Camera Techniques and How They Help To Tell the Story

The movement of a camera is a vital part of telling the story within a film, and the different ways by which it is used not only adds to this story but also creates a better viewing experience for the audience. Kyde (2011) stated that ‘Along with the camera position, the camera angle is a significant aesthetic factor contributing to the overall impression of the film’ This is extremely relevant, and the techniques of a camera I will be focusing on in this research project are indeed the angles as well as the positions used and their contribution to the story of a film.

PRIMARY RESEARCH

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This image shows an over the shoulder angle.
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This image shows a low angle shot of the subject.

Primary Research for this project included:

  • Experimenting with my own camera, by shooting with different angles and positions
  • Watching, analysing and taking notes of the use of different camera angles and positions in the movies Do The Right Thing (1989)
  • Asking a filmmaker questions about the impact camera movement has on the moods, story of a film.

Although I had watched Do The Right Thing (1989)previously and loved it, watching it again and being conscious of all the different camera techniques gave me an insight into how much it impacted and added to the story of the film. I was able to observe and learn from the way an entire scene was enhanced by the angle and position of the camera, something I took note of and can be applied to my own films. A con however, to simply watching the film and trying to pick out camera techniques on my own, was that I was not able to pin point some of their significant effects until I had read anaysises on the film afterwards.I was definitely able to figure out the connection between the camera techniques and the story-line in some of the cases, but reading articles on this same topic opened my eyes to even more, that I had missed when watching the film myself.

Furthermore, another part of my primary research entailed asking a filmmaker and cinematographer I know a couple of questions about how camera techniques affect the mood and story of a film or video. His main field of work included documentary and advertisement making. When I asked what was the technique that found most effective to use in the documentary genre, he answered ‘The time-lapse effect , as it shows a passage of time, and a change of the time in a day’. This is especially necessary for a documentary. When filming the documentary for a party festival, he noted that the technique he used most to emphasise the lively, joyous  atmosphere was a series of long range shots, ‘where the subjects weren’t aware they were being filmed, and caught the unexpected moments of their shameless celebration’. Cons to this research was the fact that this cinematographer only really had experience in documentary making and not in films with a storytelling, so he could not comment on that. However, this could also be looked at as a positive, as it gave me an insight into the way camera techniques can be used to emphasize the other contents within a movie/ video in genres such as the one explained.

Secondary Research

This includes:

  • Reading articles and books about the different types of Camera movement
  • Reading articles and watching movie clips about films by Spike Lee, who is known for his use of camera techniques in order to tell the story
  • Looking at pictures of different camera angles focusing on a subject.
This image shows a low angle shot, making the subject look more powerful    (2015) (premiumBeats.com 2015)
Image result for dutch angles in do the right thing
(MovieClips 2016)
Image result for dutch angles in do the right thing
(MovieClips 2011)

Image result for dutch angles in do the right thing
(MovieClips 2011)
Image result for dutch angles in do the right thing
(MovieClips 2011)
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This image shows a screenshot of a monologue where one character speaks directly to the camera, breaking the fourth wall between the audience and the characters in the film.        (MovieClips 2011)

Unlike the primary research which was specific to what I needed to know for this project, it was not as easy to find the details of exactly what I was looking for in the the secondary research. It required having to go to many different sources if articles and books to find out the information about that I needed about camera techniques and their effect on the story. This can be seen as a disadvantage. An advantage however, would be that I got expert knowledge on the subject from various books and journals that I would not have had access to, if it were not for the things found online. For example,I would not have been able to personally ask the Filmmaker Spike Lee about his movie, Do The Right Thing (1989), but I was able to find an interview with him discussing it.

 


Image result for do the right thing
(goldposter 2016)

Although my research involved camera techniques and their impact on a film’s story  in general, I decided to look at one particular movie for this section of the project. I chose to focus on the cinematography style  used in Spike Lee’s Film Do The Right Thing (1989), as it overflows with camera techniques that contribute to the telling of the story and there is simply so much to talk about in the many scenes where this is portrayed. It is set on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York and follows the events of  a single day, on the hottest day of the year. It was nominated for two Oscars, and is widely known for it’s bold use of angles  to represent moods and themes within the story.  During filming, Spike Lee told his cinematographer “I want you to really think about how you can give the feeling of the hottest day of the summer. What can you do visually to make the audience sweat?” Through his use of different camera techniques such as low angle shots, dutch shots, and breaking the forth wall, Lee undoubtedly made the audience connect with the film on a level that few films are able to achieve.

“In filmmaking, Dutch angles are typically used to display tension, and in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing Dutch angles are heavily used when building up to the film’s confrontational climax.” Film Critic Kate Bellmore stated this when discussing the role of  Dutch Angling in this film. Spike Lee uses this technique repeatedly for many of Do The Right Thing’s (1989) frames, and it is representative of the discomfort and anger that exists in this neighborhood between the races. Dutch Angles appear almost constantly throughout the fil,, and it is only after the films climax, that dutch angles are no longer used. This shows that once the issues were in some way resolved and the characters frustrations were let out, the aggression that these angles represented were no longer as prominent. Another use of the Dutch Angles in this film however, as noted by Bellmore, is to remind the audience that it is infant a story, despite the strong and controversial themes that exist about real life situations. The lack of realism in the way that this film was shot balances out the presentation of the film as a whole, which could come across as too overbearing and heavy.

There is one particular scene in Do The Right Thing (1989), where the camera techniques used really emphasise some of the the main theme in the story; anger and tension between the different races, therefore moving the story forward. It is the confrontation between Buggin’ Out, a young black guy on the same street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn,  and a white guy, named Clifton, who also lives there. Clifton accidentally bumps Buggin Out in the street while rushing home, and when he looks down at his trainers, he notices one of them is scuffed as a result. This makes him react angrily. When he approaches Clifton, a long shot is shown, not only to establish the location, but also to show Buggin Out’s supporters circling the two, to add to and intensify the altercation.

As the two argue about why Clifton is even living on a black street in Brooklyn, the camera moves in to a close up shot reverse shot between Buggin Out and the Clifton, demonstrating the argument taking place between them.  By angling the camera to point slightly upwards at Buggin Out (low angle shot), shows that he has the power and superiority in the argument. It is supported by the fact that his friends around him are cheering him on, and his strong, insulting language compared to  Clifton, who is standing along and barely responding.  Furthermore, like many of the scenes in this film, the slight tilt in the camera represents the tension and emotion. In a video analysis by Film- Drunk Love on Youtube, (2015) it is explained that the sharp angle on Budgy and his friends represents their extreme anger while the extreme close up on Clifton displays his calmer yet worried feeling. This scene and the camera techniques used within it is a clear depiction of,  and highlights for the first time in the film  the attitude Buggin Out, and as an extension the entire black community has towards white people.

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Low Angle shot of Buggin Out shows his superiority in argument. Screenshot taken from (Movieclips 2011)
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Buggin Out’s supporters circle Clifton. Screenshot taken from (Movieclips 2011)

The next technique that I will be looking at is called ‘breaking the forth wall.’ Author Tom Brown in his book ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall’ referred to it as a ‘direct address in the cinema.’ It was derived from theatre, and involves the character in a film or theatre production talking to the camera directly, and therefore to the audience. The fourth wall is seen as an imaginary wall that separates the audience from the actors, and it was mainly broken in Elizabethan and Restoration drama. Modern films do not use this technique as much, but Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing uses it in two different ways, as a point of view shot, and to break the continuity of the plot to emphasis a deeper look into each of the characters mindset. He first uses the it as a point of view of another character, so that although the dialog is directed at the character within the film, it appears that they are speaking to the audience, therefore allowing the audience to connect with the film even more. It is shown in the scene below, where the camera shows the character Radio Raheem  talking to Mookie, but then moves so that Radio Raheem is talking directly to the camera. It then moves back to showing him talking to Mookie, letting the audience know  that Radio Raheem’s monologue was still directed at him.

(Movie Clips 2011)

In continuation, another scene where the forth wall was broken highlights racial stereotypes. Although all the characters try to cover up and hide the racial tensions and anger they posses throughout the film, this clip shows how all the different characters really felt about each other. The filming technique used made this scene extremely in- your- face and the close ups highlighted the anger within each of them, bringing out this vital theme that runs throughout the story.  An interesting concept that film critique Goutham Gnanasekaran in his video pointed out was that the filming technique used in this scene tries to connect the director with the audience; Spike Lee is trying to communicate a message to the audience about the why racism still exists by the way he positions his camera. He stated that ‘the camera acts as a mirror” helping the audience to recognize their own  grudges or opinions that they may consciously or unconsciously hold. ‘The characters,” he continued, “stand still like the audience, because they are unwilling to change their views and racist sentiments that they are so comfortable to keep inside.”  It’s astounding that all of this can be portrayed simply by the way the camera was set up to film.

(Movie Clips 2011)

References

Storify (2016) Spike Lee’s Aesthetic Techniques in Do The Right Thing. Available at: https://storify.com/CherelleLaBelle/spike-lee-s-camera-techniques (Accessed 12/10/16)

Brown, T. (2012) Breaking the  Fourth Wall: Direct Address in the Cinema. Edinburgh University Press.

The Film Makers Workshop (2013) Basic Cinematography: Telling A Story With a Cameras Movement. Available at: http://www.thefilmmakersworkshop.com/basic-cinematography-telling-a-story-with-camera-movement/ (Accessed 12/10/16)

LAVideoFilmmaker.com (2016) 11 Essential Camera Techniques in Filmmaking. Available at: http://www.lavideofilmmaker.com/filmmaking/film-techniques.html (Accessed 12/10/16)

Tom Barrance (2016) Camera Position and Angle Available. at: http://learnaboutfilm.com/film-language/picture/camera-position/ Accessed (12/10/16)

Mamer, B. (2009) Film Production Technique: Creating the Accomplished Image, 5th Edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 10 Davis Drive Belmont CA, USA: Michael Rosenburg

Know This LLC (2016) Secondary Research – Disadvantages. Available at: http://www.knowthis.com/data-collection-low-cost-secondary-research/secondary-research-disadvantages. (Accessed 12/10/16)

WordPress.com (no date) What is the Fourth Wall? Available at: https://alwaysactingup.wordpress.com/what-is-the-4th-wall/. Accessed (12/10/16)

Movieclips (2011) Do the Right Thing (6/10) Movie CLIP – LOVE and HATE (1989)HD. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa-oUPTr9LI. Accessed (12/10/16)

Film- Drunk Love (2015) Scene Breakdown | Do the Right Thing (Part 2). Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKp2ENeL8r4. Accessed (12/10/16)

Guardian News and Media Limited. (2016) Clip Joint: Breaking the Fourth Wall. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2011/nov/09/clip-joint-breaking-fourth-wall. (Accessed 12/10/2016)

Ebert Digital LLC (2016) Do The Right Thing Movie Review (1989). Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/do-the-right-thing-1989. (Accessed 12/10/16)

IMBd.com, Inc. (2016). Do The Right Thing (1989) Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097216/. (Accessed 12/10/16)

TonyMcKibbin.com (no date) Do the Right Thing. Available at: http://tonymckibbin.com/film/do-the-right-thing. (Accessed 12/10/16)

WordPress.com (2013) What’s Your Angle?: Dutch Angles In Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING. Available at: https://reelclub.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/whats-your-angle-dutch-angles-in-spike-lees-do-the-right-thing/. (Accessed 12/10/16)

MovieClips (2011) Do The Right Thing (4/10) Movie CLIP Your Jordans are F***ed up!  (1989) HD Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc6_XgtOQgI. (Accessed 12/10/16)

Movieclips (2011) Do the Right Thing (9/10) Movie CLIP – Fight the Power (1989) HD Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ4y7GPeFBY (Accessed 12/10/16)

goldposter (2016) Do-the-Right-Thing_poster_goldposter_com_1.jpg@0o_0l_300w_70q. Available at: http://www.goldposter.com/127844/. (Accessed 12/10/16)

PremiumBeats.com (2015) ‘Low Angle Shot- Dark Knight’ Available at: http://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/how-to-frame-a-low-angle-shot-like-a-master-cinematographer/. (Accessed 12/10/16)

 

 

 

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