Camera

Obviously there is a difference between the specifics of designing a whole film and those of designing one scene, but our short film, which could be a dramatic scene in a larger film, is conveniently for our purposes a complete film, with a beginning, middle, and end. Continuing our Sistine chapel metaphor, it will enable us to investigate dramatic/narrative concepts relating to a whole ceiling, while supplying us with an adequate variety of noses.

Before we begin adding the camera, I suggest that we make a list of the dramatic and narrative jobs that must be done. What I am stressing here by using the phrase dramatic and narrative jobs are actions, plot points, and all dramatic articulations that go beyond merely rendering the action. Some of these jobs are included in other categories, but a little redundancy is a small price to pay to ensure that we have everything we'll need to tell our story clearly and interestingly. Jobs we have to do in A Piece of Apple Pie:

1. Pie's entrance into film

2. Counterman's entrance into film

3. Customer's entrance into film

4. Time on clock

5. Geography (layout of diner and fact that it is empty must be established early on)

6. Gun's entrance into film

7. Fulcrum

8. Lightbulb (Counterman sees possibility)

Counterman sees possibility of what? Of still saving the pie! But what does he see with his eyes? What is the cause that establishes the effect of hope? He sees the vigorous cleaning of the fork. But how does he see it? A wide shot will not signify the essence of the moment. (My use of signify in relation to cinematic storytelling means simply the imparting of unambiguous information to the audience, whether it be behavioral, expository, plot, or atmospheric.) Counterman must see the wiping large in the frame — hands, napkin, and fork. An equation is then formed: along with Customer's past behavior, this new behavior will equal "possibility," or in general dramatic terms, "possibility" will signify the essence of the moment. Counterman and the audience should arrive at the answer to this equation at the same time. And the audience will be more attuned to Counterman's dilemma — what will he do with this possibility? — if this information comes via Counterman's strong point of view. (A strong POV is one that calls the audience's attention to what a character is seeing, and implies a heightened significance.)

9. Introduce Counterman's strong POV

Once we decide to use a strong POV for the Counterman, we must first establish that he has one before we proceed too far into the film — certainly before we reach the moment of "seeing the possibility." He does look at the clock in a POV shot, and that helps, but it does not signify. We have to make it bigger, ratchet it up in order to prepare the audience for this more intense mode of Counterman's seeing: Customer's fork looming over the pie, visually compressed and isolated from the background, which is out of focus.

Can we introduce a strong POV earlier; one that will definitely signify? Yes, when Customer is inspecting the fork at the table, just before he looks up at Counterman. That way we kill two birds with one shot. We introduce strongly the POV of Counterman early on, with an image that will resonate when we see the POV of the second fork being wiped vigorously. At the same time we will have a close image size already in place when Customer "looks up at Counterman" in order "to include" him (narrative beat) and declares, "I'll have a piece of apple pie."

10. Customer relinquishes pie

This is a huge moment in the film. It must have a frame put around it so that its importance stands out. (Beginning directors often have trouble using — or more importantly, thinking — in terms of "huge," especially for such an ordinary event. But there was nothing ordinary about it for the Customer! If a director begins to think in these terms, the stories he tells will have a much better chance of being huge for an audience.)

11. Female Cop's entrance

How is Female Cop's entrance different from Counterman's and Customer's? Its function in the story is different. It is the punch line, if you will, and like any punch line it must be set up, so that when it appears it stands alone, unencumbered. Counterman "pours a cup of coffee. As he turns to set it down next to the apple pie, a FEMALE COP sits in front of it." What could encumber this punch line — or any punch line, for that matter? Expository information could. It disrupts the moment, stealing much of its thunder. We want Female Cop to enter the frame so that she reveals herself fully, in all her glory. What possible expository material could get in the way? The frame could get in the way.

Every new shot contains an element of exposition. How do we solve this problem here? By using a familiar image (or in this instance, a familiar frame), in which we will replace one character in the frame with another. We will have the Female Cop sit in the exact frame the Customer did. But will that resonate with the audience after all the time and drama that has passed since the Customer sat down at the counter? It will no doubt leave a trace, but it will not do the work that is required of it because it will not resonate strongly. Perhaps we could have the Customer exit the same frame. But then we would be sacrificing the dynamics of the moment because, according to the spatial dynamics we have already set up in staging between Counterman and Customer, Counterman is at the other end of the counter. The camera will have no justification to be in the position to duplicate the familiar frame. Continuing our search through the screenplay, we discover an opportune moment to duplicate this familiar frame when Counterman replaces the napkin and fork after Customer leaves. Coming here, it will be appropriate to the essence of the moment, while it "forces" the audience to anticipate the empty frame being filled. Still, we have a problem. The frame is introduced too late in the scene to resonate fully. It seems to be an afterthought. We must then add another job to our list.

12. Introduce familiar frame for Female Cop's entrance early in the scene

Looking at the second paragraph on the first page of the screenplay, we have: "Counterman sets the pie on the counter along with a napkin and a fork." This is definitely where we should introduce the familiar frame, but the angle of this image is pointing at the Counterman, and that means that when Female Cop sits down we would be seeing her back. Now, in all my visualizations — including when I wrote the screenplay — I had always imagined the Female Cop entering the shot from the front. Are there any drawbacks to the reverse angle; that is, seeing her back first? Actually, just the opposite is true. As is often the case, these glitches we discover as we move along in our methodology can lead us to a solution that is superior to the original. In this case we will have a COP enter the film from the back (broadness of shoulders can indicate that this is a person who "can take care of HIMSELF"). Then in a reverse shot, we reveal FEMALE. Maybe we'll have her take her hat off and let the hair cascade down. So that we won't forget, we'll add it to our list of jobs.

13. Female Cop's reveal

One of the most dramatically effective entrances into a film is Guido's in 8-1/2. (See Chapter 15.) And then the reveal of Guido — the first time we see his face — is withheld from the audience for some time. That is what I mean by "raising questions" in the audience's mind, thereby increasing their curiosity and their participation in the unfolding of the story. Coppola does it with Michael (Al Pacino) in The Godfather by showing him first entering the wedding reception from the rear. We know it is Michael because he is wearing an Army uniform. Only later is his face revealed.

We have two more questions to ask ourselves before we begin to put the camera to our floor plan. Is any narrative stylization necessary or desirable for this story? Do any of the characters need their own voice? In my visualization there is no point in complicating what is essentially a simple film with a recognizable style. (It could be argued that the accepted "generic" style — for want of a better word — is itself a style, just as Clurman considered "natural" acting a style.) So, seeing no need for a subjective voice, we can say no to these two questions.

With no more questions for the moment (we should continue to be open to new discoveries and inspirations), the next step is to begin applying camera setups that render the staging as it is choreographed on the floor plan (Figure 8-4). We must keep in mind the thirteen jobs we have identified, the narrative beats we must articulate, and the dramatic blocks and the fulcrum we have uncovered. I suggest starting at the beginning of the scene/film.

As mentioned earlier, camera setups may contain one, or several, or many edited shots. During the visualization process we imagine the edited shots. Therefore, it is important to examine these edited shots carefully and take note of their orchestra-

Film Floor Plan With Camera Setups
Camera setups imposed on floor plan for first dramatic block.

tion. For without having an idea of how a scene will be edited, our "coverage" becomes at best generic, at worst a gamble we will most often lose.

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