May 13, 2014

Vincent Laforet Talks Directing Motion Tour: '90% of the Director’s Work is Done Off Set in Prep'

The Directing Motion Tour workshop, hosted by award-winning commercial director Vincent Laforet, goes in-depth with some of the most famous films in history, analyzing why and when the camera was moved or placed in a certain way, and how sequences are constructed from those shots. Not only that, but attendees actually get to work on a scene themselves where they put all of this theory into practice. I recently attended the DM tour, and I was able to sit down with Vincent and ask a few questions about camera movement, being a director, and what really matters when it comes to storytelling.

NFS: Why and when should you move the camera?

Laforet: You should always move it when it helps serve the story in some way, helps elevate the experience of the audience on a psychological level in their understanding of the space, to include or exclude, or to reveal or conceal something. The main point is that the move should add and not subtract from the story you’re shooting, and should ideally be motivated by something in the frame, as opposed to a random move that happens on its own.

NFS: When shouldn’t you move the camera?

Laforet: You don’t want to move during intimate dialogue. Generally speaking when dialogue happens you want to stop moving the camera so people can connect with the actor through their eyes. So you don’t want to be moving like crazy when there is really intense dialogue happening, or when it doesn’t serve the story -- when it distracts.

NFS: What kind of camera movement do you see newer filmmakers utilizing wrong or too much?

Laforet: I see a slider as a blessing and a curse in that so many people slide just because they can, and it is seldom motivated. Cinema is almost always a combination of movements, it’s rarely just one movement. A slide is often, if not always, accompanied by a pan and a tilt. That’s what people fail to do either because they don’t have the right equipment or because they don’t understand that. You rarely do a pure slide, laterally, in cinema and in general.

NFS: What would you suggest if someone has a slider, would you tell them to push in and pull back instead of moving laterally?

Laforet: Lateral moves are not as interesting generally as the depth or Z-axis moves, where you can appreciate the changing dimension of the environment -- so try to switch to those. The key point is that as long as they are motivated by something in the frame, you’ll have a greater degree of success. And also try to add a fluid head to make it a little richer.

NFS: When time is tight, when do you decide to abandon a movement to make your day?

Laforet: When you have no choice left. That’s experience and discipline to know that you should always try to go for gold, but when it’s clear you’re not going to make your day, there is no reason to have a really fancy move that you can’t edit into a sequence because you don’t have the final piece. So you have to have discipline to at any point pull the ripcord and go to your B plan, which is simplicity, going back to the old coverage rules of wide, medium, and tight, as opposed to trying to do a nice oner or fancy shot. Because the worst thing that can happen is that you get a bad, mediocre, or stiff one shot or fancy move and no sequence because you don’t have anything to cut to. It happens to all of us, and you learn to say “not again.” You have to be able to say, "I have to stop now or I am not going to have anything to edit with."

NFS: You’d rather have the coverage instead of trying a fancy shot.

Laforet: This isn’t still photography where you are looking for one great still shot that captures everything, this is a sequence of images or movements stitched together. And that’s the key.

NFS: As a director, what do you think is the skill you need to be most proficient at?

Laforet: Being able to have a clear vision, to understand how to describe that with clear and concise communication to your crew, and know how to do it, or let them show you how to do it if they are more proficient than you are. But if you can’t communicate, and you can’t formulate your own idea, there is no chance you’ll make it. It’s all about having that vision or that idea, and being able to communicate the idea in some terms that other people can translate onto the screen. That’s the key, executing your vision with other people.

NFS: Something that is said a lot is that the role of a director is being a problem-solver, would you agree with that?

Laforet: We are constant mitigators, problem-solvers, and we shoot off the hip all the time. The more we prepare, the more experience we have, the more tricks we have in our bag, the better we can mitigate issues. And the issues will arise, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when, and so when they do happen, don’t be shocked, and react appropriately.

Vincent Laforet DMT11

NFS: What advice would you give a director just starting out?

Laforet: Learn to direct with your iPhone or smart phone. Don’t worry about lenses or gear, and understand how to sequence shots. Then you’ll see if you know what you’re doing. The moment you start introducing gear into it, you’re giving yourself more points of failure and you’re going to focus on the gear and not on the craft — and that’s ultimately not what it’s about. If you can do a great sequence with just an iPhone or a smart phone and it works, you will see that you understand movement and how to sequence shots, how to cut and time, and you’ll be far ahead of the game.

NFS: How about advice for a cinematographer just starting out?

Laforet: Some of the same advice, but also look at other people’s work, and try to break it down. Understand why different sequences or movies work or why they don’t, use the pause and rewind buttons and play the same sequences without sound and analyze them, break them down, and storyboard them. Note the length, the motion, the speed, the lens, the lighting, everything. And try to figure out why they made the decisions they did. Read interviews about it, behind the scenes, and try to pick out information.

NFS: You started as a stills photographer, but when you were just starting to get involved in motion photography and shooting, what did you do to prepare yourself, did you look at a lot of what other people had done?

Laforet: Looked at a lot, asked questions. Analyze. Postulate. Repeat. See if you can do it on your own, you get it or you don’t, if you don’t, you go back to the drawing board and try it again.

Vincent Laforet DMT21

NFS: What would you say to new filmmakers worried about the gear or the camera?

Laforet: It’s not about the camera, it’s not about the resolution, or the frame rate. It’s not about the gear. Rent everything first, don’t buy stuff. See how you can work it. The more gear you put on a production, the less time and freedom you have. Find out what’s really essential to you. Whatever you don’t need you can jettison. My role as a director is to understand what the weaknesses and strengths are of each piece of gear, what their limits are, what to be worried about, what their strengths are, and put those into practice as best I can.

NFS: What is your typical prep to shooting ratio?

Laforet: 10:1. But in reality a lot of times it ends up being 2:1 or 3:1. The more prep you put in, the better your shoot days go, because you actually work through all of the problems beforehand. 90% of the director’s work is done off set in prep. By the time you step foot on set, everybody should know what they’re doing and what the goals are. You shouldn’t be explaining any major concepts on set.

Vincent Laforet  DMT31

NFS: Something you touched on during the workshop is keeping the talent happy no matter what. Could you elaborate more on that?

Laforet: You’re a cheerleader. You’re a leader on set and you set the tone both with your crew and with your cast. And if you have an unhappy crew or a bad morale on set, you’re not going to be getting the best out of anybody. So keep in mind what your role is, which is to always keep a positive attitude and always find solutions. Never scream at people, never put people down, just understand that you’re all here together, and it’s generally not rocket science and nobody is going to die on the operating table, so don’t take it so seriously. This is supposed to be fun.

NFS: You also touched on the fact that no matter the budget level, you feel like you never have enough money.

Laforet: You never have enough money and you never have enough time. One of my favorite quotes is, “From the moment you stop writing the script, you start compromising.” And that’s just the reality.

NFS: Why should people attend the Directing Motion Tour workshop?

Laforet: The idea is that everyone wants to be a director these days. They think that they can buy the slider, or the jib, or the camera, and that makes them a director. This is meant to refocus people on the craft, of how, when, and why to use those things. Also, to make people understand that the reason there is "Hollywood" and "Not Hollywood" isn’t the money or the gear, it’s the level of skill involved. This workshop tries to refocus people on that fact. If you find that your pieces don’t quite have that luster that you’re seeing on the big Hollywood screen, it probably has nothing to do with the gear, it probably has to do with the level of skill and complexity involved.

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Vincent also broke down this terrific commercial he directed and talked about all of the challenges and the intense time crunch to get it done. He also touched upon the fact that a ton of unpaid work went into just trying to pitch the commercial, and even more unpaid work preparing it. The rates might be high doing a national commercial, but there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done that the client is likely not paying for:

If you can't attend the tour, it will also be available for download online, but certain details will only be available by attending in person, like some of the breakdowns for the commercial above. To read more about the tour and to see which cities are still left, head on over to his blog and the DM tour website.

Links:

Your Comment

27 Comments

I attended this workshop. If you are going to attend this, get the crew seat premium package as things got packed at our NJ location.

I hate the trend today of how a lot of still photographers are now calling themselves a DP/Director with such low quality work. So in that vain, I Initially always thought of Vincent as a talented photographer whose Director/DP career has riding on the coat tails of his successfully fortunate showcase of the 5d mark 2 in Reverie. I could not have been so far from the truth. Vincent and his team effectively and efficiently go through the core workings and structure of motion by showing numerous examples employed in classic as well as modern films. Most importantly they also so show why the reasonings behind using these movements for both aesthetic and budgetary purposes. You really see how much experiences and trial and error he has gone through from the early wild west days of DSLR shooting to now shooting far larger projects.

Vincent also went spoke about his recent endeavors in the commercial world and gives you a extremely in depth look at a project from preproduction to final delivery. This information was very important to me since it can be a easily overlooked but critical make or break aspect to a project.

As for the format of the presentation it was well paced and the actual room setup was perfect. As shown above, monitors were placed at each table to show what the cameras were shooting as well as what was being presented for the rest of the keynote. The use of a movie set within the presentation was a great tool for showcasing the principles being touched upon.

At the end of the day this was by far the best workshop I have attended and easily eclipsed ones from other season professionals at a fraction of the cost. Vincent is without a doubt true professional cinematographer/Director and I cannot wait to see what new endeavors he will undertake.

May 13, 2014 at 1:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Well hope some day some workshops like these are conducted in my country.
Even reading content here without context does not give the same "education". For e.g. simply saying not to move camera doing important dialogue. And I think of the opening scene from Inglorious Basterds. Full of movement, great dialogue and tension. Not disagreeing or dissing Vincent, no way, but reading a summary without being there and not getting the context is not the same as being there. Great opportunity for those who can and reading Krishna's comment makes me envious :)

May 13, 2014 at 2:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Archie

Thanks Krishna for the review! I'd love to hear from anyone else who has attended this workshop.

I am considering signing up in my city but I am trying to decide if it's worth the money.

May 13, 2014 at 2:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ray

I will second Krishna's review. I attended this past weekend and it was excellent, very informative, even to someone with some experience.

May 19, 2014 at 1:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brian K

Vincent's right to emphasize prep. It definitely does always make a massive difference. It's also really important to be not quite prepared enough. To leave a little gap where you don't have all the answers because that allows you to be open to new ideas you find on set, new ideas that others suggest and to adapt rapidly to when stuff goes wrong.

I also think it's important to stress how important post production is, especially in narrative and documentary work. Comparatively you spend so very little time actually shooting, preprod and post are really where all the work happens. If you're not adept at post you're probably going to struggle to get too far.

May 13, 2014 at 4:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robin Schmidt

I went the Alex Buono Cinematography Workshop last year in Austin (the think the company who handled the marketing for that workshop is doing the same thing with the Directing Motion workshop [mzed.com]) and it was cool experience. They showcased products I will probably never use, but still very fun to play with. Vincent LaForet was there promoting the MOVI before it was available on the market and that was a treat to meet him and the rig.

Now was it worth the $300+ (that is for the workshop, gas, parking, food) to go? In my opinion - yes. Even though I knew a lot about what was being taught, I still walked away with even more knowledge about filmmaking and got network with other filmmakers from around the area and some from outside of Texas. Another good thing was they gave us a book (the Visual Story by Bruce Block) and they sent a DVD of the workshop show just in case you missed something you could go back and watch it again.

Now did everyone walk away with the same appreciation I had for the workshop? No. A guy I met said it was a waste of time and money and that he should've just spent the money on equipment. To each his own I guess. I will be attending the Directing Motion workshop in Austin and even though I tend to do a lot of locked down shots, I still want to learn more about the rules of moving the camera to further my knowledge in my profession.

May 13, 2014 at 4:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Francisco

Meh.

May 13, 2014 at 5:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tom Barnold

"or let them show you how to do it if they are more proficient than you are."

I would argue that you shouldn't be directing if this is the case...

May 13, 2014 at 6:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bwhitz

That's a very shortsighted view point, no offense but probably youthful arrogance.

Every director excels in his/her own strengths but normally a VFX supervisor will understand the ins and outs of that field way more in depth than a director
A DP or 1st AC usually has a much more technical understanding of camera design, optics, filtration etc.
A production designer knows way more about what raw materials, fabrics, location designs etc are going to translate on screen
A make up artist know which brands work better under different lighting scenarios and even how they respond to different sensors
A music composer understands theory, composition and arrangement at a deeper level
A gaffer understands all things lighting and electric, a grip rigging and know all the little tricks you'd never think of that save productions times
I can go on but hopefully you get the point.

Some directors have backgrounds in VFX, others in camera, others in acting, some start off straight away, but nobody is an expert on the seemingly endless aspects that go into a production.

First time directors usually rely on experienced crew to get them up to speed to on set language and work, think Gregg Toland and the rest of that crew being a huge reason why Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is such a powerful defining work in cinematic history.

If anything part of a directors job is to make sure the right people get hired that will elevate their work to the desired level and have the expertise they like, and for that you better hope you have good producers ;)

It takes maturity to come to realize you can't do it all, and you will never be an expert at everything. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, that's why the most successful directors always seem to work with a core team through the years.

May 13, 2014 at 7:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Carlos

True, but there is a fine line to be drawn. Most great directors are (and should be) proficient at the majority core film-making skills and other areas of visual arts. Gareth Edwards, Robert Rodriguez, Christopher Nolan, Zach Snyder, have all done pretty much every job at some point and are generally all-around artists (good illustrators, good photographers, ect) . If given enough time, I'm sure their work in almost any area on set would be equal (if not very close) to the department heads on their films. It's more about delegating and saving time than the directors actual inability to perform the tasks. If the director never has to do anything other than "hire good people" or "make sure people work well together" then the requirements for being a director are really nothing more than basic management skills and having the right connections or enough money. Selecting from the work that other professionals are doing is not a real skill and is definitely not deserving of the title of "director". Which is after all, credited with the authorship of the film.

May 14, 2014 at 7:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bwhitz

Have you ever been on a film set?

May 19, 2014 at 5:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gerhard

You obviously need more experience on a set.

June 19, 2014 at 11:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Edward

Filmmaking is a team sport. Even if you're the director.

May 14, 2014 at 3:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Christian Anderson

Just got my seat for the Nashville date! Been pumped about this since it was first announced.

Laforet is a class act who is an excellent teacher and really knows his stuff. Can't wait.

May 13, 2014 at 7:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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OK, it's not about the "tools" ... but, when you do move your camera, what are these tools? Still the old time dolly tracks and cranes? Or are there more popular new toys like MoVi style stabilizers, lighter jibs, cable cams, etc?

May 13, 2014 at 8:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Pretty sure we've covered most of these newer tools to death. :)

It doesn't really matter what you use if it accomplishes your goal. A great line from the tour that Laforet mentions is "The audience doesn't care how the sausage is made, just that it tastes good." It's certainly not a new line, but it's always important to keep that in mind when you're shooting.

May 13, 2014 at 9:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Johnnie Behiri just shot a GH4 video using the octocopter indoors in an old Austrian church. Apparently, with the new "no fly w/out a permit" rule there, indoor shots are still up to an individual property owner. Some shots really reminded me of Kalatozov's Urusevsky's funeral scene from "Soy Cuba".

May 13, 2014 at 10:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Forget cables. Forget dollies. Forget cranes. Here's your new mobile camera platform. An all-in-one option.
[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PanGBeBWWb4 ]

May 13, 2014 at 11:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

The video's been taken down.

May 25, 2014 at 11:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mr Blah

I AM SOOOOOOOOO IN TUNE with what he's saying and doing.
As a writer-director (notice what I put first), I put a helluva lot of time into the writing stage.
Then, once I'm 2 drafts away from finished script...I start actual STORYBOARDS, either by drawing or by digital,
even though i've been seeing the finished, cut mive in my head while writing.

I actually do the hard grunt work of writing in the detailed outline stage -- NOT A TREATMENT -- but a 2 line to 4 line paragraph for every STORY BEAT, before the actual writing starts

I'm inlfuenced by a lot of silent filmmakers and the many foreign filmers as in the FILM NOIR writers/directors fleeing Germany during WW2; and HITCHCOCK and KUROSAWA of course, who al;so got their start in telling stories visually either through painting or visual production design.

I won't ever shoot a movie by coverage like many directors do...who want to have all these great choices in post. I need to MAKE the movie on the page -- during rewrite and redoing STORYBOARDS.

Even if locations and cast changes before shooting actually starts and I need to be adaptable; the more hard work I do in pre production...the more I KNOW WHAT I WANT...leads into the more the PRODUCER knows what I'll be doing (it's their money); the more the DP, CREW and CAST know what I want.

Sorry folks...none of this is brain surgery.

.

May 14, 2014 at 9:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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MARK GEORGEFF

Ok.

May 26, 2014 at 2:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jim

And once again...I'm so hyped on putting an opinion out there on an important subject like what Vicent's talking about...that I have a few typoes. So much for prep work...

May 14, 2014 at 10:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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MARK GEORGEFF

Some directors come up the ranks knowing how to direct actors - that's the true mystery. Not knowing how to use a movi. Leave that to the DP. Working with actors - getting real host performances and telling a story in a unique way - thats whats important to me.

May 15, 2014 at 6:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jon Casey

Not sure if Vincent's tip on *not* moving the camera when shooting intimate dialogue holds true in practice. I think the contrary is more common in both film and television these days: most directors/DoPs seem to favor handheld shooting over locked off shots when covering intimate dialogue. They do this to involve the viewer, to make them feel as if they are part of the conversation, casually observing it over the shoulders.

Other than that, great tips in this article.

May 19, 2014 at 5:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I don't listen to anything this guy says anymore. He's just like Philip Bloom. Their advice is good when you're starting out, then you can move beyond their skills. I went to a Philip Bloom workshop/seminar and I've hear Vincent speak at NAB and other places, they're just glorified videographers.

May 26, 2014 at 2:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jim

I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it
for you? Plz respond as I'm looking to construct my own blog
and would like to know where u got this from. cheers

June 3, 2014 at 3:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hello, this weekend is pleasant designed for me, since
this time i am reading this enormous educational article here at my residence.

July 21, 2014 at 10:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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