Alright I know I said I won’t focus on photography and lighting too much, but I’m going to give you some basics right now, before we get into the juicy and awesome realm of storytelling/screenplay writing.
Before I tell you about camera shots and angles, which depends on the camera setup, I will tell you what a camera setup is. A camera setup is what the DOP will create after the shot list, or line script, and story board is done. The DOP will take that information and will usually draw up sketches of how the camera, tripod, dolly, and lights are setup to get a particular shot and angle of the scene. Normally you start with the master shot, run through the whole scene, then setup to get closer to the action getting two shots and closeups. Knowing your setups helps you to know what kind of coverage you need. The beauty of the DSLR world is even when the DSLR is pimped out like the shot of my rig below, it weighs very little, so I don’t need three people to reposition it. I can just pick up the whole thing and move it fast. I love this! It gives you a sense of freedom on the set.
My 60d RIG setup:
You will need to setup your DSLR to turn it into a full fledged HD cinema camera like below. It works very well, and the gear did not cost me my first born. I took a long time to research the best products for the cheapest price. Since the camera only cost me $800.00 dollars I did not want to pay 4 times that much for the accessories, makes sense to me. Students should go to this page to start putting together a rig: Canon 60d accessories
So onto the the basic shots that just about every film on earth uses. One thing I want to say is that although I am showing you the traditional camera shots and angles, in today’s DSLR world, and CG world, shots and angles, particularly dolly, or moving shots, can be almost anything you want them to be, and go anywhere you want them to go. Below is just a guide. On the other hand, don’t over do it with crazy shots and angles though, as this will exhaust your audience if all they do for 90 minutes is feel like they are on a roller coaster ride.
The trick to getting the prefect balance of coverage for your scene is properly combining and morphing the shots and angles I’m going to show you together, to make your story a solidified whole. This is the problem: as soon as the audience is made aware of a camera shot or angle, their ability to suspend disbelief will be shattered, and the illusion that they have become part of the story will be broken, and they will no longer believe in what they are watching.
This means they will lose the emotional connection to the story, which you have work so hard to create. The reason why film is the most powerful tool for creating an alternate reality is because the brain can not differentiate between the real world, and the world on the screen. The brain automatically thinks that what the person is watching on the screen is real. Realty happens in the brain, not outside of it, this allows us to become part of a movie. This is why we get emotional involved, this is why theatrical storytelling will never go way…
This is why many productions use 50mm prime lenses %90 of the time, because 50mm is about the angle of vision that we humans perceive the world around us. Why do you think the CG world has not gone overboard with crazy computer animated camera movements and angles, even though they can do anything they want? Because it is a fine balance between what we the viewer will accept as reality on the screen so as not to suspend our disbelief in the story we are so wrapped up in. My tip: make dynamic shots and angles, but don’t over do it. Now onto the basic camera shots and angles.
The basic Shots:
Extreme wide shot (EWS): This shot might show, for example, a character from a very long distance walking along a ridge under a gigantic sky like a landscape shot, or the entire city in flames, or a looming castle, etc.
Very Wide Shot (VWS): This shot is closer than the an extreme wide shot in order to make out more detail. Great for establishing shots when you want to show the whole scene at once, building exteriors, the character stranded on the ocean, etc.
Wide Shot (WS): in the shot you want to show the entire person or subject. Establish your character or subject.
Medium Shot (MS): around half of the subject is framed. Waist up…
Medium Close Up (MCU): this is the head and shoulder shot. Used for when the character is talking, just make sure when you are directing that the actor becomes a bit animated with hands, otherwise they become a taking still life.
Close Up (CU): the head shot. When you want to show emotion or expression in the characters face use this shot.
Extreme Close UP (ECU): show details of subjects, or extreme expressions in the actors eyes, etc.
The Cutaway: use it when, for example, the character Isis says look at my magic wing, and we cut to the magic wing.
Cutaways are often forgotten when you make your first movie, and you will be sorry. You can use a cutaway for a character reaction shot too, or for shot/reverse shot, which is how you would start a character POV (point of view) sequence.
For shot/reverse shot: first you need the thing, or shot of what the actor is looking at, then you need the shot of the actor doing the looking: the reverse shot; then the shot of the thing the actor is looking at again, usually this will be a hand held shot to simulate the movement of the actor looking, like through his eyes. You have seen this a million times as the bad guy watches the helpless girl through the window, etc.
The Cut In: this is when the actor needs to take a look a smoothing close up: a clue or sorting so you cut in a CU of the inscription or object, you will use shot/reverse shot here too.
Two Shot: two subjects are framed at once, probably your actors talking.
Over The Shoulder Shot (OSS): this shot is over the shoulder normally showing two actors. In this case you can show the shoulder subject hiding something like a weapon behind his back: keeping things hidden only for the audience to see is a great way of creating suspense.