The Five C’s of Cinematography

Mascelli, J. (1965) The 5 C’s of Cinematography. U.S.A. : Silman-James Press

This book is quite dense with information. It’s split into camera angles, continuity, cutting, close-ups and composition. I read the first four sections after Christmas and picked it up again to finish the composition chapter. I took notes this time for quicker revision of concepts as I think I’ve lost bits of what were in the first 4 sections. It’s probably worth re-reading anyway.

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These are my rough notes for composition:

Composition

  • motivate audience reaction according to scripts intent. Balanced or unbalanced?
  • Space and time dimensions: movement holds the viewers attention, guard against insignificant/undesirable movement. Secondary actions such as dialogue also attract attention.
  • Compose the shape of motions
  • Language: lines, forms, masses, movements. Imaginary transitional lines are created from following action – these are important too.

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The different types of lines and their possible effect:

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  • Lines can lie flat on surface or recede into picture. Diagonals are dynamic. Line sharpness is connected to speed and forcefulness.
  • Form: abstract forms can be created from the arrangement of physical objects: triangles wide, based triangles, inverted triangles, circles, crosses, radiating lines, L-shaped composition.

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  • Mass: the pictorial weight of an object. Light mass on dark bg or vice versa. Large versus small mass. 
  • Movements: right to left movements are harder to follow, moving against the grain, should be used for actions which are difficult such as moving towards the villain. vertical movment: upward or downward? Diagonal, opposing forces, stress, the use of force. Curved; fear. Pendulum; pacing, monotony. Cascading. Radiating; growth. Interrupted or movement which changes direction. Towards or away from viewer.
  • Balance: unbalance upsets the viewer. A large static object can be counter balanced by a small moving object.The two sides of the screen are like a see-saw. A moving object possesses more weight than a stationary object. The upper part of a picture is heavier than the bottom. The left side of frame can support more weight. An isolated object has more weight than crowded or stacked ones. Warm colours carry more weight than cold ones. Light values are heavier than shadowed objects.

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  • Formal and informal balance: symmetry versus asymmetry. Gravity inflluences balance; an objects center of gravity.
  • Unity; perfect integration of elements.
  • One center of interest. A group of people or objects can also be one center of interest.
  • Positioning center of interest. Avoid vertical or horizontal lines cutting the image in half. Diversify: horizon placement, position of center of interest, player and camera movement.

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  • Attracting or switching center of interest: Position, movement, action and sound. Lighting, tonal value and colours. Selective focusing.
  • Eye scan: within the frame and also from one frame to another. Usually smooth and orderly unless you want to add shock and abruptness to a subject.
  • Image placement. lead room. head room is determined by image balance. Avoid cutting joints with the edge of the frame.
  • Image size: give a clue (objects of known size) to scale. Framing influences how you perceive the size of a subject.

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  • Integrate composition and camera angles: continually revise player/background relationship.
  • Perspective: linear; convergence of parallel lines. Aerial perspective; gradual lightening and softening of distant objects.
  • How to increase perspective effects: camera angles which reveal the greatest number of planes/facets; angle plus angle. Choose angle and lens focal length that gives best linear convergence. Partially overlap players/props so as to convey spatial relation. Overlapping on movement introduces motion parallax. Move toward or away from screen to indicate spatial depth. Light a scene so as to get contrasting planes. Light an interior scene with a ‘hotter’ background for something similar to aerial perspective.

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  • Backgrounds: actions in foreground should be tied in with background. The background should be a constant subtle reminder of setting.Use lighting, tone and colour to separate the character from the background.
  • Frames: Compose an internal frame at an angle for depth. The frame should some tonal contrast with the subject it”s framing. Keep large foreground frames in sharp focus. Avoid wildly moving frames that detract from subject such as leaves in a high wind. Frames relevant/connected tto story may aid story telling and convey setting.

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  • Dynamic composition: move from a quiet scene to one which contains sudden movement close to the camera. Use this for dramatic situations.
  • Suspenseful composition: Show a few frames where the action is hidden from the audience.
  • Catalog pictures: grouping and arranging shapes.
  • Compositional variety: variety in composition, camera angle, image size.
  • Always think in terms of creating depth.
  • Simplicity: be economical in terms of line, form, mass and movement. Have one center of interest and employ one unified style. Get rid of anything in frame that’s not needed for the storytelling. “If a vast number of compositional elements must be photographed then they should be harmoniously grouped.”
  • “remember that the viewer mst be affected both pictorially and psychologically.
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