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.
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.
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.
Compared to his first at bat when he gets tunnel vision-
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The final game where he is back in the pocket, with his batter’s hawk eye and the support of the team.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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