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filmmaking article on Movement and Blocking a Film Scene psychology

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The study of movement psychology found that ‘movement’ is
controlled by deeper emotions. This means that ‘attitude and
emotion can change movement’ as well as ‘movement can change
emotion and attitude.’

This takes us back to Newton’s First Law of Motion: “Every
object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that
state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.”

In filmmaking terms, this translates into “a character must be
MOTIVATED before they will take action.” MOTIVATED being the
key word!

(1) There are two kinds of movement between characters:
‘toward or away’ and ‘moving or still’.

  1. Toward or Away – when you change the space between
    characters, you indicate a change in the relationship.

a. If a character walks toward another character, that could
indicate anger.

b. If a character walks away from another character, that
could indicate fear.

  1. Moving or Still – character movement is also a way of
    expressing opposition and resistance.

a. Moving characters create lots of energy. (Dynamic)

b. Still characters create less energy. (Peaceful)

(2) Basic Blocking and Staging Techniques

To help you begin, I suggest you start thinking of blocking as
the choreography of a dance or a ballet – all the elements on
the set (actors, extras, vehicles, crew, equipment) should
move in perfect harmony with each other.

  1. What is Blocking?

a. Blocking is working out the details of the actor’s moves in
relation to the camera.

b. Blocking is the dramatic use of the camera to help find the
truth in a scene.

c. Where the camera is placed is determined by what is
important in the scene.

d. Blocking is like a puzzle – keep working at it until the
whole scene falls into place.

e. Reveal a character’s thoughts or emotions through actions.
Actions are more revealing of a character than dialogue.
(Doing not saying.)

  1. Whenever you start blocking a scene, you must know these
    five things:

a. When (and where) were the characters LAST SEEN? (EX: Before
Scene 7)

b. What is the LAST shot of the previous scene? (Scene 6)

c. What is the FIRST shot of the scene you are on? (Scene 7)

d. What is the LAST shot of the scene you are on? (Scene 7)

e. What is the FIRST shot of the next scene? (Scene 8)

  1. Your blocking plan (or shot plan) is determined by:

a. Whose POV is being expressed at the time? (The writer’s,
the character or the director?)

b. What distance are you from the subject? (The size of shot –
are you close or far?)

c. What is your relationship to the subject? (The angle of
view – choice of lenses.)

  1. The opening position of a character is where the characters
    start in a scene and is a very important element of blocking

a. Use your knowledge of the characters to help you imagine
their opening positions.

b. Different character types tend to move to different places
in the room.

– Strong characters could move to the middle of room
– Weak characters could move to the side of room

  1. Two ways to stage space

a. Staging across the frame

– Left to right
– Right to left

b. In-depth staging

– Foreground to background
– Background to foreground

  1. Two methods for staging groups and individuals

a. Zone coverage – when you stage the coverage of groups in
the same location. (Like battle scenes/sports events/crowds.)

b. Man-to-man coverage – when you stage the coverage of
individual characters according to their movement in
relationship to others.

  1. Four staging techniques

a. Static camera (The camera doesn’t move)

– Subjects can be still
– Subjects can be moving

b. Moving camera (The camera moves)

– Subjects can be still
– Subjects can be moving

c. Static subjects (The subject doesn’t move)

– Camera can be still
– Camera can be moving

d. Moving subjects (The subject does move)

– Camera can be still
– Camera can be moving

  1. Four basic reasons to move the camera

a. Move for emphasis. (The camera moves into an actor.)

b. Move to emphasize a subject in a group. (Pan or dolly.)

c. Transfer attention from one subject to another. (Pan or
focus.)

d. To connect movement from one space to another. (Pan from
the door to a desk or go from room to room.)

  1. Subjective and objective camera angles

a. A subjective camera angle is a shot taken close to the 180
line. (You can see the face and eyes more clearly)

b. An objective camera angle is a shot taken perpendicular to
the 180 line. (It is wider – more profile to the actor)

  1. The dramatic circle of action is determined by the size
    and shape of the space that the action covers

a. Any space is divided into three parts:

– Foreground
– Middle ground
– Background

b. You can place the camera IN the action. (Action flows
around the camera.)

c. You can place the camera OUTSIDE the action. (Keep a
distance from the action.)

  1. Camera height is used to show the physical relationships
    (or status) between people.

In real life, there are two kinds of status relationships:

a. Equal to equal. (Good cop and bad guy. Doctor and doctor)

b. Superior to inferior. (Judge and defendant. Teacher and
student.)

(3) Director Questions for Blocking

  1. Do I understand the writer’s intentions? (Story & themes.)

  2. When was the last time the character’s were together? (How
    many scenes ago?)

  3. Reveal a character’s thoughts and emotions through actions
    as much as possible.

  4. What normal activities (business) would the character’s be
    doing at this time?

  5. What is the character’s emotional state at this time in the
    scene?

  6. Where is the focus of interest (main emphasis) at each
    moment in the scene?

  7. What is more important: business or dialogue? (Show or
    tell.)

  8. What is the intention of the scene? (Create tension? For
    laughs?)

  9. What kind of coverage do I need?

  10. How much time should I allow to shoot this scene?

(4) When you first start directing, blocking a scene can be
one of the hardest (and most embarrassing) parts of your job.
If you get it wrong here, you could waste valuable shooting
time trying to get out of the mess you created!

Like anything else in real life, blocking a scene with actors
and crew takes practice and the more times you do it, the more
comfortable you will become

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