Week 5 – Static Frame Dramas (Part 1)

In our fifth and sixth weeks of the Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse project we began to apply what we had learned about the long take from Lumiere minutes to drama. In general, some of the class seemed to find the ‘documentary’ specification on the Lumiere minutes quite restrictive (some of the groups had already cheekily started to stage a few of the occurrences in their Lumiere minutes!) so I was keen to allow everyone to now effectively try the Exercise 1 again, but this time free to explore the expressive potentials of the static long take.

In particular I encouraged the students to think about;

• dynamic blocking of the action so that the actors (and thus the audience’s focus) moved between foreground, middleground and background.
• to use offscreen space to create a sense that there is more to the scene (and the storyworld) than what we are seeing
• to think about interesting spaces to stage the action. Ie. ways in which we could use doors, windows and mirrors to block action in a dynamic manner.

We watched the shot from Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates where Bahar is lying in the foreground, sunbathing on the beach, and Isa appears out of the sea (in the background of the frame) as an out of focus blur. Walking slowly towards the camera, he then leaves frame on the left, and then appears, in focus on the right, in the foreground of the shot. The effect is thrilling – we both get the sense of a layered, and very convincing reality, and a beautifully composed, dynamic aesthetic space.

With all these things in mind, we set off to make our own films, and think of ways we could use the components of a single static frame to tell a story.

Connal, Eilidh, Gregor, Nicola and Chris’ film

The film made by Connal’s group was the standout film of the week.
Perhaps most impressively, the film manages to convey a powerful sense of drama from an extreme wide shot. Even though we cannot hear what Connal and Eilidh are saying to each other, we can tell what is happening from their body language and the performances, even when Connal is 20 – 30 metres away from the camera.

Also extremely impressive is the way that the film uses an interplay between foreground and background. Connal’s appearance in the foreground towards the start of the film is very exciting – we have gone from distanced observers, to the action happening right in front of us. The action then moves away from us again, but as a wonderful coda, a passing pair of observers move into the foreground and – now offscreen – tell us something about the situation we have just witnessed that Connal doesn’t know.

One footnote that came up in our discussion about the film in class was the distracting presence of Chris, sitting at a bench, on the left hand of frame. Although Chris was – by the groups admission – just an extra in the film, his presence is so conspicuous that many of us in the audience thought he had been put there for a reason, and had a significant part to play in the drama. This leads us to a good lesson in literal ‘direction’; when we are directing we must all learn to read frames as an audience would, in order to ‘direct’ the eye to the right place in the frame, rather than risk the audience puzzling over misleading details in the wrong part of the frame!

Just a footnote however, on a really remarkable piece of work! Well done guys…

Alicja, Ebba and Davids film

Alicja, Ebba and David’s film also makes accomplished use of blocking to tell a story about a nasty argument.

What is particularly impressive about the film is the way it uses a pair of doors – and what we can and can’t see, and what we can and can’t hear – to tell the story. I was impressed by the way that the film created a space which we could partially see, but couldn’t hear. It created a space in the film which was tangible, and yet withheld from us, which is, in my opinion, a very clever filmmaking device It got my imagination working, as to what the fight was about, what was being said.

The sense of space was also dynamic, rather than static and at parts the enclosed room was opened up to us, the audience to hear some of the things being said.  David exited the room early on in the film, and Ebba shouted back at him angrily. In that moment we could hear what was being said, but as the doors closed the space was again closed off to us.

Alicja’s entry into the space also broke up the encounter in a way which was interesting and helped offset the artifice of the staging.

Samantha, Anna and Desmond’s film

Samantha, Desmond and Anna’s film provides us with an intriguing, but oblique sketch of a potentially rewarding use of a long-take static frame.

The composition of the shot is excellent, using diagonals to create a sense of depth, and with a powerful (and dynamic) sense of background and foreground. Desmond sits in the right hand foreground of the frame, supposedly reading a book, and with his body language enclosing off the foreground part of the frame so it is private to him and us. He (and we) watches Samantha as she tidies up the room. She moves around, the blocking making dynamic use of both foreground/background and onscreen/offscreen. Desmond watches her, and seems to want to talk to her. She before she leaves he makes a quiet, nervous attempt to talk to her, but she doesn’t hear.

I was very impressed by the way in which the film  – within a static angle (without use of montage or camera movement) cordoned off part of the frame as private space for one character and the audience. What might we see that Samantha cannot? A wedding ring? A knife?
We talked about how there was potential to explore the frame more, to make the action more dynamic. Desmond could sit down into the frame, and at the end of it, could turn round towards the camera into a closeup, to look after Samantha. We also talked about the group could have made more use of the foreground space that we could see but Samantha could not.


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