dolly or just a Doinker, which is one of those weird terms. This was introduced to me by McG on We Are Marshall. He kept saying, “We will set the camera up here for the Doinker.” I loved it and have been using the word to describe a locked off shot that “doinks” onto the screen ever since. McG has a passion for the entire process of filmmaking and inspires me creatively with his humor and vision.
This is a shot that takes in the actor’s whole body from their head to their toes. It can be used to educate the audience about time and space, to show body language, show wardrobe, get a laugh, etc.
This is one of my favorite shots, not only for the name, but also for its origin. This shot is a frame of an actor’s body cut off at the knees. The origin of this shot came from John Ford Westerns. He was one talented director. Please look at this man’s frames. They will blow you away.
This shot was what Ford used to show his cowboys. To show a cowboy, you need to show his gun, and the holster fell right at the knee line. This frame is a great comedic frame as well. It can set the stage for a range of emotions: confrontation, camaraderie, fear or love.
This shot can be very subjective, with a variety of sizes depending on the story you are trying to tell. A two shot can be two bodies in frame, head to toe, cowboy, or a tight two shot with just heads in the frame. I used this intimacy in Deadfall, directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, which comes out in theaters December 7th. Like Deadfall on Facebook.
In Crazy/Beautiful, the two shot became a very powerful tool in showing intimacy, vulnerability, claustrophic framing. A two shot of just two actors’ heads in profile created this intimacy, this intoxication. That is love. It moves you, makes you do things you never thought you would, which is exactly what director John Stockwell wanted to convey with Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez in Crazy/Beautiful.
Kristen Dunst and Jay Hernandez were two people you would never put together as a couple, and that was the magic. Using very unique framing and unorthodox composition, we tried to tell the story of love finding its way. Teenagers – they are unpredictable. I have one, and they can throw you for a loop! I wanted my framing to be like a teenager: off, unpredictable, not perfect, still finding themselves. It was fun to be unconventional with our coverage. John Stockwell was fearless in his cinematic vision. He pushed me creatively. Keep it small, keep it intimate.
Stay tuned for part two of storytelling through composition next week.
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