Reading, but for Movies?

The Ebert “How to Read a Movie” article was so packed with information, I had to re-read it several times to understand it. Honestly I feel like a lot of the film techniques went over my head, but I tried to understand exactly how reading a movie is important to appreciating how it was made.

While you could analyze a movie scene and apply some general rules, Ebert emphasized that there no fixed rules, and that expert filmmakers do not consciously apply rules. Ebert is a film critic, so I gather that he sees all sorts of filmmaking techniques. He might be able to determine how some scenes work and do not work as an experienced critic. What could be the reason to read movies in that way? The reason one reads movies is to study the meaning and feelings produced using film and camera techniques in specific ways.

I found it interesting how the placement of characters in a scene convey emotion and affect the visual impact. Ebert provided an example of how, in the Hitchcock movie “Notorious,” the position and movement of the characters in the scene highlight the emotions felt. In that scene, Cary Grant starts in a positive/dominant scene position, or rather in the bottom right in the foreground. As the scene progresses, he moves to the top, left, background turning his back on Ingrid Bergman, who in the same scene does the opposite without actively moving. All of that comes together to outline the scene’s emotions.

To learn more about techniques used in filmmaking, I selected three videos to watch: The Shining – Zooms, 15 Camera techniques, and Examples of Editing Techniques.

In “The Shining – Zooms” video, I could get a sense on how zooming intensified drama and zooming out provided context. It also showed how consistent the camera movement was between slow scenes and action scenes.

In “15 Essential Camera Shots, Angles, and Movements” video, wolfcrow quickly described techniques used when filming. The techniques describe how the position of the character or characters both when taking moving and stationary shots and the zoom/angle of the camera are combined to create visual effect. The video included a camera technique shot chart at the end for reference.

I found it interesting how camera techniques can be used individually or combined. When you combine camera angles, motion, and shot sizes this is called the “single take shot” and requires a great deal of choreography between camera operators and actors.

The video also emphasized that these rules are not hard rules, but are more like guidelines for beginner filmmakers and can be broken. Yet another person who views filmmaking rules as not purely rules. I can see there is an overlap with this video and the article from earlier in that sense.

In “Examples of Editing Techniques” by D. Holbert, I got to see various ways the film or video can be edited for special effect. I find editing techniques fascinating, even though I am not a video editor myself.

The examples shown in the video showed how they purposefully adjusted the camera shots for effect. Some examples are that camera shot sizes go from extremely close to capture intense facial expression to extremely far away to make the character or characters very small in a larger context. Camera angles are used to make characters seem bigger or larger or to create a feeling of unbalance. Lots of camera movement generated a sense of action as well.

In addition to the camera shots, there are edits made to change which parts of the video play and at which times. That can be seen especially well with rhythm where they cut to a new scene after a couple measures of music were played. Also the freeze frames and thaw frames combine moving images with still pictures in unique ways to capture moments before and after a scene happens.

Editing is basically a combination of applying various camera techniques and scene transitions to create a whole different experience you could not get with just one or the other. I got the feeling that being a good cameraman is just as important as being a good editor.

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