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Posts Tagged ‘Masterclass’

This is a follow-up to my last post (The George Lucas Directing Class in Under 100 Words) and it’s advice that comes from three Oscar winners. And it has to do with how you as a director capture wide shots, medium shots, and close-up shots in any given scene.

Director Spike Lee says you not only want to hire a talented director of photography (DP), but one who is also efficient. That’s a big part of what is going to help you keep on schedule and make your days. And the lower the budget, the fewer days you have to shoot your film.

And it’s not only the shooting schedule that’s important. Lee says, “Actors come to the set ready to work.” They’ve already been through hair, makeup, and wardrobe so they don’t want to be sitting in their trailers while the DP tinkers with lighting.

Oscar winner Martin Scorsese said that back in the ’80s when he was coming off a lull in his career he had smaller budgets to work. In one case he needed 75 shots in three days, but the budget only allowed for two days so they cut out 25 shots and scheduled to shoot 25 shots per day over the two days they had. The way they kept on schedule was to allow x-amount of time for each shot—10 minutes for one shot, 20 minutes for another, and 45 minutes for a more complicated shot. If they didn’t get what they needed in that time frame, they had to move on.

Oscar winner Jodie Foster drives home the point of how to be efficient in your shooting:

“There are a lot of things that waste time on movies. For example, you have five setups, you have one incredibly wide shot, and the other ones are five little pieces you’re going in for. Your wide shot— you can barely see their mouths move. So please don’t do 25 takes of the entire scene and print them all, and give your actors notes based on this wide shot. You’re probably only going to need one take or maybe two takes. Go in and get the other stuff afterwards and don’t waste all of your time getting the wide shot perfectly. Allow yourself to go in for the other shots.

“With movement very often, when you start a move and you know you’re going to keep this move, you want the beginning of the move and the end of the move. And that means you’re going to be stuck on this shot for the whole thing. If you make that decision that you’re going to keep that shot, then you don’t need those lines for any of the other pieces of coverage. So you don’t need to get everything perfect if you know that you have the money shots or the shots that are really in your head are working. So that’s where a lot of time gets spent, people want everything perfect and they don’t have an understanding of their cutting patterns or their potential cutting pattern. And they heard that old adage ‘Get coverage, get everything. Get every choice you possible have.‘ Large films can afford to not make choices. A little movie—gotta make choices and keep moving on.”
Jodie Foster
Masterclass, Shooting Your Film

So don’t worry about getting every take perfect (it won’t happen anyway), and have a clear vision going into the scene of what you envision the final edited scene to be. Another trick Lee has used throughout his career is to do scenes in one take. Steven Spielberg is a master of the oner–some that are simple and some that are quite complex. (Shots that often involve wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups all in one long take.)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.29.12 PM

Close-up on Opie (Ron Howard)

Ron Howard has had one of the most amazing careers in Hollywood history. He’s been a  child actor in a classic Tv show (The Andy Griffith Show), a young star actor  (Happy Days), an indie filmmaker (Grand Theft Auto), an Emmy winning producer (From Earth to the Moon), and an Oscar winning producer/director (A Beautiful Mind). He also had the privilege of developing a personal relationship with producer/director George Lucas who directed him in American Graffiti and produced Willow which Howard directed.

So with Howard’s over 50+ solid years of film and television experience here’s a very simple piece of filmmaking advice that I’m calling “The George Lucas Directing Class in Under 100 Words (via Ron Howard).” It’s advice that Howard learned first hand from Lucas, and advice that has always stuck with him and that he shares with others as they set out to direct. Here are 91 words that can change your life:

“George Lucas said no well-written scene has ever gone bad because the director staged it and shot it with a wide shot, a medium, and two close ups. If the scene’s well-written, you can just always fall back on that formula and you’ll have the material you’ll need to go into the editing room. Now, if you have an idea or a visual notion that’s more sophisticated that involves camera moves so be it, but you’re not going to ruin the scene because you shot it in a very simple way.”
Ron Howard
Masterclass, Frost/Nixon Staging Review

I learned about wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups in film school and it was called sequencing. Basically getting the coverage you need in a scene that when you go into the edit room you have a variety of shots that allows you to control pacing, visual interest, performance, and dramatic presentation. Once you become aware of wide/medium/close-up shots you realize that the entire history of cinema is saturated with that basic “formula” to use Lucas’ word. Watch any film from the early silent era through to the most recent release and you’ll see wide, medium, and close-up shots over and over again.

What constitutes a wide, medium, and a close-up is somewhat subject—and there are variations such as an extreme close-ups)  but this will get you in the ballpark.

MEDIUM CLOSE-UP
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.02.22 PM.png
CLOSE-UP (reversal shot of the medium closeup)
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.02.39 PM.png
MEDIUM TWO SHOT 
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.03.29 PM.png
WIDE SHOT
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.04.00 PM.png
MEDIUM SHOT 
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.12.05 PM.png
EXTREME WIDE SHOT
screen-shot-2019-10-07-at-3.16.29-pm.png

EXTREME CLOSE-UP (A BEAUTIFUL MIND)
Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 2.58.13 PM.png

 

Once you become aware of wide/medium/close-up shots you realize that the entire history of cinema is saturated with that basic “formula” to use Lucas’ word. Watch any film from the early silent era through to the most recent release and you’ll see wide, medium, and close-up shots over and over again.

Bigger budget films have tools at their disposal to make very complicated shots (dolly, crane, Steadicam, helicopter, etc) but it still boils down to wide/medium/close-up shots. Even films that where done in one take (Russian Ark) or meant to look like one take (Rope, Birdman) are still a variety of wide, medium, and close-ups.

Watch this evergreen advice played out from an episode of The Andy Griffith Show from the 1960s.

P.S. And wide/medium/close-up is scalable on every kind of production—from the largest blockbuster to the :15 second web spot.

 

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“A big theme for me is people in spiritual crisis. I keep coming back to this, every movie that I tend to be drawn to, that I want to spend years on, is about somebody going through a spiritual crisis. And this person—this man or this woman—is trying to make sense of their life because they’re trying to get better instead of worse . . . In many cases that is the whole object of the film. To take that person from a lost state, from a broken state, to a state where they can sudden start to repair themselves.”
Actor/director Jodie Foster (Little Man Tate)
Masterclass

Related post:
The Caterpillar and the Butterfly Every story is ‘The Caterpillar and the Butterfly.’”–Blake Snyder
Screenwriting & Slavery to Freedom “In the vast majority of stories, the hero’s overall change moves from slavery to freedom.”—John Truby
‘Stories are about people who are messed up’ “Stories are about people who are messed up, and need to figure out a way through it.”—Judd Apatow

Scott W. Smith

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Author Neil Gaiman was once on his blog was once asked what words or quote would he inscribe “on the wall of a public library children’s area” and this is the core of his answer from his essay Just Four Words (found in his book Stories: All-New Tales) mixed with his Masterclass on storytelling:

I’m not sure I’d put a quote up, if it was me, and I had a library wall to deface. I think I’d just remind people of the power of stories, of why they exist in the first place. I’d put up the four words that anyone telling a story wants to hear. The ones that show that it’s working, and that pages will be turned: 

‘. . .and then what happened?’

The four words that children ask when you pause telling them a story. The four words that you hear at the end of a chapter. The four words, spoken or unspoken, that show you, as a storyteller, that people care. And then what happened? And those words, I think,  are the most important words there are for a storyteller.”
Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Good Omen)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I like to think about sequences. I really believe less in a three-act structure and much more in sequences that are sort of eight-to-12 pages. Roughly about ten-minutes that work almost like chapters in a story. Nobody is better at building a story this way than Steven Spielberg… The sequences have their own beginning, middle, and end that are satisfying—it really pulls you along.”
Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind)
Masterclass

Related post:

Sequence Writing (Tip #105)

A look at Chris Soth’s sequence version called the “mini-movie method”—mixed with a little Blake Snyder

Scriptshadow’s Sequence Approach to writing

Scott W. Smith

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“Drama has rules. We’re given a premise. The hero wants something. To find the cause of the plague on Thebes, or to free the Jews, or to establish civil rights, or to fly the Atlantic. We get it. We are going to follow his or her journey until the end. And the end is going to be surprising—and inevitable. Just like in a great football game.”
Screenwriter/ Playwright David Mamet 
Masterclass/Purpose of Drama

Mamet (like Aaron Sorkin) points to Aristotle’s Poetics for direction and says, “The rules are pretty simple. Start at the beginning. Go on until you get to the end. Don’t stop. Be interesting. Make sure everything is on the line.”

And by “on the line,” Mamet means that if the story is about a character who needs to go from NY to LA that you must stay on that through line or plot line.

Scott W. Smith

 

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There is a tendency to think that art is finally the place where there are no rules, where you have complete freedom. I’m going to sit down at the keyboard and it’s just going to flow out of me onto the paper, and it’s going to be pure art. No. What you’re describing is finger painting. Rules are what makes art beautiful. Rules are what makes sports beautiful…Think about the rules to baseball. Abner Doubleday was a freaking genius. That’s a great game. Football is a great game. It’s the rules that makes sports beautiful, and it’s the rules that make art not finger painting. Think about music and all the rules that music has. Anyone who studied music for a year or two when they were in elementary school, anyone who picked up a flute or a trumpet, knows that at the beginning of every piece of music, there’s a time signature and a key signature. If you’re in 4/4 time, it means there are four beats in a measure and a quarter note gets one beat. There can’t be five beats in a measure. There can’t be three beats in a measure. If you’re in the key of C, it means that there are no sharps and no flats. There can’t be a sharp. There can’t be a flat. These rules also apply to writing. The rulebook is The Poetics by Aristotle. All the rules are there.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)
Masterclass/ Rules of Story

Link to Poetics. (S.H. Butcher version on The Project Gutenberg site.)

P.S. Tomorrow I’ll follow this post with David Mamet taking the torch from Sorkin and driving this point home. You can believe what you want to believe about rules, but if Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet agree on something then you might want at least pause before you embrace the “there are no rule” viewpoint.

But Sorkin is also clear that the “The only rules there are are the rules of drama.”

Related posts:

Trying to Understand the Mysterious Process of Writing 
“There are no rules.” (Tip #92)
There are no rules, but…(Tip #93+)
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Rules, Breaking Rules, No Rules
Screenwriting & Structure 

Scott W. Smith

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