Famed director David Lean once said that one should be able to cut any frame out of a roll of film and be able to frame it and hang it on the wall. There is great power in the still image. Seeing as most filmmakers will at one point use stills in their work (especially documentarians), it'd be a good idea to get a solid understanding of what a single frame can do. A video by Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals proves to be helpful by not only identifying several films that harness the power of still images (even carrying the weight of a full film), but by also offering a few tips on using them from an editor's perspective .
There are virtually endless ways to use and approach still images in your films, and Vashi mentions a few in his post. Probably the one that comes to mind first is how documentarians use them to help tell their stories when recorded interviews and moving images aren't available. However, narrative filmmakers can also use them to create a desired emotional response by juxtaposing them, creating a montage of images that tell a story in the same way moving images do.
Probably the most recognizable narrative film that uses stills is the short film that inspired 12 Monkeys, 1962 French science fiction film La Jetée. Filmmaker Chris Marker uses still images almost exclusively in the film, and is truly an excellent case study on the power of an image, as well as the importance of editing.
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/42460300
When I was trying to come up with a contemporary equivalent to La Jetée, I honestly couldn't think of one (if you know one, let us know in the comments), but the first thing that did come to mind was Tim and Eric's animated series Tom Goes to the Mayor, which is a good reminder that stills are not only great storytellers, but can be versatile (and hilarious), a sentiment Vashi echoes in his post.
Vashi shares a few examples: George Lucas' 1965 student film Look at Life, Alan Pakula's 1974 film starring Warren Beatty The Parallax View, and indie pop group MS MR's music video for their single "Hurricane". Check out how each use stills in montages in Vashi's video below:
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/82748631
Great film theorists/filmmakers, like Sergei Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov, explained in detail the importance of editing, laying the foundation for the montage theory. And if one might consider a still photographic image the simplified cinematic shot, then the role editing plays in constructing an effective sequence is just as important. For those who are interested in using stills in your next project, Vashi explains what to consider when using them in your work:
Just like editing moving images -- the pace, choice of shot, and resonant emotional effect of still images are all critical to achieve success. It can often take much longer to build a sequence this way as more imagery is needed and every image must be perfect for that one moment on screen. On top of that -- one ill-placed visual can break the flow created and destroy the fragile house of cards being built.
What do you guys think? What are some important things to consider when using stills in your work? What other examples of still image movies can you think of?
[via Cinephilia and Beyond]