Directing: The Camera Language of Paul Thomas Anderson
We get a lot of questions via email about directing, camera language and why certain choices are made by a Director. We do try our best to answer and explain as in depth as possible, but much of directing is subjective and we cannot always explain why certain choices were made.
Directors are essentially trying to elicit an emotional response from the viewer by not only nurturing and capturing an amazing performance, but also by capturing these performances a certain way. Camera placement, height, lens choice and composition all effect how a viewer will perceive a scene and even the best performance can be muddled by poor choices.
I recently came across 3 videos on Vimeo that I found mesmerizing and would like to share here on the site. All three come from the Vimeo account of Kevin B. Lee and are featured on IndieWire Press Play and / or Sight & Sound.
The third video is fantastic and even if you don’t care about the first two, the third is a must watch.
The Camera Language of Paul Thomas Anderson
Symmetry in framing can often times be used to create a sense of calmness, but I also found that in many of these scenes there is a sense on uneasiness captured. This is caused by the use of symmetry or subtle movements and/or imperfections in the symmetry of a scene. It’s quite beautiful.
The use of a whip pan is one of the two things Paul Thomas Anderson is most famous for in terms of camera language. They create a very dynamic, fast paced feel and he often uses them to hide cuts and transition between scenes and locations. It is one of my favorite things in his films.
In many cases he uses subtle movements by the actors to motivate his own camera movement. It works amazingly and it’s something all aspiring Directors should take note of.
Since it’s invention, Steadicam movement has become a staple of film making and Paul Thomas Anderson’s use of Steadicam rivals that of directors like Martin Scorsese.
Not much more can be said, this amazing video essay breaks down some of the best Steadicam shots in his films.
This video essay features an overhead diagram of the scene that moves as the camera does; very interesting and extremely well thought out and executed. I recommend watching more than once. The narrator breaks down the camera language and walks you through the scene, clearly and concisely explaining the emotional motivation behind the movements. This is something that takes years of experience to learn as a director, so take notes. Enjoy!
I have watched this several times now and I still cannot get enough. Please share it with anyone you think might find it interesting. Truly amazing work!