Flexing Your Fundamentals: Cinematography and Composition with Shane Hurlbut
Composition is a subtle art of filmmaking that can have a powerful influence on the films we create. It often goes unnoticed by casual moviegoers, but the effect it can have on viewers when executed properly cannot be understated. Shane Hurlbut has been featured a number of times on No Film School, he's an ASC Director of Photography working at the highest level (We Are Marshall, Terminator Salvation), and he's also recently offered his perspective on his favorite, well, camera perspectives.
Shane's post illustrates, among other things, the flexibility of the Two-Shot (pictured above). He emphasizes that for the most part, his preferred angles of attack are simply variations on “classic frames” honed to his aesthetic tastes -- and whatever the scene might call for. He says that a good foundation for developing a trademark visual sensibility lies in the fundamentals of framing.
- The Wide Shot (or “Doinker,” as static Wides may be called)
- The Two-Shot
- The Off-Balance Shot (those which violate the Rule of Thirds for dramatic effect, pictured at top)
- The Over the Shoulder (‘Dirty OTS’ means the foreground player is defocused, while absent in the ‘Clean OTS’)
- The Collar-Bone (my personal favorite -- you’ll have to read the article)
- John Fording into a Close-Up (wherein a character moves towards a locked down shot, starting from further away)
- The Choker (full-frame dramatic close-ups)
Shane also elaborates on the versatility of Over the Shoulders. In the context of a developing a love story in Crazy/Beautiful, he and director John Stockwell began with clean OTSs, at first minimizing the compositional prevalence of the foreground character:
[We] used this style as a vehicle to bring the two together in a subtle way. We did not want Jay Hernandez and Kirsten Dunst to feel like they were together at first, so we shot clean overs. Then as they befriended one another, we started to link them together in wide dirty overs. Jay and Kirsten’s dirty overs became more and more claustrophobic as they fell deeper in love.
This is a great example of the power that composition can have -- it can underline a blossoming romance by literally moving the characters closer together within the frame over time, and in the process, actually help to move the story forward.
Stripping things down even further, Shane beckons back to the days of John Ford, in which moving the camera wasn’t always practical. Why not circumvent the problem with an actor’s blocking? (The actor may be John Wayne, but everyone can get behind some creative problem-solving every now and then!)
Of course, all of these types of shots can be enhanced or expanded by handholding, dollying, or craning, but those things aren’t always necessary (as cool as they can be), and at the end of the day, I think there's something to be said about how effective these core principals can be.
How does Shane's process differ from your own? Do you shooters out there start off with a basic approach, then tweak, or do you dive head-first into dolly shots and handheld pans right away?