Thursday Q&A | 03 -- camera dynamics: movement
By definition, filmmaking is movement. From the instant the still photographic image was spun in sequence with a zeotrope - to the stereoscopic imagery in record-breaking blockbuster films like Avatar ; film tells a story through movement of both the camera, and the characters + objects within. One interesting thing to think about with the term to move, is that the act of NOT moving can be equally as powerful as moving. Akin to an orchesrtal peice, where moments of silence hold equal importance to the epic crescendo moments. Filmmaking, and storytelling in general, run along the same parallels as an orchestral composition does. Where the story is told in interludes of dramatic action paired with subtle moments of silence or beats.
At the core, music and cinema share many of the same qualities in terms of the journey form point A to point B -- beginning to end.
Balance. Structure. Timing. Action. Soft & high notes. Emotion. & Connection to the audience or listener.
Camera movement must be motivated by the story.
I believe this is where a great deal of the "blockbuster" style movies fail for me -- they have too much action - too much movement across the board and on every level. They don't seem to let you sit, take a breath, and soak it all in. There are some blockbusters that do strike the right balance. Films like Avatar and Lord of The Rings are epic pieces with raw action, but also moments of powerful silence -- where you as an audience member can embrace the story thats being told. Another film, Pride & Prejuduce is exempilary in the fact that it uses a unique balance of motivation, action, silence, and reaction. There is both emotional movement from point A to point B as well as literal camera movement, following characters, stories, and events from scene to scene.
There are nearly limitless ways to move the camera. I thought I would write a bit about the tools we use most when creating movement, or lack of movement within the shot:
For live event production work we use Bogen/Manfrotoo 501 heads and sticks becasue we can get places fast, the tools are highly mobile, and light as well. For production & commercial work we use the Sachtler 18 head and carbon fiber sticks, which is also pretty light overall, but it has more set up time and it has the tendency to stick out rather than blend into the background like the smaller bogen/manfrotto gear does.
The 561BHDV monopod, made by Manfrotto, is an amazingly simple and incredibly well priced monopod. It's defintely the most used piece of gear we have, partially because of its quick set up time, but also because of its versatility. There is a huge amount of freedom with it. You can get very short dolly like shots by slowly pushing in on things, and you can also get simple locked off shots with smooth pans. One thing that I really like about it is that it has a mini 'tripod' foot at the bottom that helps with stabilization.
There are hundreds of dollies out there some priced at $7000, some at $350. We use the Cinevate Atlas 30 LTS (linear tracking system) and we love it. It is probably the second most used piece of gear behind the monopod. It is also one of the most portable and robust rigs out there. We've used it in the sand, gale force winds, underwater inside a pool, on rocks at the beach, and hung upside down on charis. Its incredibly portable and you can put it almost anywhere.
We use the Steadicam Flyer LE, which is a great rig for cameras under the 20lb weight range. It is nearly perfect for using hDSLR's like the Canon 5d, 7d, and Mark IV. We use the Cinevate proteus cage and mattebox on the rig as well. These add extra stability through the added weight and also protection for the camera. One thing I love about the cage is that you can mount almost anything to it. We've mounted wireless follow focuses like the Preston FIZ, Barkek, and ARRI, and also a Marshall HD monitor up on top. At NAB, I got a chance to check out the new Zephyr steadicam rig that is an upgrade to the flyer. It looks like its going to be a huge boost in stability. And then there is the tango rig as well which is essentially a boom arm mounted to a steadicam.
I put together a short series of clips using all the above mentioned tools, as well as a suction-cup car mount rig made by Delkin Devices.