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A Grammar of Film

A Grammar of Film

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The students had multipleopportunities to divest themselvesofthe passive consumption ofentertainment glitz and glamour,and to recognize the underlyingmessages about society, culture, anddominant ideologies within the
film text
of
Inherit the
Wind.
We had
read the book; we had seen the film;and we had deconstructed both.Ultimately, it was time for meto relinquish my authority asteacher and to invite my studentsto become experts. I designed anassessment called "Film Trailersas Assessment" and posted theproject description on our classblog: <http://societyissuesidentity.blogspot.com/2OO9/o4/filn1-trailer-as-composition.html>.Over a series of five days, withsignificant co-teaching fromour school librarian, M.J. Waite,students created and shared theirfilm trailers. Some are postedon the class blog at <http://society issuesidentity.blogspot.com/20 O 9/04/film-trailers-for-inherit-wind-student.html>. I'veincluded others in a professionaldevelopment blog I created: <www.mediasuper market.blogspot.com>.The results ofthe students'efforts were impressive. Forexample. Laurel combined keenobservation of metaphors into herfilm trailer: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiNNw4pL9rs>. Bradstudied the genre of film trailersand mastered it: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpNhlCuf6ws>.Within the classroom Nelly Mayreconciled her personal viewsof religion in
a
way that furthergrounded her beliefs: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo4.bsAfckEU>.Maude called upon the dramaand quick camera angles offilms she had seen to create herown film: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXv4Np6YDc8>.
A GRAMMAR OF FILM
CAMERA TECHNIQUES
Shot
IS a single runcamero. This is the basic unit fromwhich a film is constructed. The length(or durotion) of a shot depends upon:purpose: to help the viewer torecognize setting or place, toshow action, to show reactionpace (or tempo) of thesequence in which it occurs
Sequence
equence
is a group of
shots that depict one action, or tseem to belong with or dependupon each other. Sequences canrange from a few to many shots.(for short scenes) a group of shots thatdepict an event in the storyoccur in one placeA scene is generally a largerunit than a sequence.
TYPES OF SHOTS
Long Shot
IS
a
distonceshot in which a setting, and not acharacter, is the emphasis. This isgenerally used to establisti the placein which action will occur, hencethe term "establishing shot." A longshot is often used at the beginningof a scene or sequence, and may becombined with a panning movementof the camera to show a wider area.
Midshotisamiddl
•distance shotthat focuses our attention on a particularsubject. With a midshot, the camera isclose enough to pick up detoil thoughqh away to be able to followas the subject moves. The midshot iscommonly used to show qction, such as afight scene, q wqlk down q dork qlley, ora glimpse ot
a
villain coming into view.
v_-IOSe-Up
is a close shot of on objector person. A close-up focuses the viewer'sottention on particular details. Close-ups ofobjects may serve as the introductions tonew scenes, may offer a new fact, or mayshift locotion in the story. Close-ups of aperson hove q number of different functions:The close-up can imply thot the person onwham we are focusing is q moin chqrqcterThe first close-up of a character (in asequence of shots)
1
we know who is watchinq qn evenA close-up is most commonly used toshow the reaction of a character.
CAMERA MOVEMENTS
IS q movement trom qstqtionory position to side-to-side.IS a movement up or downfrom a stationary position.occurs when the cameramoves to follow q moving object or person.The comerá is mounted on a moving device,such as a rail piqtform, a dolly, or o vehicle.
1
8 Knowledge Quest Film in Education
 
outwoids away from a subject. Thespeed of a camera movement (whichcan range fram very fast to very slow)can dramatically aller its effect.
MOVING FROM ONESHOT TO ANOTHER
C^-Ut is the ending of
a
shot. If thecut is a jerky movement that seemsa little inconsistent with the nextshot, it is called
a
jump cut.
Fade In or Out
offers
an
image
that appears or disappears gradually. Itbrightens to full-strength over a full second,or darkens to fade out. The fade is oftenused
OS
a division between scenes.
Dissolve
oc<
:urs when one miagefades in while another fades out so that fora few seconds the two are superimposei
In point
is an image that starts
the scene. Sometimes this inpoint isused to smooth the transition betweenscenes and make a visual link (arelated object or shape) with the
outpoint
of the previous she
CAMERA ANGLES
filming a shot, a decision is made
)out the
ongle
at which the
I directed at
a
subiect;this influences the viewer's impression
A character filmed from a
lOWOngle
will seem strong, powerful,
toll,
proud,
etc.; in contrast, if
a
high Ongle
is used the subject will appear weak,insignificant, vulnerable, or small. Theviewer's impression of a structure or objectcan be manipulated in a similar way.
A
distorted ongle
may be used
to make a scene more frightening, or tomoke the viewer feel anxious or seasick.
A
crone ongle,
where
the camera moves up and away,is often used to end films.Ld
itl ng
is the process of assemblingand splicing together the various shots thatcomprise a
film.
Underlying the editingprocess is a technique that can be called
pOiring,
in which a story is built up by
alternating one set of shots with another.To depict a conversation orconfrontation between two charactersthe shots alternate from one tothe other; angles may be used tosuggest inferiority or superiority.Shots of a character alternate with shotsof what the character sees. The first shotof the character is the point of view.In cross-cutting,
a
sequence of shotsalternates between two different locations(for exomple, the townspeople yellingin dismay while the defense attorneyapproaches town on the train). Thesequence builds to
a
climax and endswith the two things coming together.
Editing Speed (ortempo) of
a
particular sequence can involve fast
editing,
also known as fast cutting, inwhich the shots are one to two seconds
long.
Fast editing generates excitementand anticipation as, for example, in
an
emotional courtroom scene. In slow
editing,
shots ore three to ten seconds
long.
These lingering shots hove theopposite effect of the fast edit, and calmand relax the viewer. An example of theslow edit is when the star-crossed loverspause and reveal: feelings.
CAMERA TERMS
Sort rOCUS
is a slightly blurred sho
to moke the subject seem more attractiveromantic, nostalgic, or dieamlike.When a
hondheld comero
is chosen, the tripod and dolly aredeliberately abandoned. The directorwants to create a sense of anxiety or
confusion,
recreating the chaos of realhuman life. A typical held shot follows
behind,
and the shot implies danger.iting togetherof 0 large number of shots with nointention to create a continuous reality.A montage is often used to compresstime because numerous events orechronicled in fast succession. Soundor narration con enhance montages'cohesion to setting and characterization.Volume 38, No. 4 | March/April 2010 19
 
A GRAMMAR
OF
FILM
continued
SOUND TECHNIQUES
Sound effects
are
added after filming. Theyneed
to
be
added because
the
original
set
did
not
allow clear and audible recognitionof necessary audio elements. Sounds thatare added later
are
numerous: lighthousesirens,
car
tires
s
Torses hooveson
a
cobblestone street,
a
child crying
ir
the background,
or
a
cell phone ringing
Dialogue
iso
between characters.conversation
Commentary
or narration,
also called
voice-over,
layers
additional commentary and insight intocharacterization
and
conflicts. Often,a voice-over
is
the
inner voice
of
the
protagonist
as
she
or
he
debates overlife choices.
The
narrator
is
invisible
in
this case. Viewers react differently
to
commentary depending
on
several factors.Pace,
or
the
speed
of
delivery,
can
implya circumstance,
t-or
example, faster tallDialect creates
a
direct effect
on
the
way
that audiences react.
Non
viewers might otherwise readily accepta character. Dialectical nuances openup
to
audiences
new
interpretationsof people
and
their experiences.
Background noise
makes
a scene seem more realistically close
to
viewers' authentic experiences. Whenwe hear horns blaring, birds singing,children crying,
or
trains clattering,
we
associate these sounds with
our
own lives,thus allowing us
to bel
Laugh tracks
are
added
to reinforce comedie action.
Music
is
used most often
to
add
emotion
to
scenes. Usually
the
audienceinstinctively understands
the
feelingsthe filmmaker wants
to
evoke with
a
certain style
of
music. Some
of
the
most common uses
of
music
are:
LIGHTING TECHNIQUES
Because films
are
no
more thanrecorded light, directors give specialattention
to
lighting techniques.
or high
key
lighting, the scene
is
ooded with bright illumination, giving
it a
heerful feel
and
a
happy atmosphere.
ow key.
llumination
is
low
and soaked with shado
ws,
creatingan ominous
or
melancholy mood.
Spotlights
cast intense
beams
on the
subject.A strong light from behind, called
backlighting,
separates the
subject from
the
background.
It
can
also create
a
silhouette effect when
the
subject
is
not
illuminated from
the
front.
Sidelight
odds solidity and
depth,
accentuating features
and
sometimes hiding facial marks."otagonist
is in
jeopardy.Tone
of
dialogue reveals
the
emotionof the characters. Characters mightbe rude,
shy,
aggressive, threatening.passive, eager, quizzical,
or
sarcastic.Clarity (enunciation)
can
create
a
particular effect. Words thatare inaudible suggest confusionworas that
ar
ilicit
in
sound
can
suggest power and authority.building suspense: scaisuqqestinq romance:
ec
establishing
the
location
or
setting:many types
of
music
are
associatedwith certain parts
of
the worldadding humor: music can
add
a
comicelement
to
a
production
if
the musicis funny
or
doesn't
fit
the
action• setting
a
pace: music
can set the
pace
fo
action,
such
a
'toon
or
rock video
THE ESSENCE
OF
ACTING
The actor's primary goal
is to
perform
determined actions
that inspire
an audience
to
willfully suspend disbelief.
We
want
to
identify with
the
actors
as
real human;with conscious desires like
our
own. Emotions,the human equivalent
of
animals' instincts,arise from
the
ego,
or
our
subconsciousdesires
to
become fulfilled.
An
actor locatesmotives
for
the
character's actions
as
a
means
to
achieve
the
connection with
the
ego.
Desires, action,
and
performance
ore
intermingled
as one
in
the
actor's world.20 Knowledge Quest
|
Film
in
Education

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