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Learn How Camera Movement Affects a Scene in 'The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots'

03.13.13 @ 6:46PM Tags : , , ,

While you might have already seen the recent video featuring the history of the Steadicam in cinema, today we’ve got a video from Kevin B. Lee — who most recently gave us his best films of 2012 — that gets much more specific, and follows the career of Paul Thomas Anderson and his use of camera stabilizers. Not only does the video focus on specific shots in his films, but it also goes into the psychology of what the shots do (or are trying to do) for the scene in the context of the movies.

Here is a brief snippet from Sight & Sound Magazine, which originally featured the video:

Thinking on what sets The Master apart from Paul Thomas Anderson’s earlier films, what strikes me most vividly is a marked difference in camera movement and staging. I wouldn’t be surprised if a proper cinemetric analysis found that up to half of the film’s running time consists of close-ups with little to no camera movement.

This is a far cry from the run-and-gun days of Boogie Nights and Magnolia with their stunning array of sweeping Steadicam shots, push-ins and whip pans. But upon surveying his career film by film, one can trace an evolution in his technique. This video essay examines one signature tracking shot from each of Anderson’s five previous features, showing how each epitomises his cinematography at each point, from the flashiness of his earlier films to a more subtle approach that favours composition over movement.

We’ve had a few conversations recently about the role of the DP, but I think beyond just documenting the evolving use of camera movement in Anderson’s films, the video explains perfectly why the DPs job is so important in relation to serving the director’s vision. It’s easy to have camera movement that doesn’t really do anything, and while it will probably make a scene more interesting to look at (and look good on a cinematography reel), it’s not necessarily going to move the story forward. In the clips above, the camera movement is always serving a purpose, even if that purpose is to disorient the audience or set the pace of the film.

What do you guys think? Can you think of more examples of camera movement that really help to move a story forward?

Link: Steadicam progress – the career of Paul Thomas Anderson in five shots — Sight & Sound Magazine

[via IndieWireRope Of Silicon]


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  • This is extremely helpful. Sometimes you get lost in “making it pretty” but it has to make sense and really drive the complex mix of storyline, character viewpoint and where you want the audience to go. Thanks for posting.

  • Great post! PTA reigns supreme!

  • Great video, I shared it with my readers yesterday, along with 2 others.

  • Very interesting and a nice analysis, although for my taste there’s a bit too much overanalysis and overly flowery vocabulary here. For me the interesting analysis is the somewhat more technical stuff, about points of focus, how the movement tells the story etc. Things like “backlighting his youthful good looks like a discovery hidden in plain sight” seem like poetic wording for its own sake to me.

  • Hubert Hotte on 03.13.13 @ 10:14PM

    The more I watch those sorts of steadycam shots, the more I find myself hating them.
    It’s a personal preference, but those steady shots feels unnatural to me and excessively long.

    • So the shaky-cam is natural somehow?

      • No, long shots moving just about anywhere/everywhere over long periods of time without editing can feel unnatural for some people instead of the typical stationary shot. Never did he say anything about shaky cam.

        • Perhaps the story.. was to give a frenetic feel to what is happening … and if thats so.. then the choice of that steadicam move, in those films was just what the DP wanted. As for your taste, we get that you have no need or desire to move so frenetically, and that’s ok.

  • These are the posts I love the most. This video was master level, I’ve learnt a lot from it.

    • Great post! This is exactly the sort of fascinating look into filmmaking I come to NoFilmSchool for. More like this, please!

  • Great post. Even though it shows how steadycam can be used – the same ideas can be applied more or less for tripod or dolly shots too. I enjoyed this one.

  • This is a really interesting post. I haven’t come across many articles about camera movement. The subtleties of camera movement are sort of similar to the subtleties of music, when used at an appropriate time and in the right dose. Such a powerful and influential storytelling tool. And for some reason, I feel like I don’t quite master that narrative tool in order to be successful with it… Anyway, I rarely post comments, but I come to this site often and always get a wealth of useful info as well as entertainment. A huge thanks to you Joe, as well as all the staff behind this site.

  • Nice post. Refreshing to have a post about technique and not gear. I could always afford better technique but rarely can I afford better gear.

  • Great insights! I never picked up on the motivation behind the lighting cues in the opening scene of Boogie Nights until this breakdown. I always read them as “flash and trash.” I’m in the opposite camp as Hubert – I have a hard time setting up a sequence without movement – probably because my first year or so of opportunities in the camera department was as a jib operator – I learned to think of scene elements in terms of marks instead of setups. Materials like this help me keep that reigned in a bit – it reminds me to get rid of a move if it is expressly motivated.

  • Wonderful post. PTA’s style (and writing) has matured so much since Hard Eight and Boogie Nights. I love those films but now I think he is doing some of the best work happening anywhere on the planet. His work now reminds me a little bit of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s latter films, especially Ordet and Gertrud.
    I’ve linked to two essays that explore the staging strategies in There Will Be Blood in more depth. The second one is where the segments of eye movement data were pulled from (I think.)

  • Earnest reply on 03.14.13 @ 1:08PM

    This was very informative especially the last analysis as its the simplest one. I’d love to see more of these but assessing simpler, yet highly creative films since we as fledgling filmmakers, are usually prevented from complicated long takes due to low budgets. And I assume its not cost in gear but time as these shot take a lot of time to plan and execute. And of course in filmmaking time is money. Especially if you’re calling in favors for locations, or shooting while a business is actually operating, and need to be in and out as quickly as possible.

    • Not to mention that the longer the shot, the more we need to rely on the skill of the actors in the scene (and the director), which on micro budgets can often be more of a limiting factor than the careful and thoughtful planning (which any dedicated and enthusiastic film maker should be able to achieve – assuming they have enough working gray matter).

      Of course the gear and steadi operator are important factors too, but thanks to much smaller cameras and tiny affordable stabilizer rigs, finding these components are less daunting than they have ever been! If you’re on a micro budget, you might be surprised at how versatile some wedding videographers are with their flycams – and a lot of those guys have got some free time when it’s not wedding season. Do a local search, watch some demo reels and see if you can’t find room in your back pocket for one of them.

  • Don’t know if anyone noticed, but the closing music is credited as Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 by Gustav Mahler, from the TWBB soundtrack. It should be Johannes Brahms; Mahler never wrote a violin concerto, although one was claimed in an April Fool joke by

  • Great post. Long shots can be breathtakingly beautiful. Made me wonder what Hitchcock might have done with the Steadicam had it been available in the 50′ and 60′s.

  • Very solid operating, and a great demonstration of fundamental blocking of one’ers. It’s hard to listen to the pretentious superlatives lavished on a director for showing the audience the back of his actors’ heads while they walk through rooms of extras and hear other actors deliver their lines off-screen.

    There are valuable lessons here for filmmakers wanting to make movies that are long, and for critics wanting to spin complexity from what is actually very basic.

  • Superb post…I have been assistant director for more than a year and because of lots of reading, watching and my own talent..I got work and Now I am on verge of being independent.

    I love It’s very useful to know technicalities and thought processes followed by master filmmakers all over the world. Every blog post is very precious. Thanks Ryan Koo and the team.

  • An example of camera movement i really like, might worth to check it out.