Sometimes the most important thing the greats do is get the little things right.
The level of detail that goes into filmmaking is wild. We often judge a filmmaker on their sweeping wide shots, oners, and other creative camera angles. But maybe we should really be analyzing them by what they do with the little things, like insert shots.
Usually, inserts are used to provide a closer look at some detail in a scene. However, when the insert shot becomes an instrumental part of a film's individual language, some interesting things can happen.
We've extensively covered David Fincher's use of insert shots, but in the video below, we watch how Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins utilize insert shots to convey tension, mood, and an uneasy feeling in their films. The video specifically looks at one scene from Prisoners, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman.
Check out this video from Patrick Tomasso, and let's talk after.
Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins Do Insert Shots Different
In the video above, Patrick Tomasso makes the case that the Villeneuve and Deakins shot from Prisoners, when they hover in on a tree, during the final moments before the child is kidnapped, is one of the best of their filmography. It's an insert shot, but it strikes the mood perfectly. The patriarch of the family, this study tree, is about to break. This will be the last time we see him in a solid place.
This tree shot had been planned the whole time.
Villeneuve told Indiewire, who nominated the tree shot as the best of that year, “They’re kind of like ghost characters.”
He also referenced the recurring motif of trees in the film, saying, “They’re always there, at least in the background. Each scene you can feel their presence. And they are linked with this idea of necessary violence.”
He went on to explain how the producers felt about them working in this tree shot.
Villeneuve said, “The producers came to me and said, ‘Denis, you have been shooting a tree for the last half an hour, there are five Hollywood stars in their trailer, we are a 200-person crew and you are having fun shooting a fucking tree.'"
In the end, he still got his shot. and Deakins helped him find the intuition for it.
Villeneuve said, “This shot was designed not to be understood, but to be felt. It has a subconscious feeling that can vibrate in your soul. [It functions] like a dread, an omen. It’s like when you suddenly have a bad feeling but you don’t understand what it means, it’s linked with intuition.”
It's this level of thinking about insert shots that shows these guys work on another level. It's a deep intuition for how the audience will react, and the ability to layer more objects and storylines into the proceeding to subconsciously affect what's going on in your head.
Do you have a favorite insert shot from the duo? Let me know in the comments.