A Masterclass in Handheld Camera Operating from 'Place Beyond The Pines' DP Sean Bobbitt
These days, there aren't many DPs doing more inspired work than Sean Bobbitt. From his absolutely stunning collaborations with British artist Steve McQueen (of which 12 Years A Slave is the most recent), to his work with masterful filmmakers like Derek Cianfrance and Neil Jordan, Bobbitt has defined one of the most unique and compelling cinematic voices in recent memory. At last month's Cameraimage festival in Poland, Bobbitt conducted a truly excellent hour and a half workshop about handheld camera operating. For camera operators and DPs alike, this is a must-see workshop. Check it out:
What I absolutely love about this workshop is that Bobbitt talks not only about handheld technique, but also the reasons and narrative motivations for shooting handheld. In a generation where pretty much everyone has access to a camera of some sort, the handheld aesthetic has become wildly overused and oftentimes misused, simply because it's considered quicker and more efficient than shooting on sticks or a dolly. In regards to how handheld should be used, Bobbitt had this to say:
The first and most important consideration should be, "Does it help to tell the story?" Operating should never draw attention to itself. It should always be about the character and the performance.
One of the most powerful things that an extended handheld shot can do is to grip an audience and hold an audience and pull them into the action, and to actually magnify the emotional content of the scene. Because it's one shot and because there's no edit, at no point are you subconsciously reminded that you're watching a film. So you're not given an escape, you have to watch it or you have to turn away. This is a tremendously effective way to portray violence on-screen.
Here's the opening shot from The Place Beyond the Pines (or at least part of the shot), which gives you a brief idea of Bobbitt's handheld sensibility:
Something else that Bobbitt talks about at length, something which isn't often mentioned in handheld conversations, is just how physical shooting handheld is. He spends upwards of 20 minutes talking about the tremendous physical stresses on the body that come from shooting handheld, and more importantly, how to avoid, or at least temper, these stresses.
He recommends all of these basics like lumbar support belts and gloves (for preventing blisters and maintaining a firm grip), but also developing an in-depth stretching routine prior to shooting that focuses on your shoulders, neck, back, and knees.
What do you guys think of Bobbitt's handheld philosophy? When do you like to use a handheld camera, and when do you avoid it, and why? What do you do in order to reduce the physical stress of shooting handheld? Let us know in the comments!
Link: ARRIChannel -- YouTube