04 April 2012

Hold the Camera Still

There is a growing trend in television and movie making.  Excessive camera movements.  This new way of framing a shot has made many shows and films physically unwatchable for me.  Known in some circles as "documentary style", the frame is never still.  It is constantly zooming in and out, panning left and right, tilting up and down, trucking left and right, dollying in and out, and constantly adjusting focus.

Sometimes, this is the result of the camera operator not holding the camera still, or the effect is achieved in the editing stage.  It could be a combination of both crappy techniques of movie making. Seriously, why would you want to shoot or manipulate your footage in a way that is distracting to the view and story you are telling? I find myself looking at the background and seeing how it relates to the frame.  Kinda like watching the horizon against a side rail of a cruise ship during rough waters. 

One of the more annoying moves is the 'swooping' of the camera to follow the action or dialogue.  Imagine a camera strapped to a tennis empire as he follows the ball, that is what it is like.  The Office is a prime example of this technique.  While I am sure that it is a great show, the camera movements are horrendous.  It feels like I am reading a book while riding a bike...on an unpaved road...downhill...in the dark...under water.

My theory is this dates back to The Blair Witch Project.  Though I have not seen it, I have been told the the 'filming' is done by the characters using handheld video cameras.  Oh, there is a term for that now..."found footage".  That was just the beginning.  What really gave this style 'legitimacy' was amateur videos, more specifically YouTube.  The introduction and strength of YouTube, has made the amateur videographer virtual stars overnight while their video go viral.

Slight tangent.  If it was truly 'found footage', there would be no cuts, repositioning, or over the shoulder shots when people are talking.  Go ahead, watch Paranormal Activity.   About a third into the movie, the couple talk to this expert about the activity...essentially an interview, like a talk show.  You will notice a few cuts and repositioning of the camera.  This should not happen in a found footage film, especially one that was suppose to be shot with one camera. 

There is also seems to be a need to zoom in really close when there is action.  You will notice this in fight scenes from recent movies.  What they are trying to do is bring the viewer into the action, part of the fight and struggle.  This works really well in Terminator 2:  Judgement Day.  James Cameron is a genius and knows how to shoot and frame a shot.  Where is does not work is pretty much every fight scene in the past ten years.  You cannot see what is happening, strapping a camera to one of the stuntman's chest is not a good way to film a fight scene.  I want to see the two actors, not what could easily be stuntmen, fight...I want to see faces and know that those two actors are kicking each other's ass.

Heck, why not have shaky subtitles?  Oh, yeah...because it will distract from reading the dialogue.  Therefore, distract from telling the story.

Yes, I have played some first person shooter video games, and I enjoy them.  But, I am controlling the camera.  When I want to walk around the corner and look up and left, I do it.  Ever try watching someone else play a first person shooter?  Pretty hard to watch, eh?  Again, great game...but hard to watch someone else play it. 

Take side scrolling games.  Sometimes more fun to watch someone else play than to play it yourself.  Heck, you can even join in and play two players...because the frame is still and everyone in the room can enjoy the game...like a good movie.  In a first person shooter, the only way to have multi players is to split the screen...unwatchable.

A good director and/or editor can control the viewer's eye with the staging of the talent in the shot, framing of the shot, and cutting of the scenes.  There are times when shaky cam works.  Most of the time, it is just an annoying effect that does not add to the story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. There are some amazing documentaries on National Geographic and animal planet which are just unwatchable after 5 minutes 20 different camera angles in as many seconds including out of focus shots brought into focus.
To add to this why when they are interviewing someone do they fill the screen with the persons face so you can see each nasal hair.
Why is the music so loud. Why are the shots so close that you cant see the wood for the trees. The effects, direction, editing and contrived elements are just so bad that they ruin what could otherwise be some excellent programmes.

Why is nobody listening !!!