Camera Movement – 2009-2010

In 2009/10 the Cinema, cent ans de jeunesse programme asked the question: ‘Pourquoi bouge le camera?’  It was important to pose the programme as a question, rather than being about ‘camera movement’ per se.  The programme leaders wanted young film-makers to ask themselves when it was best to use a static camera, and when best to move it, and how.

We began in october 2009 at a seminar in Paris led by Alain Bergala, French film theorist and academic.  Bergala and his colleagues at the Cinematheque had assembled around 40 clips from films ranging throughout the history of cinema, and from across the world, that each illustrated a particular effect and storytelling purpose behind about 15 varieties of camera movement.  Moving the camera to introduce characters, for example (excerpts from Gus van Sant’s Elephant), or to describe space, or introduce and establish a setting (the opening of Hitchcock’s Psycho), or to communicate a character’s state of mind.  The full list will be uploaded shortly.

Halfway through the seminar we were introduced to Eric Rohmer’s cinematographer Diane Baratier, who talked about her working methods (she liked to ‘run through’ her camera movements beforehand with a DV camera for example), and she showed us some key shots from A Summer’s Tale, and then gave us a demonstration on making a home-made track and dolly.

The Cinematheque team then gave out the ‘curriculum’ for camera movement: a set of exercises, challenges, and films to watch during the course of the year.  The ‘curriculum’ asked for young film-makers to go through the following exercises:

  1. Take one or more ‘plans embarquees’ or travelling shots, from a vehicle.  Filming could be done with a mobile phone and on any kind of vehicle.  Look at the film ‘Project 1’ for an example of a high quality film all shot ‘travelling’ – on a skateboard.
  2. Take each of the following: a moving shot of a static object; a static shot of a moving object; a moving shot of a moving object; a static shot of a static object.
  3. Film the following scenario: Person A is filmed moving towards Subject B.  Person A approaches then moves past Subject B to meet Subject C, while Subject B moves away in the opposite direction.

You can see examples of the exercises from the French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian groups here:

We have some examples of English workshop exercises here:

The compilation of sequences above use narrow spaces for moving a camera in, either following, or preceding the subjects. The groups had watched sequences from Gus van Sant’s Elephant, set in an American high school with a macabre resemblance to Columbine High School, in which the camera goes on extended takes down school corridors.  The students in the London Nautical sequences directed Johnny, who works down the road at London Studios, to film them with a steadicam.

The sequence above was filmed by Wandsworth BTEC students during a day’s filming at the Putney Arts Theatre.  The sequence is filmed in a single take, with a camera on a jib, which enables it to pull around in a graceful curve, then lift slightly as it follows the girl up the stairs and across her row.

These seqences are also filmed by BTEC students, this time at Wandsworth City Learning Centre.  The sequences all present variations on the exercise ‘Subject A moving towards Subject B, then beyond to Subject C.’

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