Exploring the Grammar

of Filmmaking

Naramata, BC, 2020

In preparation for the start of filming next week, today we explored the grammar of filmmaking. We looked at some of the choices we have as filmmakers as we decide how we want to share information with our audience. The session was a series of mini-lessons. We first looked at video examples of establishing shots, wide shots, medium shots and close ups and then some of the choices of perspective, from low angle, high angle and eye level shots as well as more extreme and interesting choices such as overhead and underneath shots. Then students went outside for ten minutes, everyone with their own iPad, and proceeded to film examples of each of those kinds of choices.
Returning to the classroom, we looked at examples of composition choices,  such as placing the subject in the centre of the frame versus having the subject off center. This led into a discussion of the rule of thirds as we looked at examples of composition in classical painting and photographs. We also looked at how we can choose different backgrounds simply by adjusting where we stand as we select our shots, and how those backgrounds can add more information for the viewer.
Back outside, students worked alone and sometimes in small groups experimenting and showing each other what they were filming and how they were composing their shots.
Finally, we explored what happens when we move the frame. We examined the act of moving the camera left and right (panning), up and down (tilts) and slowly moving towards or away from their subject. And then we looked at combining some of these movements as well. We discovered that filmmakers can reveal or withhold information based on these choices and that these techniques can help create mystery and drama within the shot.
The students were quite excited about this, coming up with all kinds of innovative ideas and again working together to get instant feedback on their ideas.
Every language has its own grammar and filmmaking is no different. Todays’ exercise was meant to introduce this grammar to our students and to enable them the time to experiment and see how their choices appear on screen. It was about exploring with them the visual language vocabulary that is part of filmmaking and of which they will be using as they begin their video projects next week.
I loved how students would run up to me, showing me a fantastic shot they had just captured or how they  discovered they could slow things down and see things in a different way.
One student showed me a puddle that she shot in slow motion. You could see the reflection of her arm reaching out from the bottom of the frame and then the release of a rock from her hand and its’ falling movement towards the water, and then the actual rock enters the top of frame, and then the ripples that it creates, and then the subsequent transformation of the reflection of her arm melting into the ripples of the water. We watched it together a couple of times, she told me she was amazed at the things she could see once it was slowed down, telling me you can’t see those things normally.
Nikos Theodosakis

Author Nikos Theodosakis

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