October 16, 2014 at 4:21AM

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How do you show repetition in a movie without actually repeating stuff?

If you need to show that something -- an event, a series of events -- has been happening in the life of a character for a long time in the past and repeatedly, how do you establish that without actually repeating those things in the movie?

Or may be the answer is just to repeat them? I want to keep an open mind. What's your opinion and what has been your experience with writing or filming or editing such material?

16 Comments

When I play a scenario like this in my head, I imagine the first two or three times of this event or series of event being played out in full. Then after that, show the character doing repeating the actions, but cut the clips a little short and shorter every time you choose to repeat it. Then, start to make the scenes go quicker, and a little louder. Almost until it's like, a frame of said thing for only an second or so.

My reasoning behind this, is that once we do things for so long repetitively, we do them quickly, and almost without effort. Muscle memory.

That's just how I envisioned the scenes you described in my head, but I suppose it only works for small short actions. Hope that helped!

October 16, 2014 at 8:50AM, Edited October 16, 8:50AM

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Matt Bastos
Filmmaker/Writer
815

Thanks, Matt. Very useful.

October 16, 2014 at 5:44PM

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Your question brings two of my favorite films to mind.

In Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, Nolan makes a point to have a subtle yet growingly annoying buzzing noise during scenes where the Joker's plan is coming together. I believe this video will capture what I'm talking about, I'm in class without headphones so I can't listen to the video. I'm working with what I've got. ;)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIXNpt51Id0

Another great example is in the Coen brother's "Raising Arizona". Randall 'Tex' Cobb's character is shown throughout the film coming to punish H.I. McDunnough.

Good luck with your film!

October 22, 2014 at 3:43PM, Edited October 22, 3:42PM

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Christopher Brazil
Audio/Video Tech
468

It's difficult to answer in a general sense, but there are very subtle things you can do to show that this isn't the first time, depending on the context.

One example I really love is in Fincher's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, they have like 5 seconds to establish that Daniel Craig's character has quit smoking, and lapses into it. What do they do?

They have him buy a pack of cigarettes AND a lighter, light up one cigarette, then throw the pack away.

It's just a couple of seconds of screen-time, and it elegantly tells us this info about his past in a visual way that's subtle and not in your face.

November 6, 2014 at 5:47PM, Edited November 6, 5:47PM

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Peter Lipay
Director/Producer/Writer
177

Montage - just show it in about 30 seconds and you're done. Filmmaking is a visual medium, so at the risk of grindhouse dialogue, it's best to show than to tell.

November 7, 2014 at 4:33PM

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I would watch the beginning of some of Edgar Wright's movies, especially Shaun of the Dead. He has mimicked at times, something I remember clear from watching the Hot Fuzz commentary, of assembling a gun. Essentially it's loud and distinct sound effects for things that don't need loud and distinct sound effects. What I would do, is I would film like 4 simple things that happens each day in the life of the character that could have distinct and loud sound effects, such as an Alarm Clock, honking a horn in traffic, scanning an item at a supermarket (the character's job), and then turning on the TV at the end of the character's day. At first you'd want to do longer takes of those things and then speed it up until they all blend together and then stop at one of those locations to continue on the next scene. It shows that the character's days get blended together and are relatively boring.

November 8, 2014 at 8:47PM

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Zachary Welker
Student Filmmaker
144

If you decide to actually show the event repeatedly in the film, you might want to have a look at Edge of Tomorrow - it repeated scenes but kept them fresh with variations in performance and camera positions.

November 15, 2014 at 7:01AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3340

When you look at films like Bourne Identity, his flash backs were all of the same thing, but from different angles, a different moment of the same time or revealed a new truth of his past.

Flash-backs don't show the same thing over and over, they reveal something new each time - little details that make the big difference in the end that the audience didn't notice before. New angles to a situation, etc.

November 16, 2014 at 3:10PM, Edited November 16, 3:10PM

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Brandon Neubert
Color Artist / Writer / Director
728

My way to do it would be to avoid repetition at all cost unless the repetition has something to itself (the fact that it's a repetition may let you focus on the little details that change). I think you always have to look for the action that will immediately suggest that something happened repeatedly (if a character had to learn some thing by repeating it, maybe his style of doing it once can already clue you in on how much effort he spent learning it). But this may be more the a point of view of a screenwriter than a director ...

November 16, 2014 at 3:42PM

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Philipp Keller
screenwriter
86

I think that Edge of Tomorrow is something that will definitely show you what you are after. But I definitely agree with other comments above about that that you shouldn't repeat if there isn't noting new to be shown, or to reveal something new. I think that boredom can be shown without repeating even on time. But that's my opinion.

November 16, 2014 at 3:58PM

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Bojan Andrejek
DP / Cinematographer / Producer
236

I'm getting a bit confused by some of the other answers on here. Not sure if you mean how to show a reoccurring habit that a character has without repeating it or the actual repeating of time and space ie. Rashomon, Groundhog Day, Back to the Future, Vantage Point, Snake Eyes, Edge of Tomorrow etc. However, my answer is for the latter.

One of the most basic things you constantly want to keep in mind no matter what kind of story you're telling is perspective (perspective of story, perspective of character, etc). You know the saying "There's always two sides to every story"? The reason why that is is because of perspective. In these movies with elements of repetition, perspective becomes even more important.

In movies like, Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, there's an INTERNAL shift in perspective going on. What does the character learn everytime the loop comes back around and how does that change their perspective. What did Billy Murray/Tom Cruise's character learn and how does their perspective change this next time around?

In movies like Rashomon, Vantage Point, and Snake Eyes, the perspective shift is EXTERNAL. We see the the same exact story unfold repeatedly but the story evolves because each new instance is through the eyes of a different character.

In both cases, the events repeat but the story evolves simply because of the shift of perspective. Two sides to every story.

Keep in mind the PERSPECTIVE at all times and everything will fall into place from there. You'll realize what elements of the story you should show now vs. what you should show later. What you should repeat vs. what you don't need to repeat. You'll realize what angles and shots are more effective because of the perspective at which the story is being told at that moment. Keeping perspective in mind will effect everything from the writing process, to shooting, to even how you edit it.

As another example, here's a link to a short that I wrote and directed last year that actually has this repeating element. It was selected top 12 by NBCUniversal Short Cuts Film Festival in 2013 (along with NFS' own Ryan Koo's short film Amateur) and went on to screen in London, LA, and New York.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsqLQbJegr0

As you could see it could've easily become confusing and there are moments that are repeated, however, it all serves a purpose and everything is based on the perspective.

Hope this helps. Happy filmmaking! =)

November 16, 2014 at 5:34PM

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Conrad Lihilihi
Writer/Director/Editor
74

Cast Bill Murray

November 16, 2014 at 6:10PM

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like the candle scene at tarkovsky's nostalgia, sometimes you need to shoot it all the way in one shot. that feel lasts.

November 16, 2014 at 7:29PM

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selman sarıkaya
architect
74

Only way to keep it fresh at every time,try to show it by different perspective or shot. It will keep the theme new every time you watch it.

November 17, 2014 at 12:09PM

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Akarsh Jaiswal
Director
86

You are talking about a Fore shadow?, if you are talking about that there is one and good example on The wizard of oz (1939). The Fore shadow is the music, it sounds when the bad which appears.
p.d. sorry if my english is bad.

February 10, 2015 at 9:13PM

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One solution is to do it visually. In the breakfast scene in that classic film Citizen Kane, we see how Kane and his wife's marriage is falling apart through a quick montage at the breakfast table. It ends withe the ultimate insult for Kane - the sight of his wife reading his rival's newspaper at the breakfast table. Another sequence worth looking at is in Steven Spielberg's film Munich. The protagonist Avner Kaufman is collecting money left for him various bank lockers. To break the banality of him going through various safe deposits, they are all filmed from various angles. Martin Scorsese deployed a variety of angles, camera movements etc. to reduce the monotony of endless boxing ring scenes in Raging Bull that are also worth looking at in our context.

March 1, 2015 at 11:42AM

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Vijay S. Jodha
Director and Script Writer
86

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