I will be talking largely about composition, staging and lighting, how they create meaning and how we can interpret those meanings. I have chosen one shot to focus on and another to help supplement the deconstruction of my own shot. The primary example we’ll be looking at is this shot from the TV show Person of Interest.
This is an establishing shot of what is to be an important location in the show, it’s an abandoned library that the protagonists are using as a base of operations. As this is an establishing shot, its intention is to introduce the viewer to the actual environment and anything coming from the actors is simply there to further divulge any information the audience may need. This shot is interesting because the physical appearance of the environment is actively relevant to the themes of the show and is treated with more significance than a lot of the other shots I looked at before this. The general process for interior establishing shots appears to be: fairly quick shots that can relay information immediately. e.g. panning shots of cities, why? So you know the story takes place in a city. It’s pretty straight forward, these shots might be used show the future, poverty, excess, etc. by adjusting the terrain slightly, perhaps showing super futuristic cities, slums, etc. But they are usually wide or extreme wide shots of large environments. I had quite a bit of trouble finding useful interior establishing shots.
One of the other shots I want to use is a good example of this.
In this shot from the film “Zodiac”, we have a previously established environment that has since changed to reflect the change in the character. I intend to use this example to talk about staging, but it’s also a good example of how interior environment shots appear to be regularly handled. We see this space many times through out the film and it changes as the protagonist gradually becomes more and more obsessed with catching the villain, but at no point is there an actual traditional establishing shot. In this film, the director describes the character through his environments quite often, but generally, he shows how the character interacts with his world, rather than just, his world. So unless the shot is of the wider environment (San Francisco, or his workplace), or the character is front and center, his world often isn’t portrayed.
In the examples I looked at, a more common way to establish environments is to focus on smaller elements of it, like a desk or a TV, etc. Rather than showing a full room. And still, in “Zodiac” the characters are ever present.
If we go back to this shot we see an environment that describes the world the story is set in. An abandoned library, books are strewn all over the place, discarded, representing a world where the analogue is dead. This is fitting since the plot of the show is about a computer program that can track you anywhere there’s an internet connection. This shot would function even without the characters’ interaction, or presence. It does this, through composition and staging, and is supplemented by the characters’ exposition.
There is a fairly strong use of the rule of thirds in this shot there are elements placed in all key areas of the frame, and together they help create a path for the viewer’s eyes to follow.
This environment is meant to be a safe haven for the characters in the scene. This is illustrated in the shot through a few techniques, namely staging and lighting, these are strengthened by the actual placement of elements, or composition, of the shot. The foreground framing elements help add depth and background structural elements help draw the eye toward the left side of the shot where the characters are going. We generally read images from the top left to the bottom right, but in this case, because there is movement happening on the right, we start there. So, by drawing the eye back up to the top left with both the path of books in the mid ground, and the lights that turn on as the shot starts. The viewer is sure to take in the whole environment. The next thing to note is the change in colour across the frame, the characters are coming in from a place that looks poorly lit and very cold, as the viewer’s eye moves across the shot, the colour temperature changes and becomes very warm, this combined with all the other elements helps to indicate that this is a safe space, or home.
In the next example I want to talk about staging, this, as mentioned earlier is a still from the movie “Zodiac”, this particular shot is showing the character’s descent into obsession as he tries to uncover the identity of the Zodiac killer. I chose this shot as essentially mood reference for my final shot, the environment in my shot has a similar intent, to introduce a space inhabited by someone who has become obsessed with a task. This shot is a useful example of showing a negative environment whilst using colours that generally connote warmth and safety. The staging of the props helps to offset the overall environment as the lighting hasn’t changed from earlier when this was a positive environment. The use of excess clutter has changed the mood drastically – what was once a family living room which, while somewhat bare and obviously belonging to a single parent household, was warm and inviting. Is now a dimly lit room covered in clutter, with furniture shoved to the sides of the room to make space for the ever expanding mess of an obsessive hoarder.
How will I apply these techniques to my shot?
The primary goal of my shot is to establish the uncle’s study, a cluttered and dark place, which starts off fairly innocuous, inviting even, before revealing a lurking danger. I can do this using staging and lighting techniques illustrated in the above shots. Using framing elements in the foreground and the rule of thirds to place the primary props I can create an interesting composition that helps guide the viewer’s eye through the shot. One problem with a cluttered space is that there’s a lot of props and colours vying for attention, however, with careful use of lighting placement I can create lines to lead the eye and break up the scene. There’s a window to the left of the scene with sunlight shining in, a light shaft aimed at the rings should help create a line pointing directly at the focal point. Initially, I was concerned about making the shot feel sinister with the fire in the background as it forces me to have warm colours, that coupled with all the dark wood tones makes for a pretty cosy environment. But as seen in the example from Zodiac, I can use staging to help offset those colours. Creating a cluttered and cramped atmosphere should give a similar effect to the Zodiac shot, it’s not an inherently unsettling place, but it’s not quite right either. Using this with some of the composition techniques in the Person of Interest shot I should be able to both guide the viewer’s eye and effectively convey the correct mood and themes.
- Cha, J. (2015, November 6). RULE OF THIRDS: CONTEXT AND BALANCE | CINEMATOGRAPHY COMPOSITIONS. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from https://www.slrlounge.com/rule-of-thirds-context-and-balance-cinematography-compositions/
- Fincher, D. (2007). Zodiac.
- McGregor, L. (2017, November 5). The Filmmaker’s Guide to the Establishing Shot. Retrieved July 18, 2017, from https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/filmmakers-guide-establishing-shot/
- Perry, C. (n.d.). Film Composition: The Rule of Thirds. Retrieved June 15, 2016, from http://www.filmslatemagazine.com/film-composition-the-rule-of-thirds/
- Proferes, N. (n.d.). Staging for Film. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from http://www.masteringfilm.com/staging-for-film/
- Rikard. (2016, September 22). A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Visual Hierarchy. Retrieved June 15, 2017, from http://zevendesign.com/designers-guide-to-visual-hierarchy/
- Risk, M. (2016, December 9). How to Use Color in Film: 50+ Examples of Movie Color Palettes. Retrieved July 18, 2017, from https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/how-to-use-color-in-film-50-examples-of-movie-color-palettes/
- Semel, D. (2011, September 22). Pilot. Person of Interest. USA.