This 'Breaking Bad' Scene Shows How Powerful a Simple Pan & Dolly Move Can Be
These days, a low-budget, indie filmmaker can fly their camera in through a window, glide it around the floor and send it for a bath, all without prohibitive expense. But, as we all know, camera moves are most effective when they work in concert with the story -- and sometimes, the simplest moves are the best for the scene. An example of this comes courtesy of Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals from the series finale of everyone's favorite crystal meth soap opera, Breaking Bad: a deceptively simple camera move that brought new dimension and depth to a pivotal scene.
Once upon a time, a shopping cart was the best indie dolly out there, but in 2014, a low-budget filmmaker has more image-making power at their disposal than Orson Welles did when he made Citizen Kane, which according to some people is a pretty good movie. That film saw Welles and DP Gregg Toland manage incredible depth of field, as well as a few very tricky shots for 1941, but today a filmmaker has the choice of, as Vashi says, getting a ridiculously smooth tracking shot via gimble stabilizers, not to mention what a quadcopter can do for you. But, he asks, will these bells and whistles detract from the job of the filmmaker, which is to tell a story in the most effective way possible?
Just because we can do things, doesn't mean we should (this is probably going to be the title of my autobiography/written on my tombstone -- but I digress). The always edifying film editor and educational Vimeo videomaker, Vashi, dissected this scene from the ultimate episode of Breaking Bad:
In the final episode of Breaking Bad -- there are two shots in a pivotal scene that are perfect examples of how to use camera movement to amplify the narrative and surprise the audience. With one simple pan and one simple dolly…there is a set-up and shortly after, a dramatic pay-off. The scene at first appears to be just conveying information to the viewer. Then, with one pan and one dolly move -- the scene is flipped on its head and is seen in a whole new light. This could only happen through writing, direction, set design and camera movement working in unison. A Steadicam or crane shot through a window could never have achieved the emotional impact of a simple pan and dolly.
Warning: If you haven't seen the entire show, it's probably best to not watch the clip.
See for yourself what Vashi's talking about:
At the end of the day, technology is great and has allowed us to develop a richer, more sophisticated cinematic language, but keep in mind that every camera movement you use is speaking to your audience. Also, the rest of the post has a great anecdote from Vashi about superfluous use of image technology in furtherance of cinematic malfeasance. So, be sure to check out Vashi's original post for more info!
As a filmmaker, how do you approach camera movement in your films? Do you lean more toward simplicity, or incorporating new tech? There's a time and a place for everything, obviously, but what time, and what place? And can I bring friends? Let us know, in the comments!