Looking In: A Film Forensic

How the producer’s coerce and persuade their audience to see the things they want them to.

Behind the scenes

Cinematography is the art of photography and camerawork in films. It encompasses the aesthetic elements, needed to be considered when filming. This can relate to composition, lighting, camera motion and angles.

 The DP – director of photography (a member of a filming team hired to conduct the cinematography of a piece) will consider the colours used in a movie, the overall look of how everything will tie together and arrange all parts to a scene so it will have the desired effect over the audience when viewed.

The way a scene look may be telling us something about the character, about their point of view, or how they are feeling. It can tell us the genre of the movie, or help to create the world that they want us to become immersed in. The way a camera moves, changes the way the audience is introduced to the world around them. It guides us through what we are being show and dictates the things we will be allowed to see, and the things we are not. Similarly, colours and lighting will emphasis or detract our focus.

These elements are referred to as filming techniques.

 

Camera Angles, Shots and Movement

Many films, TV episodes will welcome us to the scene with an extreme long shot, or a panoramic; the point of this is that in one visual shot we can gain a lot of information in which the creators have set the scene for where everything we watch is about to take place.

For more detail, a director will use an extreme close-up, in this the camera literally yells at us to look at something. A classic would be focusing on a character’s face, or some detail of them that may convey their emotion or some clue paramount to the narrative.

High and Low angles are an intriguing technique used by film makers to suggest subtle power plays emerging within a scene. Some camera angles are used for establishment to indicate locations and settings that allow the flow of narrative. High and low angles are used primarily for point of view shots to tell us something about the characters on screen.

In a high angle the camera looks down on a person, this suggests vulnerability, by physically looking down on somebody; it makes a person look small. It may be that they are the weaker character, somebody under duress of another, or who is struggling or suffering in some way. This camera shot is used to induce empathy in the audience, we feel a sense of compassion for people in this situation. It encourages support for the character being portrayed as the underdog.

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Low angles produce the opposite response. This gives the aura of power and strength in a character. When we look up to someone it induces a sense of respect, or perhaps we are doing out of fear because they are a person of intimidation. In turn the audience is the one being put into the perspective of being vulnerable and smaller to the person on screen. It is useful to use these angles to put the audience in another character’s shoes, and by directly involving us in the scene, it helps us to become engrossed in the events being portrayed.

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A Dutch camera angle is a slanted camera pose, that will present a confusing, abstract representation of the scene before us. It is used to show disorientation, and by unsettling the viewer creates suspense and tension in the audience. When something does not make sense to us, in such a way as simply not being level or as we would usually see things, it can provoke many different reactions and introduces us to be ready to see something that is out of the ordinary. It both excites and dismantles us.

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Camera angles are an excellent tool in a DP’s arsenal to manipulate the audience’s experience as they watch something.

Lighting

This is key in highlighting the context of a visual creation. It sets the mood and the tone of the things we are about to see happen. If a scene is brightly lit, set during the day time, it creates a warm atmosphere and a sense of happiness. In contrast, a scene badly lit, or with only a few light sources showing; for example, a few flickering candles; it immediately appears more sincere and scary. We have come to expect depending on the genre of the film clichéd lighting and settings to be used.

Lighting will be carefully considered to work in tandem with specific camera angles and composition so that overall it works in fluctuation to give an overall impression to the scene so that it is easy for the audience to follow and interpret what is being communicated to them. This strategy is referred to as the Mise-en-Scene.

Cinematography choreographed well creates some aesthetically stunning TV shows and films.

 

National Treasure

The Channel 4 Series uses cinematography very cleverly. The entire series is shot in a hue of dim blue lighting. It creates a cold expanse that disarms and unsettles the viewer. There are many tight close, up shots used that create a sense of claustrophobia and alarm, it keeps the audience in a permanent state of unrest and suspense.

It heightens the audience response to all that happens. As a drama, they rely on squeezing the most of their audience. The documentary is exploring the innocence or guilt of a man when allegations are brought against him containing sexual abuse involving underage girls.

There are many close-ups of the man and his family living their daily lives. This quiet establishment and the camera angles used are awkward and unsettling. It encourages the audience to consider the possibility that everything may not be as it seems.

 

Clockwork Orange

This films is all about juxtaposition and transgression. The use of bright colours creates a surrealist aspect to the film, so the audience cannot mistake it for real life. We understand straight away the film is trying to take us away from reality, they only use it with their suggestion of colour however, so we understand we are looking at a different perspective of reality, not something designed to be purely fantasy. Long establishing shots that enigmatically switch to close-ups of the character’s face keep us in suspense, and distract us from becoming to use to just one shot in a film. By mixing up the angles and movements used, they prevent the audience from becoming bored and keep adrenaline up so tension is rife throughout most the film.

The angles used to portray the main character aid in audience understanding of his progression and journey in the film. High angles at times will show him to be scary and threatening. At other times the angles pans so we are looking down on him and we can see the fragile mental state that underpins the character’s behaviour. The use of colour helps to invigorate the child-like mind our main character possesses, and at times the audience is coerced into realizing he thinks nothing more of his actions than they are a game. It creates a disposition of dangerous fun, that allows us to fascinated by him in a morbidly curious kind of way, and at times even like him.

The film’s lighting when showing his bedroom of home is natural, this creates a sense of warmth and comfort, but when they visit the milk bar the lighting is saturated, uncomfortably bright. Stark and brash, it highlights the unforgiving nature of the environment we are in, and acts as a prelude to the madness of the night adventures the gang are about to embark upon. It is as if the producers are communicating the idea they are shining a spotlight on some of the more uncomfortable, taboo instincts of human nature.

The mise-en-scene helps add humanity to the villain we are following.

 

Wes Anderson

Is a master of cinematography. From his meticulously planned miniature models, to colouring, to stylistic camerawork. Anyone who is a fan of Anderson’s film work, can tell instantly when they are watching one of his masterpieces. He uses a plethora of camera angles to create the distinctive look recognizable in his films, and shows a fondness for pastel colours. His films visually always appear light hearted adding to the comical, heart-warming atmosphere audiences enjoy. Anderson’s filmmaking is an art. This blog takes a closer look at the exact techniques he uses.

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