Film Form Analysis Series Intro: Part 1

Edgar Wright - How to Do Visual Comedy

Film form analysis and criticism is one of my favorite pastimes. Breaking down director's and DP's visual choices and how the enhances the script and story is a great exercise. There is no better way to get into the heads and minds of directors and DPs. Analyzing their choices and coming up first with the "why" and not necessarily the "how" and applying the same formal constructs to my own film making has been extremely helpful for me. Among other things, it gives me a visual language and vocabulary that I use to communicate in my own work and with other filmmakers. After I've answered the question "why" the filmmaker has made this choice, I then move onto whether or not I thought this was a good or appropriate choice to make, which really all comes down to my own personal tastes and preferences (this is what shapes my visual style, voice, and own choices). I usually log away my answers to these formal questions somewhere deep in my brain, but now through the power of blogging I hope to start to write down some of my ideas and share them with the world. I am by no means a master of film form analysis. If there was a film school class that was only film form analysis I would have taken it 9 times. Another great thing about this is that it is cheap. All you need is a DVD or streaming service, a brain, and the movie's script.

Films are inherently constructed of visuals. Sound design is incredibly important, but is also a "cheap thrill." Just watch a few horror movies and see if they are scary with the sound off. Some will be, some won't depending on the quality of the visuals. If you find a scene that really gripped you or blew your mind, try watching it with the sound off. It will help you focus in on the visual constructs and why they work.

Performances are secondary in formal analysis: Great performances make or break a film. They are incredibly important. They often work in tandem with great visuals. Try to break apart the visuals and then determine if they enhanced or brought down the performances. Roger Deakins is a master of this.

Reference Materials
The Visual Story by Bruce Block
This was probably my favorite book on Cinematography that I ever read in Film School. If you read just one book, read this one and absorb it.
Cinematic Storytelling
This book is not "very deep" and is more of a coffee table book than anything else, but it has a lot of great examples of script to screen visual translations. If anything, just watch the great examples from the book and and come up with your own conclusions
Every Frame a Painting
For the visual type (who reads books anyways) Tony Zhou's great Vimeo series "Every Frame a Painting" give you NPR quality voice recording and awesome analysis of film form. You may have seen his work frequently posted on NoFilmSchool (a great website by the way). Every video thus far has been enlightening and he has great insights and great taste to boot.

I will use examples and knowledge from these books and others to deep dive through some of my favorite films and try to crack the visual code of these films.

P.S.: Sorry for the intro post, I realize this doesn't really contain any content, but when I start to break down films hopefully we can learn some things together!

Milo Bloom Music Video BTS Notes

Last week I had the pleasure of working on a music video for Milo Bloom with Keith Fenter. ( We are putting together the pieces of a music video in our spare time, so the music video is still a work in progress. The first night of shooting consisted of me running around backwards with an a7s and a glidecam on the streets of Los Angeles late at night. This a a low budget, no-permit shoot, but I find that as long as you stick to the sidewalks and don't stray onto private property you will generally go unharnessed. This is especially true with a small camera/crew footprint (our team consisted of just three). Most of downtown Los Angeles generally shuts down after 6:00PM, which makes this even easier, as there is less security around. The a7s is an absolute beast in low light and I shot almost all of the footage in SLOG-2 at 3200 ISO, which is it's base. Having such a light sensitive camera was great because I could shoot at 60fps AND stop down an entire stop. This sharpened up the old Nikon lenses I was using, and increased my depth of field, which is extremely helpful on a full frame camera such as the a7s. As you can see from this frame grab, shooting in available light has it's drawbacks. The 2nd street tunnel had an very nasty green spike, and even after correcting for it in camera there the skin tones look fugly. Alas, what I wouldn't do for a few million dollars to shut down the tunnel and change out the practicals. This is still a workable shot, just not very flattering when your skin turns into a de-saturated green.

All in all it was a lot of fun to put the a7s to the test and get out and shoot!

to be continued....