Digital Film Production: Assignment 1 – Framing

I’m posting this a little out of sequence as there is one more exercise that I should complete from this part of the Digital Film Production course, but as I had the opportunity to film this before the exercise before it, I thought I might as well get it posted!

Introduction

For this assignment I was to produce a short sequence, of no more than 5 shots, telling a simple story, using the images only, and then evaluate my sequence critically, looking at the strengths and weaknesses.

Planning and Pre-production

The sequence I chose was similar to the one I storyboarded for the first exercise of the course – Project One Exercise: Telling a Story about a girl who was feeling a bit down so she went out for a run to cheer herself up.  I re-wrote the storyboard, changing the subject to a man, as I had a willing actor lined up, and I adjusted the location a little, to be able to be able to use my 5 shots effectively.  If I were to have my subject starting from inside their house I would have needed to show them leaving the house, so I decided to start off somewhere outside.

Equipment:

  • Nikon D800 DSLR
  • Tamron 28 – 75mm f/2.8 Lens
  • Manfrotto tripod
  • Pen and paper for taking shot notes
  • Spare battery
  • Spare SD and CF cards

Filming

I’ve photographed my actor Andrew before, he’s a professional dancer and model, so I knew that there would be no problems with direction – he’s a natural in front of the camera! As luck would have it, the weather was on my side, with it being a sunny autumn day.  Although I didn’t have a firm idea when I storyboarded it, as to where to film my first shot, I’d decided to use one of the shelters on the seafront.

 Shot 1

Shot 1:

Although I had storyboarded a mid shot I decided to go for something between a mid and a long shot to show a bit more of the subjects surroundings, without showing too much.  I positioned the camera above the subject, to look down on him, and composed it with him off to the side, looking into the screen, rather than straight on looking towards the camera position.

Shot 2

Shot 2:

I wanted to get the subject out of the shelter he was in and onto the beach so went for a long shot to reveal a bit more about exactly where he is, and to give him a bit of space to move into and out of at the end of the shot, I used the pillars to create a little bit of a frame, and they came in handy as a prop for him to lean on whilst stretching.  We also took the opportunity to use this shot as a tool for the subject to remove his jacket as he was leaving the shot, allowing us to lose it during the next shot of his feet only.

 Shot 3

Shot 3:

Although I storyboarded a close up of the subject tying up his laces I decided to change it to a close up of him starting to run.  As I wanted the running shots to be on the sand, I realised I wanted to show the transition from being on the concrete prom, to running on the sand, and also show the transition from standing/walking to running.  I filmed two versions of this shot, one was a much tighter shot, but this meant that the feet weren’t on screen long enough so I tried this version.

Shot 4

Shot 4:

I wanted this to be a long shot to show the sea and beach, and to also allow the subject to be on screen for a little while, to show a bit of the run. I framed it up to show the sinking mud sign, as I felt the balance worked well.

Shot 5

Shot 5

A mid shot, with a low camera angle to make Andrew look empowered by his run, we set up the spot that I wanted him to run into, as I wanted his final position to be with the sun over his shoulder, and he did it spot on in 1 take!

Post Production

With all of the shots I tried to pay attention to the matching/overlapping action to make the edit easier.  The action carried out at the end of one shot, were repeated at the beginning of the next shot, to enable me to edit the shots together easier.  I also kept an eye on the direction that Andrew was moving on the screen, to ensure that I didn’t cross the line, which would have jarred the edits.

Having controlled both of these elements in the filming meant that the edit flowed very well and caused no headaches at all.

Self Assessment

Looking at the assignment, in relation to the assessment criteria set by the Open College of the Arts, I need to assess myself on a number of criteria.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Although I’m still trying to get the hang of DSLR filming, I’m reasonably happy with the technical aspects of the piece, although I do need to clean my lens before filming towards the sun!  I made a decision to use the tripod for the whole piece, rather than handheld, which although it restricted any camera moves, it ensured that the shots were all stable.

Quality of Outcome

Controlling the screen direction and overlapping action has given the piece a flow, although as I’m used to longer pieces, it feels too short, and over too quickly.  As it needed to be contained within 5 shots one other option would have been to make one or more of the shots longer, possibly by having a handheld moving shot of him running, moving alongside him, or positioning the camera more head on so he ran towards the camera, although that could have led to a very long, boring shot.

  • Shot 1: I feel that maybe I could have raised the camera even higher above the subject, to emphasise the powerless feeling more.  Alternatively, ad the shot size itself is neither a long shot or a mid shot, perhaps a very wide shot could have made the subject look even more depressed and isolated, although that might have been emphasising it more than is needed.
  • Shot 2: Compositionally I’m reasonably happy with this, although it is a bit of a long, slow shot, which was needed to make the stretches look a little bit more like real life, rather than a 1 second stretch!
  • Shot 3: A bit loose to be a true close up, but it needed to have enough space for him to start running and run out of shot.
  • Shot 4: As mentioned above, although long enough for a static camera shot, I think it needs a bit more of the run, so I would possibly reshoot it with a camera move.  Unfortunately I don’t have a fluid head for my tripod, so would need to try and pan it very carefully.
  • Shot 5:  Other than the dust spots all over the filter, this came out pretty much as I envisaged and I’m happy with the feel of the shot.

Demonstration of Creativity

I’m still trying to find the artiste inside of me, and although technically I’m relatively comfortable, (although still learning all the time) I hope that as the course progresses I can relax into the artistic side of it a bit more.  Although I don’t think I will ever find myself producing wildly abstract work!

Context

I think I need to ensure that I carry out more constructive research, although I am constantly watching television and films with my instructional eye from when I taught video to military photographers and looking at the technical aspects of screen direction, matching action, camera moves etc…., I need to look more at the creative aspects.

Conclusion

Overall I’m quite pleased with how this worked out, although there are minor points that I would adjust, if I were to repeat the exercise, such as maybe lengthening the running shot a little, perhaps by using 2 shots to cover the run, and combine two of the other shots into one.

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Project Four: Examples of Camera Angles

The angle that the camera is positioned in relation to the subject can help to give a particular feeling to a shot, and turn a possibly mundane shot into something much more dynamic.  As we see most things at eye-level, positioning the camera at eye height just replicates how we see the world on a daily basis, and whilst this might be suitable for most things, there are times when moving the position of the camera will assist in the narrative.

Eye-Level

a camera positioned eye-level (to the subject, not the camera person) denotes a neutral status, and can be a little bit too "normal"

a camera positioned eye-level (to the subject, not the camera person) denotes a neutral status, and can be a little bit too “normal”

Camera positioned eye-level to the subject, putting the viewer equal to the subject.

Camera positioned eye-level to the subject, putting the viewer equal to the subject.

High Angle

A high angle can show a weakness in the subject, making them seem smaller and less powerful, making the viewer feel superior to the subject

High camera position looking down on the subject, making the subject seem smaller, weaker, less powerful

High camera position looking down on the subject, making the subject seem smaller, weaker, less powerful

A high angle can also be an information shot.

High camera position also provides an information shot, and overview of events that wouldn't normally be seen from eye-level

High camera position also provides an information shot, and overview of events that wouldn’t normally be seen from eye-level

Low Angle

A camera positioned low to the subject, looking up, can make the subject appear more powerful, or dominating, making the view feel inferior to the subject

Low camera position looking up, making the subject seem larger, stronger, more powerful

Low camera position looking up, making the subject seem larger, stronger, more powerful

Extremely low camera position showing the power and dominance of the subject, scarily so!

Extremely low camera position showing the power and dominance of the subject, scarily so as in this menacing dentist shot.  The Point of View (POV) of this dentists unlucky patient, also serves to make the viewer feel uncomfortable – we;ve all been in the position where we’ve been sat waiting for the dentist to start work, and many have a fear of the dentsit.

another camera angle mentioned in the course materials is the “Dutch angle”, a canted, wonky shot, although I have a few reservations about including it in this learning log post for a couple of reasons.  Firstly I don’t think it falls into the same category as the camera angles I’ve already listed, and secondly, I have never (intentionally!) filmed anything during my career at a ridiculous angle, and no matter how much I drag my hidden “artiste” out, I don’t think I’ll be shooting many Dutch angles now!  I do have a couple of stills that I have shot though (intentionally!)

This was shot like this purely to fit the pier and the Red Arrows heart in the frame!

This was shot like this purely to fit the pier and the Red Arrows heart in the frame!

The canted angle in this shot, combined with the low position of the camera makes the subject appear more dominant and powerful.

The canted angle in this shot, combined with the low position of the camera makes the subject appear more dominant and powerful.

Project Three: Exercise – Shooting a short sequence

For this exercise I was to plan and produce a short sequence along the lines of the following:

You are an alcoholic alone in your home
• You look around your empty room
• Nothing interests you
• You notice a bottle
• You hold the bottle and unscrew the lid
• Something attracts your attention, you look round
• Nothing happens
• You look back at the bottle and pour yourself a drink.

Firstly,as it was to be shot in the first person, POV (with the camera as my eyes) I decided to change the scenario a little as I don’t drink, and didn’t fancy having to take a drink, so I changed it to a biscuit addict 🙂

The main information that I wanted to convey, was of someone looking for something, and needed to highlight finding something that wasn’t wanted, followed by finding the wanted item. (if that makes sense!)  I carried out a couple of rough run throughs, before I committed pen to paper for the storyboards, to clarify in my head the shots that I wanted.  Below is my storyboard:

I wanted it to be properly a point of view shot, so didn’t want to use a tripod, and wanted a touch of the “shakycam” that I have never been a fan of, but I felt that being on a tripod it would be too static, and not emphasise the point of view enough.

I shot two versions – one was done as a single shot, with no cuts, to emphasise the first person, changing the shot size by walking towards a subject.  The main problem with this was keeping the focus when going from wide to close up shots, it’s not easy when shooting on a DSLR with one hand, wholst using the other hand in the shot to open a biscuit barrel! Luckily I do have a cheapo should rig so I was able to use two hands to unscrew the barrel lid.

In this version I didn’t do shot one, with my hand opening  the door, I felt it added an extra complication.

Version One: Single shot POV

Although I think this works to highlight the POV style, with lots of movement, my background still causes me to struggle with the shakiness of the shots!

Version Two – Edited POV

With this version the cuts are dipping to black to look a bit like when you blink, and you temporarily lose sight of whats in front of you.  I felt that this worked as a good tool to get me (or my character) from just inside the room, to a cupboard, then to the biscuits etc…. (Apologies for the blown out exposure, I didn’t look quite that bad when filming and editing, something I’ll need ot look at to make sure my colour/exposure management is okay across the board from camera to YouTube!)

I think I do prefer the second version, eliminating the moves between shots and shot sizes makes it look a little less jumpycam.  I could improve this dramatically with a steadycam rig, but unfortunately my budget doesn’t stretch that far.  I could have maybe also used another shot or two of rooting through cupboards, to build up the panic of the subject not being able to find the biscuits!

Project Three – The Feel of the Frame

How a frame is composed can influence how the viewer understands the narrative, and can also influence how they feel about a particular character or situation on screen.

The balance of the composition can be affected by a number of things, such as light, shape and the size of the subject in the frame, and in relation to the surroundings, and the positioning of the subject.

For this reflective exercise I needed to find a number of frames, either film stills, photographs or paintings and analyse the image. I decided to go with stills from a number of my favourite films:

Schindlers List

There are two particular frames from two of the most emotive parts of the film.  The first is from when Schindler is up on a hill, watching German soldiers were dealing with the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, and the small girl is a brief flash of colour in amongst the dark, monochrome scene.

Schindler's List, Oliwia DabrowskaThe combination of the selective colour (which I’m not a fan of anywhere other than in this film!) and the apparent isolation of the little girl, wandering through the crowds of soldiers and Jews, looking lost and alone.  It makes the viewer wonder what her back story is, and how she has been separated from her family, and what will her future be.  Although there is a lot going on on-screen, with other people, the viewer eye keeps going back to her, not only because of the red coat, but also the way she seems separated from the main group.  Also the height difference singles her out from the rest.

Another images from Schindlers List is taken from the scene where Oskar Schindler finally realises what he has actually done.  From initially getting the jews out of the camps to use in his factory, he realises how many he has saved, and how many he could have saved had he paid the Germans even more money.

schindler-s-list-original

In this frame he is looking at a Nazi pin badge he wore, and realising it is made of gold, he equates the worth of it to how many Jews he could have bought out of a concentration camp.  the framing of the image isolates Oskar, separates him from everything else in the scene, concentrating on the important element – the emotional pain on his face, with the badge held at the front, his attention directed towards it, directing the viewer to think about the same object.

 

28 Days Later

28_days_later_still2

Similar to the shot of the little girl in the red coat, the framing of this shot also isolates the subject, but this time to show the emptiness of his surroundings.  He’s just come out of a coma, to find he is in an empty London, and the wide shots, with the subject small in the frame makes him seem helpless and alone.

1_28-Days-Later-Medium

This shot after he has left the hospital continues to show his isolation, now on the streets of London.

The Shining

close-up-the-shining

Although I’ve never seen the film (true!) this particular shot is so well known, and I thought it would be a good example as I have no knowledge of the film, so can’t link in to the action before or after it. The framing of the subject, framed in the broken doorway, combined with the aggressive, maniacal expression on his face, shows the terror that must be going on off screen, involving the other characters.  You can see the evil pleasure that the subject is getting from the fear he is creating.

Hurt Locker

hurt-locker-5

I seem to have been drawn to images showing a single main character, and with this shot from the Hurt locker it shows both the strength and the vulnerability of the subject, and the role of a bomb disposal expert in general.  The high angle shows exactly what he is up against, the IEDs surrounding him.

thehurtlocker1

In the second frame it shows the power of the bomb disposal guy, but also as in the other shot, the isolation.  It’s a role that can only be carried out alone, and this frame shows that very well.

 

Project Exercise: Visualisation

One particular subjective viewpoint as mentioned before is a Point of View shot, a POV, where the camera takes the place of the subjects eyes.

For this exercise I needed to visualise a number of different situations and to put myself in the situation, visualising what I might see in that situation.

Situation 1 – talking to someone in a shop, the person facing me, talking in an animated way:

Yes, I know it looks like the dude is dancing – but hey, I can’t draw!

Situation 2: Knock on a door, then wait, then the door is opened.

Situation 3: having a conversation with a loved one.  A sudden sound makes you glance around:

I think out of the three I quite like the door sequence.  Seeing the hand of the subject (me) knocking on the door, makes it obvious that we are viewing the world through another persons eyes, rather than an objective “fly on the wall” viewpoint.

I

Project Two Exercise: Building a Story

The framing of a film shot (or even a still shot) is the way we, as film makers and photographers want out audience to view a particular scene, using the bound of the screen edge to eliminate that which we don’t want to include.  Framing of a shot can completely alter the way viewers see a particular scene, and how the camera framing is controlled directs the final view and understanding of a film.

For this project I had to choose a still image – either from a website, or one of my own, and then identify a series of smaller frames within the image to create a new narrative.

I went for a shot of my own, taken down on the beach during the height of our fabulous summer!  I decided to think of it more as a film that includes a number of different personal stories all linked by a common theme – i.e a day on the beach.  In the same way that “Love, Actually” has many different stories within the film.

The captions with the images are my “people watching” ideas of what the stories could be (and bear no relation to what the truth could be!)

Project One Exercise: Telling a Story

A film is a series of scenes edited together, and scenes are a series of shots, created to tell the story of that scene, through the eyes of the filmmaker showing the audience what they want them to see.  Film is made up of frames – 25 frames in a second (assuming you’re in the UK/Europe, as PAL is 25 frames – the Americans always go bigger and better with NTSC and 30 frames per second!) and as either the actor on screen, or the camera moves, the frame changes.  With my background in photography and having learnt and taught video production one of the principles that should always be adhered to is that you should be able to freeze any film and get a well composed still shot from it, and then play a bit more, freeze it and still have a decently composed still photo.  I know that it’s not always possible, but I do try to manage it.

Now, I apologise in advance for pretty much all of the storyboards that will be drawn for this course – I can’t draw, hence taking up photography, rather than becoming an artist.  My storyboarding has always involved poorly drwan stick men, and I’m afraid nothing will change that!

For the first project of this course I needed to get the hang of telling a story, and for the exercise I needed to tell the story in 5 frames, starting with either a fairytale, or another well known narrative, and I needed to storyboard the 5 frames I felt were essential to the story, as below:

I think that these five frames certainly tell the story (rubbish drawing notwithstanding) without the need for additional text or narrative.

For this exercise I also needed to look at other students learning logs and look at the sequences they came up with, answering the following questions:

  1. What is the story?
  2. What information is conveyed in each frame?
  3. What information is necessary to understand the story?
  4. What essential information has been left out and/or what is included?

Unfortunately there aren’t too many other learning logs around for this particular course, but I’ve managed to find a couple. both via Google, and also via the OCA Photography Facebook Page

The first one is by Paul Burgess, http://digitalfilmproduction.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/project1frames-in-film-part-2.html the Log hasn’t been updated since 2010, but I can still have a look at his project.

  • The story – Someone playing golf, and putts the ball into the hole
  • The information – frame 1 shows the subject stood on the green, about to putt the ball.  Frame 2 shows the ball heading towards the hole, and frame 3 the ball is on the edge of the hole.  Frame four the golfer kicks the ball into the hole, and frame 5 shows the person celebrating, and someone off camera is also cheering.
  • What is necessary/what’s missing/what’s included unnecessarily? – I think overall it shows the necessary elements, although I don’t think it’s obvious that the person thinks they are alone and can get away with cheating.  Perhaps including the person watching them from afar, maybe peeking out from behind a tree would have made it more obvious.

The second one I looked at is by Richard Down, who has just come to the end of his Digital Film Production course http://rjdown-dfp-log.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/project-1-frames-in-film.html?m=0

The story – Jack and the Beanstalk

The information – Frame 1 shows Jack with a bag of magic beans having sold the cow, Frame 2 shows the exterior of Jacks house, with his mum throwing the beans out of the window, telling Jack off.  Frame 3 shows the beanstalk, having grown, and Jack climbing it.  Frame 4 shows Jack spying on the Giant with his goose and a golden egg, and Frame 5 shows Jack back on earth, having chopped down the beanstalk.

Whats necessary/not necessary/missing?  – being familiar with the story has helped to figure out the frames, which is the aim of this exercise.  With the first shot, initially, I had it in my head that Jack was the one leading the cow, and then I reminded myself of the story!  I think perhaps a two-shot of Jack and the chap from the market with a handshake and exchange of beans/cow would have been the route I’d have gone down.  Frames 2. 3 and 5 all work well, and frame 4 overall works, although it took me a moment to figure out who was who, as I initially thought that it was Jack, back at home, looking at the goose and egg.  Perhaps drawing a side on shot of the giant at the table, with Jack alongside, on the same plane of focus onscreen, rather than him appearing to be someone in the distance.  Overall the frames work really well together and certainly tell the story.

I then needed to come up with my own story and repeat the exercise, sketching out the 5 essential frames needed to tell the story:

Again with this, I think that these five frames tell the story, and when filmed would certainly tell the story as I see it.

I needed to look at my sequence and answer the questions too:

The story?  Bored/sad person gets trainers on for a run along the beach and is happy again.

The information in the frames – Frame 1 – this person is not a happy bunny., frame 2, they lace up their trainers and frame 3, they leave the house.  Frame 4 they are running along the beach, with the wind in their hair and frame 5 shows them happy and contented.

Essential information missing/included/unnecessary? I think I’ve covered the main elements that I wanted to show.  I wanted to show someone who wasn’t hapoy , but then a run along the beach cheers them up.  I could have maybe completed the story in 4 frames, missing out the trainers shot, but I think that bridges the gap between the close up of the persons face, and them leaving the house.

I would really appreciate any feedback on my storyboards (as long as it isn’t “learn how to draw”!), whether you think they work, and basically answer the same questions.