Filming Style for Scene ProductionIf you’re a director, your first look at a script will give you the beginnings of how the film will look in your mind. You might imagine the camera moving frantically around a big action set piece, or you could see it sit perfectly still, recording a wide shot of two people having an intimate conversation.

In any case, it’s important that the director starts creating a mental image of the movie quickly, so that the details of the look can be fleshed out. You might find that you spend most of your time shooting with static cameras, or having it follow the characters around as they move from place to place.

A Director’s Preparations

First and foremost when deciding on a look for the film, it’s becoming more important for the director to know what type of shot will be used in each and every frame. This may sound like a bit too much attention to detail, but when the time eventually comes to edit the movie, you will want to make sure that the shots being cut and spliced have the right rhythm and flow together well; otherwise the editor could end up leaving you behind during post-production. It can be a bit of a struggle to create such a detailed image in your mind, but if you probe your subconscious and read through the scene as it’s written in the script enough times, you should have a good idea of what you want.

It quite often comes down to analyzing the film like it’s a collection of still photos, and with that in mind, it could be very useful to go out and take some photographs that resemble the shots you’re thinking about. That way, when it comes to filming, you won’t have to store loads of mental images in your head. You’ll just have to look back through the photos you took and find the visual reference you’re looking for. It can also be quite helpful to do this if you already have locations in mind where you want to shoot.

If you take enough stills, you should be able to build a good catalog of images that will help you create the right look for your film. Having said that, it’s obvious that not all movie frames are static like a photograph. When the time comes to shoot the scene, you’ll have to decide whether you want to film a scene with static cameras (montage) or have them moving around and following the actors (mise-en-scène).

Montage

Montage is essentially the most simplistic technique you can use. It basically involves cutting between static shots of actors or objects. Traditionally, you would start with a wide shot, taking in the whole setting as a way of introducing us to the scene, followed by a medium shot which would normally contain three or two actors before finally cutting to some single close-up shots.

Usually you will want to match close-up to close-up in order to make the scene flow well. Sometimes you may want to mix that up with some over-the-shoulder shots. But, having said that, modern day film-making does not always obey the editing rules. In fact, it was as far back as Alfred Hitchcock that wide shots to open a scene were replaced by medium shots or close-ups. In the case of modern filmmakers like Paul Greengrass or Lars Von Trier, the editing rule book is almost completely thrown away in favor of just improvising to find the right image. This is certainly something you should only attempt when you’re very confident in your own abilities as a director, and crew members such as the director of photography are supportive of the look you have in mind.

In a montage, timing is everything. Just extending one shot can alter the audience’s perception of the scene. So it’s important, if you have a montage in mind, that you shoot the scene in a variety of different angles so that when it comes time to edit the film you will have plenty of shots, so you can time them all exactly to your specifications.

Mise-En-Scène

The mise-en-scène technique is something you’ve probably seen many times without noticing it. Often it will involve steadicam shots that can be quite long and complex. The West Wing was a show that became infamous for its long and often very complicated shots that would follow characters as they walked quickly from office to office. It’s a very precise and fluid way of shooting a scene, as it involves very little cutting and involves fewer cameras than a montage scene.

Sometimes scenes such as the ones in the aforementioned The West Wing will involve “passing” the camera, which means it moves from one character to another as they move like they’re playing “pass the parcel.” It’s something that looks very appealing to the eye and screen, and creates good connotations that the story has a forward trajectory, but they are difficult to shoot. A lot of time spent organizing and rehearsing goes into creating a scene like this, and there’s every possibility you won’t have time to create it. It also means that the editor is not able to make changes in terms of timing and pacing because everything is filmed in one continuous shot, so rehearsal and planning are of extreme importance.

To Move, or Not to Move?

In the end, you probably won’t have to sit down and choose between a montage or mise-en-scène sequence. The image you initially have in your head will probably dictate which one you go for. You may find you prefer to shoot mainly with a static camera like Stanley Kubrick, or you may prefer a constant moving camera like Paul Greengrass. The only thing you need to think about when setting up the scene is if moving the camera serves the scene in any way. If it’s a scene of great urgency, then camera movement could be of benefit. However, if you have just two people sitting down talking, then a static camera is probably all that is necessary. There is no wrong answer, only the director’s vision.