You may block impressive frames if you have a penchant for photography. It is an excellent skill to possess. But, film blocking can get tricky when it comes to narrating a story through a sequence of frames. Movies follow a particular flow and grammar which always strive for creating an engaging drama.
Film blocking can be done with two basic approaches -Locked frame or a Moving frame. Locked frame shooting is similar to still photography. Film blocking with a moving camera needs constant awareness of keeping the frame structure beautiful in all angles. You have to take the story forward too. The challenge for a moving camera is to maintain the cinematic aesthetics and the visual details uniformly.
8 Beginner Tips on Cinematic Film Blocking:
To add that cinematic touch to your videos, the staging and blocking of the scenes are crucial to make your frame look professional. For the beginners, It is common to be confused as to how to approach a scene? Just placing a camera as you wish and putting the actors in front of them is not cinematography. You will miss out an opportunity to create a magical frame. One breathtaking scene is enough for a newbie to boost his career. So, never take your blocking for granted.
Here are few golden tips which will help you to overcome your brain freeze and shoot Hollywood-like frames with ease.
1 Expose the Drama through the Right Lens:
Choosing a proper lens can do wonders for your shot. Always follow or read the interviews of great cinematographers on their choice of a lens. The choice of when to use a zoom lens or a prime lens is crucial.
If you are shooting a landscape or a city, wide lens is apt. For close and medium shot you can go for the long lenses. If the camera is moving ahead or back at a steady speed, the wide lenses enhance the movement. Similarly, if you are following a running object from a side, the long lenses make the frames thrilling.
Remember the famous western films. One can’t forget those cowboys’ silhouettes galloping in slow motion with the big orange setting sun at the backdrop. They look stunning because of the telephoto lens. You have to choose your lens according to your needs. But a little twist can make things interesting. So, never fret to experiment.
Lenses also help in adding depth of field.They can distort the perspectives and even make small spaces look big. If you know the tricks, lenses can make your frames look magical.
2- Always Light your Scenes Appropriately:
However good your film blocking is, the beauty of the visuals will only look fabulous you lit the subjects well. Also, choice of lights should be according to the mood and the source of the lights. But, when you are new to filmmaking, budget constraints drive you to use the available lights. But if with smart thinking, you can amplify the light intensity and distribution by using reflectors or bouncing materials.
You will naturally try to lit the shots beautifully but the consistency of lighting also very important here. It is common for a newbie to ignore the uniformity of illumination due to inexperience but they matter a lot. The visuals with wrong lighting will throw the audience out of your story.
The lighting should also be congruent to the time of the day in your scene. It is usually golden during the sunrise or the sunsets. The moonlight has more hue on a full moon than the other nights. During indoors, always light according to the source of the light. You can also try to use different lights like a neon to add color to the actors if they are in an environment where the colors reflect on them. During the day, you can keep the actors near the window, as the light source, to light your character.
Lighting doesn’t mean you use too many lights. Many frames look stunning with the pure play of natural lights and shadows. You can shoot against the light source to capture dramatic silhouettes. Always strive to get amazing shots to demonstrate your skills and talent.
3- Make your Frames Dynamic:
Nowadays the attention deficit audience disengages fast with static frames. As a filmmaker, you should always improvise with the times. The movies in today’s age usually follow dynamic camera moves.
Hollywood blockbusters keep their camera very busy. They don’t want you to blink when the thrills are on.It doesn’t mean you move the camera only for the thrillers or the spine-chillers. If you push in gently, it enhances the emotion in the scene. Pulling out may mean you are disconnecting emotionally from the person. The speed of the movement is important too. It may denote many meanings, but you should use it efficiently.
There are a thousand ways to make your shots dynamic. But, don’t’ overthink and waste your day to get that perfect shot. You are a newbie, and your budget won’t allow that. Just be aware that moving your camera will do the shooting a world of good.
However, moving the camera is a choice. Since many filmmakers exercise, the style doesn’t make it sacred. You can always keep them static if that is the style demands. No harm in doing so as long it is not affecting the pace of your narrative.
4- Make it Seamless:
Uneven pacing of consecutive shots can look tacky unless you do it with a purpose. So the movement has to be well thought out. The blending of the shots in a scene has to be seamless. It means we don’t see the cut. It will only happen if the techniques adopted for your film blocking are correct.
Many filmmakers also adopt the strategy to cover a scene in a single shot. The idea is to take the story forward without any disruption. The audience also moves alongside the actor. It helps in deeper engagement or proximity to the drama or tension of the scene.
Consistent lighting also adds to the seamless theory. Notably, the reverse shots should follow the lighting protocols. If the source of the lights looks inappropriate, the continuity in the scene takes a hit.
The lensing of the shots should complement each other. To make your editors happy, cutting from a wide angle to a close look more seamless than cutting the two shots with closer magnifications. As a filmmaker, you should have a sound knowledge of editing before blocking or frame. The cuts smoothly flow as if you blinked.
5- Never Ignore the Background:
Background Design is another crucial aspect of blocking your scene which you should never ignore. The backgrounds enhance the visuals of the frame. They add many details to your scenes. Backgrounds can be anything from a blank wall to thousands of crowd. From a dense forest to a crowded city or a vast landscape to a to a claustrophobic room.
Backgrounds add texture and color to your visuals. Imagine the actor standing against a blank white wall against a person standing in an environment which pronounces details about the character’s house, workplace, lifestyle, mindset, etc.
Expansive Backgrounds are difficult to light for newbies, But, you can always do a workaround by using reflections and props smartly. If you know Adobe after effects or any video compositing software, you can do green screens and add great Hollywood-like backgrounds to make your visuals more lavish.
Also when you are shooting dialogs or two-shots, the other actor also acts as a background, and he has the other actor’s back as the foreground. In such cases, remember to block them in such a way that the ratio of the perspective match and complement each other.
Your mind will explode with cinematic ideas if you keep the aspect of background in mind. You will be able to place the camera confidently and block your scenes better.
6 – Use the Props as Characters:
Ideally, I wanted to include this in the background tip, but props play a significant role when it comes to camera blocking. So, I decided to give it a separate place.
What will you do if you have no choice but a blank wall in the background? Props come in handy here. If the props are not relevant enough to fit the background you can always place them in the foreground. Keeping them out of focus will add depth to the image. Adding depth of field makes the subject closer to the audience.
Small things like a table lamp, a cell phone, computer desktop, a home decor prop or anything for that matter, help a lot in the foreground.
Use of mirrors also creates some compelling imagery.You can use it wisely to cover conversations or two events in a single frame. Steven Spielberg is a master in using mirrors or glass reflections.Proper blocking of cutaways also amplifies the drama of the scene. Many Cowboys westerns, thrillers, and horror use props very well as cutaways. Frame them in such a way that they are no different from a character.
7- Rig Smart:
Camera rigs and tracks are quite expensive for a newbie. But, there are inexpensive substitutes to stabilize or smoothen the movement for tricky shots. Some gimbals and gear are quite affordable too.
There are tons of tricks by using simple props to keep shots steady. I have seen people adopting smart homemade techniques to shoot their scenes. Chairs, office desks, roller skates, bikes, and cars are the simple homemade rigs. You can even create a camera stabilizer with PVC pipes.
Keeping the camera static on a tripod is old school. There are tons of weird tripod tricks to replicate explosive big-budget camera moves. Just check this video where this young hockey boy creates a camera rig for his videos.
Video Courtesy: The Hockey House
8- Quickly Figure out your Shoot Challenges and Improvise:
Film shoots rarely go as per the plans. There will be production related hindrances, or the weather may not be not conducive to shoot. Your actor came late for the shoot. The lights were defective. Millions of issues can filmmaking schedules.
Big blockbusters experience similar hassles too. But, they can handle their expenses well, but an amateur filmmaker who is stressed with money, may not afford to do so. So, always keep a clear head to improvise. Adapt quickly to the shooting challenges which prop up out of the blue.
You have 18 shots lined up for the day; now due to the hassles, you may have only time for six as the location is not available from tomorrow. What will you do? Your alertness to the situation will come to your rescue. It is safe to plan your master shot first so that you cover the whole scene. Then break the rest with some smart camera moves or tricks for coverage of the scene. Sometimes not every shot should work with reaction shots. Offscreen dialogs also work as well. To make those choices quickly is essential.
The whole idea of film blocking is to keep your shots consistent. Always remember, once you have shot the film, you can’t put a disclaimer or explain to every person in the audience, why the shot looked terrible or why the light was low. You can never clarify with the audience why a clip was missing or poorly shot. You should always strive towards keeping your frames beautiful. It should have the aesthetic cinematic look devoid of all the pains you undertake. Remember – Pain is temporary, but a film is permanent.
We all love to block the scenes well, but with the above tips, it will help the new filmmakers to do it better. If the visuals supplement the story, the audience will remember it for a long time. But, that doesn’t mean you procrastinate about shooting that perfect shot. Just shoot it.