The 5 C’s of Cinematography – Camera Angles

This post includes my notes from the chapter on camera angles from The 5 C’s of Cinematography by Joseph Mascelli. My previous notes from the chapter on composition are blogged here. I haven’t read this book since first year and had forgotten a lot of important points through lack of practice. Hopefully we’ll be able to employ this knowledge better in our next animatic!

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

The 5 C’s of Cinematography

  1. Camera Angles
  2. Continuity
  3. Cutting
  4. Close-ups
  5. Composition

Camera Angles Notes:

Story requirement should dictate the choice of camera angle. Ask yourself two questions when choosing: What is the best viewpoint and how much area should be included?

The scene is the place where action is shot. The shot is one continuous view without cuts, also known as a take. A sequence is a series of scenes or shots.

Consider three types of camera angles – objective, subjective, point-of-view.

The objective camera is when the viewpoint is from the sidelines.

The subjective camera is from a viewpoint within the scene, e.g. from a person within the scene or moving with the camera to take a tour of the scene. This is an effective viewpoint for startling the viewer e.g. in a rollercoaster or falling from a height. The viewer feels like they are in the scene, through the eyes of the characters on screen.

Moving shots are always subjective. A static shot can be made subjective by first showing a close-up of the person whose eyes you will see through, looking off screen.

You don’t generally see from the viewpoint of characters who are interacting as it will result in disruption from characters looking into the camera (your eyes).

Subjective filming should be reserved for when you want to show the mental condition of a character as using this shot too often will rob the audience of seeing the subject’s reactions.

Point-of-view shots are those that position the camera within the scene but not from the viewpoint of a character. It is like standing cheek to cheek with the character so that you see what they see, but you remain objective. Over-the-shoulder shots set up the relationship between the two characters. This objective shot can again become subjective by showing a close-up of a character looking off screen. It is easier to identify with characters on-screen if you see them from the same viewpoint/standing alongside other characters in the scene rather than objectively on the sidelines.

Two don’ts: Don’t show a close-up of a player looking off screen, cut to see what they’re seeing and then pan around to look at themself. Don’t show a player pointing off screen and then have them walk in the same direction that they’re pointing. (why this second one?)

A camera angle is defined as the area and view-point recorded by the lens” and is determined by three factors – subject size, subject angle, camera height.

The size of the subject in relation to the frame determines the type of shotExtreme long shot, long shot, medium shot, close-up.

An extreme long shot depicts a vast area from a great distance and is used to impress the viewer with the huge scope of the setting or event. A panning camera for this shot should be reserved for when something interesting can be revealed with the pan.

The long shot is used to establish the scene, who is involved and where they are. Whenever considerable, narratively significant movement is made by the character it should be re-established in the long shot. Medium long shots can be substitued for long shots on narrower screens.

A medium shot frames characters above the knee or below the waist.

The two-shot is a dramatic medium shot where two characters are framed confronting each other. The two shot can be framed with both characters in profile and equally dominant or it may be more interesting to frame the characters at an angle, with the character closest angled away from the camera. The character angled most towards the camera is most likely compositionally dominant in this situation. The two shot should be brought about in a natural progression of the medium or long shot. The characters should not be filmed toe-to-toe unless in a dramatic confrontation.

There are varying degrees of close-ups (discussed in a later chapter).

Terms: A pan shot is when the camera rotates on its vertical axis. A dolly, crane or boom shot is when the entire camera is moved with its mount. A follow or tracking shot is when the camera moves along with the character. A low shot is where the camera is angled upward and a high shot is where the camera is high and angled downwards. Also consider reverse shots, cut-in shots, cut-away shots and reaction shots.

The subject angle should be chosen for the best degree of modeling. Avoid flat images by showing at least two sides of the subject e.g. film heads at three-quarter angles and film streets so that they converge into the distance. Achieve depth with “lighting, camera and player movement, overlapping subject matter, linear and aerial perspective, use of short focal length lenses”. The camera angle is the greatest tool for achieving depth.

Camera height influences audience involvement e.g. viewing the subject at eye-level or above or below. A level camera results in vertical lines not converging and therefore not distorting. Importance is stressed when choosing the camera height for close-ups. The objective camera height should be on eye-level with the close-up subject, unless you are simulating the p.o.v. height difference of characters e.g. sitting and standing. Subjective close-ups should always be at the subject’s eye-level.

Level shots are employed dramatically in shots where a vehicle is rushing towards the camera.

High angle shots are useful for showing the layout of the setting or making the audience feel superior to a character. The subject always dictates the angle.

Low angle shots are useful for creating awe and excitement for the subject, and also for creating more forced perspective.

Angle-plus-angle is where the camera is angled to the subject but also tilted upwards or downwards. It creates the greatest degree of modeling a subject in 3D and also the greatest convergence of perspective.

Use dutch-angles with discretion for impressions of violence or instability.

Plan your combinations of camera angles and consider the pattern of shots, looking at area photographed and viewpoint. In progressive shots, the area and/or angle is progressively greater or smaller. Progressive/regressive shots require a definite change in the image size and angle or it will be jarring. In contrasting shots, pairs of shots are opposite in area photographed and/or angle. Contrasting shots also require a definite change. In repititious shots, the area and/or angles in a series of shots are the same.

Think “how much area should be included in this shot and where should the camera be positioned to view the action?” Only subjects of importance to the story should be included in the shot and for only as long as it’s point story point requires. Approach the shots in a scene creatively. Progressive shots are a standard way for telling the story but may become a lazy go-to, so look for dramatic opportunities with contrasting or repititious shots.

When filming continuous action, be sure to change the camera angle, lens, or both between cuts so as to avoid jarringly similar images. Be definite with change unless you are purposefully trying to pop into a distant subject e.g. a person in a crowd. Think of the lens focal length which is best suited for the shot e.g wide-angle lens for a distant shot, normal lens for a medium shot and a semi-telephoto or telephoto lens for a close-up.

Consider the individual story requirements of each shot but also consider everything as part of a sequence.

Consider the esthetic, technical, psychological, dramatic, editorial, natural and physical factors that will occur when choosing how to shoot the scene.

 

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Top 10 Cinematographers

This video gives a great overview of important cinematographers over the last century. Seeing theory done well is very inspiring! We’ve been advised to find similar shots to what we want to achieve so that we can examine and understand the language of framing what’s on screen more effectively. I admit that I’m a bit ignorant of the work of specific cinematographers, apart from Roger Deakins who was another team’s presentation topic in first year, so this is a good place to start.

CineFix (2010) Top 10 Cinematographers of All Time

Writing Excuses 1.14 Magic systems and Rules of Magic Systems

http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/05/12/writing-excuses-episode-14-magic-systems-and-their-rules/

In my head I’ve been struggling to allow Nami to use magic to solve her problems as it seems like too easy of a way out. This podcast gives a good indication of why this is the case and how to overcome it.

Notes:

Sanderson’s First Law: Your ability to solve conflict with your magic is directly proportional to how well your reader understands your magic system.

Your character can only explore the magic once you’ve laid down concrete rules so that the reader knows what’s going on. If you can just do anything, then there is no tension. If you know the mechanism beforehand, then the audience can put 2 + 2 together and say that this problem is going to be solved this way! Don’t just let the solution surface at the last moment or it will be a cheat.

Make the magic feel like a strength in your world. Make it believable.

Not all books have magic rules laid out. It depends on who’s perspective we see from. E.g. in Lord of the Rings, the characters solving the problems aren’t always those who use magic but when Éowyn kills the Witch King it is only after Tolkien has given us the 2 + 2 of how this can be done.

You can purposefully not explain the rules so that you’re tapping into the collective unconscious of being a fish out of water and feeling like you don’t understand how things work. This means that the hero is not going to be able to solve conflict with magic. Lord of the Rings is about normal people, the hobbits, trying to make their way in a magical world.

The Harry Potter series lies somewhere in between. It is not always rule based (which gives ease of access) but certain books have their own rules e.g. the rules of the time turner play a large part in The Prisoner of Azkaban, (portkeys, polyjuice potions, the floo network etc. in others) but elsewhere it is just like they’re shooting magical guns at each other.

What do you gain by explaining the rules? Knowing how the magic works is world building. Explaining the rules is a separate decision you need to make. In X-Men, the mutant gene is world building. The rules of what wolverine can do is explained so that he can play a role as a shield. Similarly Superman has certain rules and limits to what he can do (depending on which comic). Gandalf on the other hand is not explained but it is established that he can’t destroy the ring.

By explaining the rules early on, you can use magic to solve problems. You can make your character seem clever by manipulating the tools that you’ve given them in ways that you would not expect. Capture the imagination of your audience with your rules so that they can imagine what they themselves could do with them. This also allows for foreshadowing – the surprising yet inevitable.

Explaining the magic also gives you the opportunity to create an apprentice character. This can let you show off the magic system and create a sense of wonder. Let the audience think “wow this is cool, I can imagine myself doing it!”.

Once the rules get very solid then your start to appeal to another audience by taking on another form of the fantasy genre – hard fantasy.

Writing Excuses Season 12.31 – Monsters

12.31: What Makes a Good Monster, with Courtney Alameda (link to podcast)

This episode of the Writing Excuses podcast raises questions that we’ll need to consider for our project. Considering our world is full of monsters, this podcast highlights how useful it will be to:

  • do more research on our chosen mythology.
  • know enough about our monster so that we can subvert expectation.
  • research more about symbolism and how the monster relates to our theme.

Notes from the podcast:

What makes a good monster?

“Monsters are the best when they subvert the status quo and remind us that we are not on the top of the food chain.” The Xenomorph from Alien is a great example of this – it’s almost impossible to kill. 

Hannibal Lectre is a good example of subverting expectation. His introduction is about how dangerous he is. Then once you descend into the dungeon cell and see him, it’s not what you were expecting, he’s calm and well kept.

The monster is only frightening if it poses a threat to your character or society.

Great monsters surprise, they subvert the status, your expectations. The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth subverts the zombie trope. He is inspired by the tenome, a Japanese monster.  The Pale Man is also a metaphor for everything else that is happening in the film. The monster reflects other angles, ideas and themes of the story. When Ophelia takes from the monster, the monster fights back. This is reflected when Ophelia takes from her father. Be cautious with too on-the-nose parallelism.

A knowledge of folklore is necessary for creating great monsters e.g. Japanese folklore, African, European. How do we construct our fears? Find patterns and universal, Jungian fears.

Always look at the monsters’ roles. Consider the monsters’ symbolism within mythology.

Start with asking – what type of things frighten me? e.g. being alone and incapacitated in such a way that something could eat me.

“I like the character to be super competent but I want their super competence to have no effect on the monster… the monster is powerful in another way.”

“The monster targets their weakness.”

 

Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story

These are a few simple points that we could use to question ourselves to see if we’re on the right path.

  • Know your ending, your punchline.
  • Make me care.
  • Don’t give the audience 4, give them 2+2. The unifying theory of 2+2.
  • Every character is driven by an itch that they need to scratch, the spine of their character that drives them. It doesn’t always drive them to make the correct decisions.
  • Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.
  • Have you constructed uncertainty? Have you made me want to know what will happen next?
  • A strong theme is always running through a well told story e.g. identity in Lawrence of Arabia.
  • Can you create wonder in your audience?

Writing Excuses Notes Season 01 Part 01

Out of all the animated shorts that I’ve seen on YouTube, story is definitely the biggest let down. We (the team) seem to share a liking of shorts that quickly show character and conflict. This seems obvious, but so many shorts very quickly loose engagement through poor storytelling. The artistic, visual appeal of the short can also influence whether we like a short or not but this is because we tend to watch the start longer if it’s ‘pretty’ and often the story will be present already in the mood and atmosphere if the art direction is strong.

Season 01, episodes 01 – 10 of Writing Excuses so far has made some useful points on making original ideas, cutting what doesn’t work, beginnings, heroes, protagonists, villains, and pacing.

Episodes 01 – 10 notes:

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Character Trees RocketJump Film School

Character Trees (2015) RocketJump Film School

The following description prompts, starting from the feet up, could be a useful way for us to build a picture of our characters. The exercise is meant to help you figure out the psychology of your character which will impact what decisions the character makes within the story. The example below is from Video Game Highschool.

The following is FILM CRIT HULK’s outline of each part of the tree:

Source: http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2014/03/06/hulk-presents-character-trees

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