Shooting With a Moving Camera (Part I)

If you are going to make it to the top as a director in today’s film industry you have to learn how to shoot with a moving camera.  All of today’s top directors move the camera as much as time and money allow.   In Avatar. Cameron never stops moving the camera.  On your breakout film, you will not have the budget to keep the camera in constant motion like Cameron.  But you must move it as much as you can afford, because if you don’t, your agent will not be able to use your breakout film to get you work.

When I teach a seminar it takes me about four hours to explain the basics of how to shoot with a moving camera.  But here is a simple tip to jump start the process.

Drama is conflict.  Nothing is more boring than watching two people agree with each other.  So every dialogue scene involves an argument, of some sort.  When people argue, they tend to stand nose to nose.  They get in each other’s face.  So if you want to move the camera, have one them turn their back in anger and walk away.

This is what Avery does in Jerry Maguire, when Jerry and Avery are on the verge of breaking up.  She asks Jerry, “What was our deal when we got together?  Brutal truth.  Remember.”  And walks away from him.   Jerry follows her, stating, “I think you added the brutal.” The camera now has to back up in front of them to keep them both in frame.

The resulting shot – the side-by-side two shot with both actors coming toward the camera is the money shot in any dialogue scene that you want to shoot with a moving camera.  The center of the drama in a dialogue scene is in the eyes of the person who is talking.  This is because human beings are hard-wired to look at that spot on a movie screen.  The beauty of the side-by-side two shot is that it shows the audience both eyes of both actors.   It presents the audience with the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted through the eyes.  So it does the best job possible of telling the story – without cutting.

Telling the story is of paramount impotence.  The extent to which you do that successfully will determine the extent of your success as a director.  But not cutting is also important when you move the camera.  Why?  We will get to that in the next blog.

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