How to Write Great Cinematography in 2018
The best cinematography starts on the page and creates a beautiful image in the Director of Photography's mind.
There are so many lists out there talking about the best cinematography in 2018, but most of them only recognize the director of photography of each film, and forget that the only way the images get onto the screen is if they're written on the page first.
So today I wanted to celebrate the collaboration between writers, directors, and cinematographers. And to present some of the screenplay pages that inspired the best shorts of the year.
Let's roll camera!
The Best Cinematography in 2018 And Their Screenplays
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Josh Singer
Director of Photography: Linus Sandgren
When I saw First Man, I was blown away by the scope of the story and the breadth of what it took to get to the Moon.
What keeps First Man so grounded are the human elements portrayed in the husband and wife relationship. In the end, the trip to the moon was also about a tenuous marriage, where hope and loss collided over and over again.
These screenplay pages show how the words on the page were interpreted, from a massive scale to small human moments.
There's an annotated version of the script that juxtaposes shots with pages in the screenplay. It's stunning and available on Amazon.
(Note: all photos in this post come from First Man: The Annotated Screenplay by Josh Singer and James R. Hansen, copyright ©2018 Universal Studios. All rights reserved. Unit photography by Daniel McFadden. NASA images courtesy of NASA.)
“A STAR IS BORN”
Director: Bradley Cooper
Writers: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters
Director of Photography: Matthew Libatique
I have seen a few of the iterations of this movie before, but nothing like this. The words on the page in this movie are sparse. Instead, Roth, Cooper, and Fetters continually create a vibe. We understand the way these things look because we get the mood of the scene. It's romantic tension and awe of talent from both sides.
In the first act of the movie, the screenplay dictates these characters are getting close in their initial interaction. It's a wonderful way for a D.P. to assert their style while not feeling invasive.
Check out the "one reason" scene on the page, and the screen!
You can read the full screenplay for A Star Is Born here!
Writer/Director: Paul Schrader
Director of Photography: Alexander Dynan
Much like A Star Is Born, this movie is driven by the dialogue between people. In this scene, Jeffers and Toller are arguing over suffering. It's a tense scene, one with almost no scene direction. So most of the work is done to create pressure between the two. We go close for emphasis, but we also frame Jeffers taller, more in control.
There's also the choice to backlight Toller. To make him look more holy.
These are decisions made based on the theme of the movie. While they're not inherently on the page, there's elbow room for interpretation.
Check out the "Always in the garden" scene on the page and the screen!
Read the full screenplay for First Reformed here.
Writer/Director: Ari Aster
Director of Photography: Pawel Pogorzelski
Let's dig into a movie with a lot more action than talking. Sure, Hereditary is built on several speeches, but the majority of twists and turns inside this story comes from sound design, direction, and shooting people creeping around.
Still, there's some tension at the dinner table. Look how everyone is lit, positioned, and highlighted to make the words on the page pop.
Okay, but what about a scene with more action?
How about when Annie is possessed...
Look how the action is described here. We get staccato descriptions of where our eyes go. You can follow the DP's thought process moving forward.
We can sense the tension in the read and the finished product.
You can read/download your own copy of the Hereditary script here.
Summing Up How to Write Great Cinematography in 2018
So there you have it - all film is a collaboration between creators - and it's important to remember that the finished product is an amalgamation of many different imaginations.
If you're looking to join a Free Screenwriting Seminar, we've got you covered!
Check out some of the other best screenplays of 2018.
What are some of your favorite scripts and shots of 2018?
Let us know in the comments!