The brief this time is much more open than previous ones. We have a maximum of 90 seconds for the film which has to fit into one of five themes: walk, swim, fly, edge or mirror. One of the struggles of coupling a very small amount of time with a very open brief, is that the freedom you are given causes you to imagine more complex stories, but it’s difficult to establish these stories properly within the time limit. Sometimes you may wish to introduce a character, give them a background story as well as a current story, maybe even reach a conclusion, but in 90 seconds it’s hard to achieve that. Setting time limits so small tests you as a filmmaker because you have to find different, more condensed ways to tell a story. It’s amazing how much information and/or emotion you can get across to the audience just by your music choice, camera angles, mis en scen etc.
For example, in the scene in Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter is introduced, the scene is set up so well that you could learn everything you needed to know about this character just from this one, singular shot:
The first thing to notice is the eyes. It’s a well known saying that “eyes are a window to the soul”. The eyes show far more emotion than the rest of the body, you can tell how a person is really feeling by looking at them and we can connect with people by making eye contact. But here, Hannibal’s eyes are completely in shadow, as if it’s suggesting that this dark space in his eye sockets is the place where his soul should be, but isn’t, because he lacks one-meaning this character lacks emotion, empathy, remorse and so on. So immediately you feel disconnected from him, and this makes you feel uncomfortable because you can’t read this character, you can’t empathise or understand the way he works, and this is telling you he is dangerous.
You are aslo turned away from this character by the colouring in this scene. Everything in that frame is some shade of blue grey or white. The colours are very cold and uninviting, it’s as if the colour has been drained from the room. We naturally associate bright, warm colours with emotion and happiness, so you feel that the lack of life in this scene caused by the colouring is reflecting the personality of Hannibal.
One final thing to notice are the two metal bars on the window that are in the foreground of the shot. In his room you can see intricate drawings on the wall, more drawings on the table, and books on a shelf. These all suggest that his character does have a creative and able mind (with no windows these drawings must have been done from memory), and he is more than just a power-hungry character throwing his weight around, like a lot of evil characters in movies tend to be. However, you can see that the bars on the window cut him off on both sides from his drawings, his books, even his bed, isolating him in the middle. Everything around him is creative and linked with emotion and feelings, so by putting a barrier between them and him, the shot is suggesting that even though he partakes in these past-times, he is emotionally void and is separated from everything. This makes him all the more sinister, because when someone with such a brilliant mind can’t connect with emotion, you fear what they could be capable of.
Another example of how visuals can tell a story before it’s even been told is a short film called War School, by Ben Newman.
This film takes real events that are happening in other countries and projects them onto a setting that we, the British public, are familiar with and can relate to. A school is seen by most as a mundane, safe environment, and so the graphic images shown in this school setting provide a contrast that shocks the audience greatly. We are used to living a life that doesn’t acknowledge events like this, even though they are happening right now, in other countries, every day. They are separated from us and information is filtered through by the media, making it easy for us to believe that what’s happening in other countries isn’t that bad and is not worth get involved with. But this video has striking visuals that are so upfront they don’t allow you to ignore it.
For example, the red jumpers of the school children are a bold symbol, that stands out against the rest of the school setting (which remains a bland teal colour throughout). Even before you really know what’s going on in this short film you get a sense of foreboding from the red, because it represents blood and violence, and the harshness of the colour in contrast with the background sets you on edge a little, making you aware that this film is about to deal with a serious topic. The fact that it’s the children wearing the red suggests to you that they are are the victims for this bloody violence that the jumpers symbolise, because they are wrapped up in the red, covered in and surrounded by it. As it’s a uniform it’s mandatory that they wear it, meaning that they did not have a choice of this violent lifestyle, they were forced into it.
These examples show that visual storytelling is a very effective way of quickly conveying a lot of information to the audience. However, it’s not the only way. Our group for this project has been very drawn to ‘Amelie’ during research, which is a french film that has a different yet easily likeable method of introduction. This film can cleverly show you characters in a matter of seconds, whilst still getting across enough information so that you can recognise each character as an individual and connect with them. The method it uses is narration, and it uses the narration to give you little snippets of information about each person. For example, when Amelie’s parents are introduced, the narrator focuses on them for no more than 50 seconds each, but in those few seconds, you are invited into their heads and can empathise with their quirks. The facts you learn about them are all insignificant and everyday, yet they are all things that we as the viewers can relate to. People like to be able to relate to characters, because this connection makes them feel more involved in the film, so if you can make them relate to the characters straight away, they are going to immediately become more interested in your film.
One other thing that I think it would be nice for our group to take from Amelie are the dynamic camera movements. Often, dynamic shots aren’t used to their full effect, they’re just there to show a character walking or to establish a setting, but when used right they can show a lot of emotion. Like in this scene from Taxi Driver, where the camera pans away from the guy on the phone and towards an empty corridor. Instead of panning towards the character like usual, it is taking the shot away from him and replacing him with emptiness, and you feel sad for the character, because you feel that the empty corridor reflects how he’s feeling during the phone call. There are a lot of instances in Amelie where the director has chosen a single fluid camera motion, rather than just multiple static shots cut together. This clip where the narrator introduces Amelie herself contains a lot of dynamic shots. One in particular, the overhead panning shots of her skimming stones, is very effective.
Because a pan is used instead of a static, you are able to appreciate the full scale of the canal and the power of the water. The camera movement is large and epic, and seems mismatched with the fairly quiet hobby of stone-skimming. But it works, because the movement makes the scene feel important and empowering, which must reflect how Amelie feels when she is standing on the edge of the waterfall skimming stones.