Crowds scenes in movies can be some of the most difficult to direct. You want to show masses of people, but how can you tailor the emotions and story to a thousand people or more? Enter Steven Spielberg, the master of audience manipulation and empathy on screen. 

It's hard to imagine that we've had almost fifty years of Steven Spielberg movies, and in those fifty years, he's given us all the secrets to controlling crowds along with the audience's emotions. 

Check out Cinema Cartography's video on Spielberg's handling of the crowds in his film. 

So how does Spielberg shoot crowds? 

Shot Size

First, he shoots a master and breaks it apart. This master allows him to show the scope and scale of what we're looking at. Sure, we all know he can use a crowd and a pop of color like a red jacket to get the humanity within the images to stand out, but he also knows how to get groups of people to push us toward the emotions in a scene. 

Think about this scene from War of the Worlds, during the onslaught. We have people all over. 

Spielberg works backward from the master and finds the personal story within the landscape. But as the action ramps up, we go back to the master. 

Camera Movement

Another thing Spielberg is so good at is that every sequence's story can be told in camera movement. We understand pace and tone just by the way the camera takes us in and out of the scene. Check out the way Spielberg pulls us into these crowd scenes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Everyone is watching the mothership. We get their back. But we cut into the master again to get singular reactions. 

Emotional Reactions

Why does he do it this way? Because it makes us feel like we're with the people on the screen. Large masses heighten tension. We can feel anxiety, futility, or even belonging. But if one person's reaction gets emphasized, say in a "Spielberg face," then the masses experience it with them. 

We are scared for these aliens but we're also in awe of them. Spielberg uses the master to ease tensions here. And he cuts close to get us al feeling safe. 

So what lessons should we take away from these scenes?  

You can push in with someone, stay behind them in a wide shot, or shift focus to different people. But if you're shooting a crowd and they all focus on one thing, then you can also shift the audience's focus.

That thing can be a shark attack or spaceship landing or spaceship taking off, but it needs to be indicative of the story and the moral at its center. 

That's how you use a crowd to control the audience. 

What's next? Spielberg's inspirational quotes

What quotes get you through the hardest parts of your filmmaking struggles? We all know that creating stories can be a slog. Whether you're trying to write a feature or trying to write a pilot, or directing both, we all come across peaks and valleys in our careers. One person whose words I keep going back to is Steven Spielberg. 

Click the link to learn more. 

Source: Cinema Cinematography