Explore the Cinematic Techniques Steven Spielberg Used in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'
Director Steven Soderbergh recently removed the color from Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark to explore the film's staging, and here to provide us with more educational treasures is editor Vashi from Vashi Visuals, who shared a number of his own videos that break down some of the techniques used by Spielberg.
In this video, Vashi explores how Spielberg uses only 12 shots to effectively and interestingly introduce the audience to the film's hero, Indiana Jones -- without the use of dialog. We've all heard the unofficial golden rule of filmmaking "Show, don't tell" -- try not to use dialog and exposition to tell your story if you can use cinematography and visuals -- or at least as much as you can (not hating on dialog here). That way, your audience is given the chance to partake in the thrilling experience of storytelling -- putting two and two together, solving the puzzle -- instead of just being given all of the answers.
Even though Spielberg isn't particularly known for his long takes, he certainly executes them as well as those who are. Long takes allow your viewer to marinate in the moment instead of being given new information every 4.6 seconds (average shot length), which can both inspire some powerful emotional reactions from your audience, and allow you, the filmmaker, to tell your story in new, interesting ways. Vashi says:
This long take in Raiders of the Lost Ark asks an important question. What drives Indiana Jones? Glory? Power? Integrity? Righteousness? Honor? What makes Indy who he is and is he really different from Belloq? This quiet dialog exchange carries as much power and revelation as the largest explosion.
One thing to keep in mind, though, if you're going to try to tackle a long take is that just because there are no edits cutting to new characters, places, or objects doesn't mean that those things aren't introduced to keep the scene interesting. Paying attention to framing, staging, and camera movement is of the utmost importance when trying to pull off a long take. Each time the camera moves or someone enters the frame is essentially the equivalent of a cut to a new shot, because it is a new shot -- kind of -- just choreographed and captured in real-time. Vashi shares this excellent floorplan animatic video that reveals each camera movement in the longest shot in Raiders, which really helps to understand this concept.
For more resources that really dig into Raiders of the Lost Ark, be sure to head on over to Vashi's blog post, in which he has shared a plethora of videos, interviews, PDFs, and more that break down this iconic adventure flick.