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5 Cinematic Techniques that Define Modern Filmmaking

From the Long Take to Impossible Camera Movements

By Katie BurnsidePublished 7 years ago 4 min read
Credit: Fox Searchlight

Technology is changing all the time, at a rate that is hard to keep up with. This is something that is proven with constantly changing filmmaking trends. Each decade has its own filmmaking practices, making it really interesting to compare films from different time periods. Some techniques have been around for many years but have become definite trends of the 2010s.

With cinema continuing to modernise and amaze us, let's go through some of the techniques that have become popular with contemporary movies.

1. The Long Take

A typical film scene will have a few different shots lasting around three to five seconds in length. The shots cut back and forth, but you hardly ever see one lasting 20 seconds or more. This technique, called the long take, is a shot that is continuous and longer in length.

"As a concept, the long take is simple: it’s merely an uninterrupted shot that lasts longer than a typical take would before cutting to another shot. It could be long in relation to the other shots in the film or (for films composed primarily long takes, like those of Bela Tarr) it could mean that the shots last longer than the those in the average film." — Screen Prism

Birdman is a popular example of this technique. The whole film was made to look like it was done in one take, despite being digitally merged.

In this clip, you can see that that camera doesn't cut to a different angle, it simply follows the character. This film was not done in one take but it was made to look like it using special effects. Many films use special effects to pull off a long take, including: Spectre, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and MissionImpossible: Rogue Nation.

If you want to watch a film that actually pulled off a long take in real time (meaning no special effects) then watch Victoria. It is a film with an uninterrupted, 138 minute take.

This technique is commonly used during action sequences. The camera can often be shakier than usual, making you feel like you're there. Long takes can change the pace of a film and build anticipation.

2. Impossible Camera Movements

Several films use a technique where the camera impossibly tracks through windows and walls. This can be seen in Harry Potter and Don't Hang Up and can be performed either with CGI or a steady cam.

This clip from Panic Room shows the camera floating through banisters, keyholes and coffee pot handles. It all looks impossible, doesn't it? It's a really cool technique to watch, especially when you're wanting to show what's going on behind an object or wall.

3. Camera Interaction

Camera interaction is when the camera exists within the scene. An example of this would be blood splatting onto the lens or rain drops obscuring the audience's view, such as the blood splatter in Saving Private Ryan. However, we don't see this technique often because it can be considered amateurish when misused.

One of the most popular camera interactions is when the camera violently shakes during an intense scene, made famous by Star Trek: The Original Series. The camera isn't just a spectator in these cases, it is inside the frame, playing an active part. This technique can make you feel like you're there in the scene. Many films like The Bourne Trilogy and Captain America: Civil War use this during fight scenes.

This technique isn't just about getting your lens dirty. In the clip above, you can see the camera flipping upside down because it's following the action. It really throws the audience off and gives us a look into the intensity of the fight. This is all made possible because the camera interacts with what is happening on screen.

4. External Footage

Credit: Fox

External footage is, quite simply, when there is footage used that comes from a camera existing within the story. A camera such as CCTV records a shot and is shown to the audience. This can be seen a lot in space films or teen flicks where they will record things on a webcam. You will usually see the recording details on screen too.

The video above from the film The Martian were filmed using a GoPro, acting as a "captain's log" throughout the film. You can also see this technique in the film Super 8, as the kids in this film are often recording with their own camera.

5. Text On Screen

Instead of showing the device that characters are using to communicate, text can appear on-screen. In the movie Disconnect, this happens when Jason Bateman's character is speaking to another person through his computer screen. This is a great technique because you receive the message at the same time as the character, and you feel more involved. You get to see their reactions as well as reading what the message says without them having to cut to a new, lingering shot.

This often happens in the hit Netflix series House of Cards and BBC's Sherlock.

Filmmaking has changed dramatically throughout the decades, and if you watch a film now they often include shots that would have seemed misplaced years ago. Back in the day, techniques such as having shaky camera movements would be frowned upon. Now, they're used to enhance what's happening on screen.

Films are unique in large part thanks to the cinematographer. Just look at the clip above from Kill Bill, which utilises so many different techniques mixed into one scene, making it exciting and different. Nobody wants to watch the same angles and shots in films over and over again. Having a variety of techniques in films can help the narrative move forward and change the pace of the film.


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    Katie BurnsideWritten by Katie Burnside

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