Magic and the shot

Anyone can point a camera at an actor and tell them to talk. Learning how to get the camera to talk is something else. It’s something that a lot of directors don’t think is important and some do think it’s important but don’t do it well. Some think they do it well and don’t.

Part of the fun of watching a film is that moment when you think, “how did they do that?”. How did they get that shot? It’s just as much fun for filmmakers to figure out how to get those shots. In fact, crews love the challenge, they love the coordination of a tough shot, lighting cues, dolly moves, a piece of set that has to be pulled away during the shot. Audiences love them because the illusion is working. And they can see and appreciate that someone put some thought into what they were doing, someone knows what they’re doing, someone is guiding them through the story in a way that they don’t really understand.

Like I said, anyone can point a camera at someone. Audiences want to see things that they don’t think they could do themselves. How often have you heard, when coming out of a bad movie, “I could made a better movie”? The opposite is true of a good movie.

A simple dialog scene, done in one take, with the actors’ movements choreographed, and the focus pulls rehearsed and the dolly moves worked out, is much more difficult to get than shooting an actor standing there saying his lines. It’s also more interesting. It’s more interesting to shoot, and to watch.

Films are made of shots. Shots need to be imagined. A shot always says something, so, as a director, you’re trying to get it to say what you want. It’s not just being clever, although that’s part of it.

It’s all illusion and one of the most common words on a set is ‘cheat’. Everything is a cheat. And that’s the fun of it: figuring out how you’re going to turn this stuff that you dreamed up into something real, so that it can become someone else’s dream too. Get the shot. No one said it would be easy.

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