Top Five Camera Motion Tips From Director Vincent Laforet [Interview]

Top Five Camera Motion Tips From Director Vincent Laforet [Interview]

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We had the pleasure of speaking with the Pulitzer Prize winning photo-journalist turned director Vincent Laforet this week. He’s about to embark on a mammoth 32 city tour over the next 10 weeks giving his acclaimed day-long workshops on Directing Motion. Laforet has had a distinguished career behind both the still and motion camera, so we jumped at the chance to ask him to choose his top five tips for anyone wanting to grow their expertise in directing motion.

The three-time winner at the prestigious 2010 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival is also well known for his forward-thinking approach to image-making and storytelling. Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, and Life have all commissioned his work. He’s also currently working on a major soon-to-be-revealed episodic.

Vincent Laforet: Top Five Tips for Directing Motion

ReelSEO: Hi Vincent and thanks for taking time out just before your massive summer workshop tour to share some of your best practice tips with our readers. Let me dive straight in and ask if you had to choose just five tips to directing motion success what would they be?

Laforet: No problem – I’ll give you the first tip:

Tip #1 Think About the Way We Move in Our Environment.

We look left to right mostly! If you think about it most of our motion is rotating the head, we don’t look up and down nearly as much, in the same way you don’t tilt the camera up and down. And then when we mentally zoom in on something to give it our attention we also naturally walk towards it – that’s the camera pushing in. Pushing towards something generally connotes confidence or direction. Whereas pulling away from something generally, but not always, connotes fear. Or a wider view gives a greater sense of place.

Try to think in terms of basic psychology – looking up at someone, you’re in a position of insignificance – looking down on something, you’re automatically in a position of greater power. All of this translates into camera language. Even simple things like moving from left to right feels more natural because of the way we read. Film makers have been using these techniques forever and they’re the very foundation of good camera work. It’s important to understand the natural connotation that audiences attach to something, whether they know it or not.

ReelSEO: So once those principles have been ingrained into the directors psyche…..

Laforet: What’s the next step?

Tip #2 Understand The Purpose of Film-making is to Make People Feel Something.

The idea is to make them react. You need to look at the story – you need to analyze what’s happening. Ask yourself – what is the purpose of this shot, this sequence or scene and how does that relate to the story being told? That will help you determine a style of camera movement and execution. Pacing for example – whether its a hand held or a dolly. You’ll recall that Spielberg used a hand held a lot in Schindler’s List – because you don’t want want Auschwitz to be too pretty – you want it to be rough and uneven. Where as a very slick car commercial just doesn’t feel right if you don’t have a steady smooth motion.

Tip #3 Ask What is Motivating You to Move the Camera?

Ask yourself – is moving the camera going to add to or detract from what you’re shooting. That’s critical, especially these day when you watch commercials and there isn’t a story and you’re seeing a lot of unmotivated motion. Essentially it’s just eye candy. So as a director you attempt to ask ‘should I be moving, and if so how should I be moving and does it help me further this story along?’

Tip #4 Ask How Can You Enrich the Motion?

People focus so much on the camera’s movement, they forget things like – how can you move the actors in a way that enlivens the frame? Not only how do you have your main characters go through the scene – but also how do you incorporate foreground, middle ground and background action?

For example think about counter-motion, people crossing the frame in the opposite direction of the camera. Or causing the camera to start to pivot or pan or change direction. That’s one of the things that will make a scene so much richer.

Tip #5 Ask Should I Even be Moving the Camera?

This is a question of discipline. Notably in very intense dialogue. People are watching the actor’s eyes, people want to make a connection. Or in moments like in Fargo, where the Cohen brothers are shooting down on William H Macy walking to his car in a parking lot. He’s at a crossroads in his life and you can see a literal crossroads in the snow and it’s very faint. But more importantly the camera is still and the stillness adds to his loneliness with a real sense of desolation. He’s distraught. His life is a complete disaster at this point. If you were to make a move there it would almost certainly detract from the feeling.

ReelSEO: That’s great – and I’m going to ask you a really difficult question now and choose your three most influential directors in camera motion – apart from Spielberg and the Cohen brothers, whom you’ve already mentioned?

Laforet: Kubrik needs to be on the list – because he was doing things like using a zoom in The Shining to create a supernatural connection whereas pushes did not. He’s one of the best, if not the best. You have to talk about Alfonso Cuarón when you’re talking about motion. Children of Men and Gravity. And I have to add Martin Scorsese – whenever I watch his films like Goodfellas – I take ten times the number of notes than when I watch other movies.

ReelSEO: And last – where do you see the future of video entertainent in a digital age?

Laforet: Episodic is the way it’s going – I don’t think people care where they watch their entertainment – on TV, tablets or their PC but serial content is key – attention spans are waning and even I struggle now to watch a three hour movie, unless its Lawrence of Arabia with an orchestra playing, now I will do that!

The Directing Motion Tour starts on May 6th and goes to 32 cities over the next 10 weeks, starting in Philadelphia, across to the west coast and closing in New York on July 13.

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