Coverage: "Woody Allen" single shot master

K

kaos1000

Guest
Mr. Mullen,

When ever I watch Woody's coverage, I marvel at the lack of editing and minmal lighting that he uses to get his one shot scenes. It is as if the editor could have cut Annie Hall in one evening.

As a viewer, I fall in love with the seemless quality to it, as a filmmaker, I shudder at the rehearsal time it must take to do that.

Do most directors do "Woody" style coverage for a master and then bring the camera in for close-ups? Or is what Woody doing unique as an approach?


Thank you very much for your time,

kaos
 
Well, I think you already know that most movies shoot more coverage and cut the scene up more than Woody Allen does.

I prefer the precision of the shooting when Allen was working with Gordon Willis. And I like the stylistic flourishes in "Stardust Memories" even though it stole heavily from Fellini's "8 1/2". His more recent movies have been SO simply covered to almost be reductive. But on the other hand, most modern movies are overcovered and overcut, so it's refreshing to see the opposite approach in Allen's movies.
 
K

kaos1000

Guest
"Well, I think you already know that most movies shoot more coverage and cut the scene up more than Woody Allen does. "

Yes, I do. I guess I didn't state my question clearly enough.


Do most directors shoot a master in the "Woody style" (i.e. master shots that cover the whole scene with roughly 1 to 4 "keyframes" that the camera stops on) and then cover it more extensively so we never see the full continuous master in the cut? Or do they just shoot one wide (non-moving) master and then move in for close ups?


Thank you for your time,

kaos
 
In TV, directors are more required to shoot the scene in one master -- whether it moves or not depends on the action of the scene and if movement is desired. There's no rule about this; sometimes you have no choice but to move just to follow the action.

In features, it varies more wildy. Shooting the whole scene in one master, moving or not, is common, but sometimes you'll only carry the master partway if you know a cut point is coming and have no need for a wide shot after that. Or the scene will be broken up into partial masters or submasters, before you go in for tighter coverage.

A "master" just means it carries all the action of a scene; it doesn't have to be wide -- you can have a tighter master that moves to follow the action.

Some people just jump right into coverage where only bits of the scene are shot in each set-up. But then there's the danger of getting gaps in your coverage if you run out of time or that shot is lost somehow (damaged at the lab, let's say.) A master gives you a fallback to cut to.

But the main use of a master is to know what to MATCH the coverage to. It's like a big rehearsal where the actor locks into their action. Hopefully by the second take of the master, they've decided when they are going to pick up that fork or sip that cup of water or stand up and walk on which line, etc. so that when you go in tighter, piecemeal, you know what stage business you are matching to.

If you aren't going to shoot a master, then you really need to lock down those issues in a rehearsal so the script supervisor knows what to match coverage to. Otherwise, the master is the guide for matching.

Plus lighting a master helps you figure out how you will light the tighter shots. If you ONLY shot tighter coverage, what can happen is that you place a lamp in a position off-camera -- because it looks nice -- that can't be there if suddenly the director wants to widen out in the next angle. So then you have to key the actor from a different angle and create a continuity problem, which is why you almost always shoot wider to tighter, not the reverse. Because you can't hide things as much in a wide shot, so you will make decisions on where the key lights will come from with that in mind. In closer shots, you can THEN cheat and bring in the lights closer and softer than in the wide shot, but the light is still coming from the same direction and you're matching color and contrast.

But if you worked backwards and first lit a beautiful close-up with a big soft light coming from one side, what happens if the director next wants a wider shot and there's a wall visible where you had placed your soft light, and the only off-camera space for such a light is on the opposite side of the actor? So you get screwed working backwards, although sometimes you can't avoid it. And then you have to imagine how you'd light the wide master first.
 

Dan Selakovich

New member
Re: Coverage: "Woody Allen" single shot master

kaos1000 said:
It is as if the editor could have cut Annie Hall in one evening.

Not so fast! Apparently "Annie Hall" was made in the editing room. Read about W.A.'s first editor in his book "When the Shooting Stops, The Cutting Begins". You can learn a lot about the way Woody Allen works.

Dan
 
K

kaos1000

Guest
Thanks................I just ordered that book :D


I also have the DVD set you speak of...............VERY detailed.....still just scratching the surface of it.
 
K

kaos1000

Guest
Re: Coverage: "Woody Allen" single shot master

Dan Selakovich said:
Not so fast! Apparently "Annie Hall" was made in the editing room. Read about W.A.'s first editor in his book "When the Shooting Stops, The Cutting Begins". You can learn a lot about the way Woody Allen works.


Wow........I just read the chapter on Annie Hall.........Thanks for the tip!!!

Totally changed the way I view that movie.
 

Dan Selakovich

New member
Sorry it took so long to answer, but Just got back last night from giving a couple of seminars in New York at the NAB post plus convention. In fact, one of the lectures was on camera composition and movement.

I have pretty strict opinions on when the camera should be moved. There's a school of thought floating around out there that it's good to move a camera for "eye-candy" purposes. I think this is probably MTV's effect on movies. I'm more of the old school "don't move the camera unless you have a damn good reason to". I think one thing that might help is that in my lectures I teach the students to make up an "Emotional Shot List". This breaks a scene down into emotional beats, then you can see what your best shot would be to convey that emotion, which in turn moves the story along. If you move the camera all the time, then important camera moves are completely lost. Another hazard about moving the camera, is that you are limited in the editing room. You're trapped into that move. Where as if you get some coverage, you can build a scene into something that may not have occurred to you at the time of writing the script or shooting the scene.

An excellent caper movie to watch by a master is "Ronin" directed by John Frankenheimer.

If you're going to NAB in vegas in April, sign up for my class!

Dan
www.DVcameraRigs.com
 
I agree about camera movement -- it needs to be emotionally motivated, or logically motivated, and you have to consider its impact on how the scene will be edited. Movement also tends to weaken composition and lighting, depending on the situation (obviously if you're doing a Steadicam move outside in overcast weather, the lighting is not that different than in a static scene -- although of course, you can more easily add artificial light to the static version...)

My only argument is against the notion that movies are made in the editing room. While of course this is true and editing is a powerful aspect of cinema, one of my beefs with modern movies is that they are directed indifferently, shot with lots of coverage sometimes with multiple cameras, and the scene is created in the editing room. Which is great, creatively, if you're an editor, but the directing and cinematography can seem weak, as if anyone could have done that. Of course, directors also direct the actors, which is great importance, but sometimes you feel these days that a computer could have figured out the coverage of the scene. Plus when covering a scene in so many angles, it is natural for editors to use the tighter shots. And truth is that you can only be so compositionally creative when shooting a close-up compared to a medium or wide shot, because the lack of other elements in the frame in a close-up to balance with. I miss some of the dynamic deep-focus expressionist angles like in 1940's Film Noir. These days you might even shoot shots like that, but 90% of the scene will be cut using the close-ups.

So there is something to be said for limiting your options in the editing room by committing strongly to a particular approach to a scene, having a strong sense of where to put the camera, when to move the camera, and when to cut to a new angle. I remember taking some classes from director Alexander Mackendrick (Ladykillers, The Man in the White Suit, Sweet Smell of Success) and one of our exercises was to direct and shoot a dramatic dialogue scene in only two angles with only one cut point. This made us think carefully about when to cut and why, which meant we had to figure out the dramatic structure of the scene, plus we had to make most of the scene work in one shot with only one close-up allowed.

A useful skill that comes in handy when you are shooting a low-budget feature and run out of time to thoroughly cover a scene...

I shot a feature in 35mm anamorphic (2.35 CinemaScope) and the final cut is almost entirely in close-ups, with maybe a half-dozen wide shots left in, partly because some scenes we didn't have enough time to shoot close-ups on. The editor actually berated the director for not shooting more close-ups! My response was like "what, so the movie could be 100% cut using only close-ups rather than 90%?" I mean, what was the friggin point of shooting in 35mm scope if all the wide and mediums shots were going to be discarded?

Unfortunately these days, one of the aspects of cutting and recutting a movie on an NLE system is that each version tends to get tighter in screen size than the previous version. Every story or pacing problem is solved with another cut to a tighter angle or an insert.
 

Dan Selakovich

New member
David Mullen ASC said:
My only argument is against the notion that movies are made in the editing room. While of course this is true and editing is a powerful aspect of cinema, one of my beefs with modern movies is that they are directed indifferently, shot with lots of coverage sometimes with multiple cameras, and the scene is created in the editing room. Which is great, creatively, if you're an editor, but the directing and cinematography can seem weak, as if anyone could have done that. Of course, directors also direct the actors, which is great importance, but sometimes you feel these days that a computer could have figured out the coverage of the scene.

As an editor, and one that had a career re-editing (and in some cases directing additional scenes) movies that didn't work, I have to take issue with some cliches about editors. Believe me, we DON'T like coverage that is not thought out and covers everything but the kitchen sink. It makes our job harder, not more enjoyable. Especially when post schedules can be shorter than the actual shoot! (Funny, I don't remember the writers having less time when the word processor was introduced). The director you worked with on the set that shoots 40:1 is just as unclear about what he wants when he steps into the editing room. And because of computer editing, he/she is ALWAYS there (that wasn't so true when I edited on a couple of moviola's). Editors have turned from creative professionals into machine operators, hand holders, and sometimes editors. And the hazard is since the inexperienced director can sit there and "try" things, he loses all objectivity to his own picture. That's the true death knell. It’s a rare dream to have strong footage from a director that really knows what he wants and goes after it. I think most editors, at least ones that have been around a while or take their craft seriously, don’t even need to talk to the director when strong coverage comes through the door. It’s almost a completely intuitive process between the director and editor. A real thing of beauty. Unfortunately that’s rare. I think most directors, especially ones that come from commercials or MTV, never learned how to read a scene for coverage. Often at my composition seminar I hear some form of this: “I went to 4 years of film school and we didn’t learn any of this!” I’d say “Really, where did you go to film school?” The reply: “USC” or “UCLA” or “NYU” or any top film school in the world. I’m amazed by that.

The reason editors would tend to use tighter shots has nothing to do with the amount of coverage, (I’ve really thought that over, but can’t begin to figure how you came to that conclusion, Dave) but came out of the Avid world. When editing on computer first reared its ugly head, the digitized image was a nightmare. A lot of editors and directors tended to use more close ups because the actor's eyes--the emotion of a character-- was simply impossible to see in these lousy digitized wider images, and subconsciously went for the close-up. Once put back to film, one ends up with a claustrophobic mess. Now that directors have gotten used to computer editing and the image quality is much better, they still don't understand objectivity. If you make a bad cut, and look at it 5 times, it will magically smooth itself out. So when a director views a scene over and over, tries things without thinking them through, he gets so used to the footage, that he sees things in it that the audience will never see. And let me repeat: WITHOUT THINKING THE SCENE THROUGH. In the film editing world, we really thought a scene through before ever touching that shot hanging in the trim bin. Editors that grew up in NLE almost never do that. They just start slapping shots down on the time line. An editor needs to think more like a writer facing a blank page before he ever touches a shot! My real pet peeve are actions scenes nowadays that are shot close and edited so fast that the audience can't see what's going on. (In the Bourne Supremacy, we know that Jason Bourne will win the fight with the bad guy, but we want to see HOW he will win. This close up, shaky camera work and fast cutting fad seems to never going to end.) This isn't just in the fault of directors, but also in the younger editors that never worked in film. If you're in the low budget world, you will never get to see the movie on the big screen until the negative is cut. And pacing is severely effected by screen size (we’ve all had the experience of seeing a movie in the theatre, not caring for it much, then seeing it on video or TV later and thinking: it’s not so bad after all. Screen size, my friend). My personal system used to be: watch that days dailies on a flat bed, see them on the big screen that evening with the director and crew, and view them one more time before editing on the moviola. This gave me a real sense of the pacing. I feel for those editors that never get to see the footage 40 feet wide before they start cutting. It takes at least a couple features under your belt before you understand the pacing and the way an audience sees a large screen image before you can really understand and incorporate that into your editing. Unfortunately, trying to explain that to an young director can often fall on deaf ears because, after all, he’s looking right at the cut on the NLE system and you can’t convince him that his eyes are lying to him. We’ve all been trapped in an elevator with a guy with way too much cologne on. He didn’t start out that way. The first day he opened the bottle, he puts just a little on. After a few days, he can’t smell it any more so he puts a little more on, and so it goes. At the end of the month, everyone around him is choking, while he thinks he smells like day one. Why? Because our nose gets used to smells to the point that we can’t smell them any more. Now apply that to objectivity in editing. Our eyes get used to things in minutes, not days. The director that goes from the set to the editing room is doing his film a great disservice. Find an editor that you trust, and stay the hell out of the editing room for as long as you can. At least a couple of weeks. A month is even better. And let the editor really work with a first cut. (The word “assembly” makes an editor’s skin crawl. Directors need to let their film go for the first cut. If it sucks, you can always re-edit.)

It’s funny you mention Sandy’s editing exercise. It’s that exercise and his short film he directed for an editing exercise for the students that made me want to become an editor. Did you know that all of his hand-outs have been put into book form by Paul Cronin? I highly recommend all students of film pick up a copy of “On Filmmaking” by Alexander Mackendrick.

Yes, Dave, there are Editors who don’t “get it” (my friend Kerry Conran’s movie “Sky Captain and the world of Tomorrow” I think was ruined by cutting that was so tight that all emotion and heart of the film was cut out, and this was an ACE editor!) as there are DP’s who light not for the story, but for their reel or arm twist the director into shots that look pretty but don’t move the story. And I think there are films found, saved, or yes, even “made” in the editing room. But in the end 99% of the time, these films stink. I know, I made a career out of being an uncredited editor/director. Why did I quit? Because a film in trouble will always be in trouble, and you can only take terrible and make it slightly less terrible.

I could go on, but maybe I’ll just write another book instead.

Dan
 
I didn't mean to generalize about all editors, because in fact the last two editors on my last two features are quite excellent about thinking about shot size and not reaching for the close-ups as a first recourse, so I am quite happy with their work (so far... the second one is still being cut.)

But the two features before these last two features are two-hour parades of close-ups in the 2.35 aspect ratio, one more motivated for that look than the other.

I was only peeved because on one of them, after spending all my time teaching a first-time director how to think about coverage, his editor spent his time telling the director to shoot more coverage, which caused the director to call me up later in post screaming "why didn't we shoot more close-ups!" and me explaining there was this thing called A SCHEDULE... you know, the one where you've got ten scenes on the call sheet for that day and even if you covered each scene in only three set-ups, that's 30 set-ups, a full day's work. But ultimately I feel that the under-covered scenes are the only thing that saved the movie from being cut entirely in close-ups!

My belief is that you dilute the power of a close-up by overusing them, which is why modern movies have to cut to an extreme wide shot sometimes to shock a viewer and create a reaction, because the close-ups have no visual impact when they are the standard language used for each scene.

Anyway, great movies have been made by directors who cover a scene with a lot of angles (William Wyler, Stanley Kubrick, George Stevens, etc.) and those that hardly cover a scene at all (John Ford, Woody Allen, etc.) Whatever works. I certainly encourage first-time directors to give themselves some options in the editing room (partially because they aren't skilled at pacing a scene on the set and need to be able to work on the tempo in post) but I also feel that a first-time director learns his craft better if he actually makes strong coverage decisions EVEN IF THEY ARE WRONG rather than always cover themselves. Same goes for cinematography -- you grow more as an artist if you make bold choices even if you screw up rather than play it safe all the time. But of course, filmmaking is so expensive that it's hard to afford mistakes, which is almost a shame.
 
Well, it's partly a matter of TIME. You should shoot the scene in the manner you wish to, so if you really want a 360 degree dolly move, let's say, because you feel it enhances the scene, then go for it. That's why they call it "direction".

But if you have time, then shoot enough coverage to give you the ability to combine takes (lets's say the acting is better in the first half in Take 2 but better in the second half in Take 3), shorten the scene (your movie is running too long, for example), pick up the pacing, etc.

Coverage shouldn't be mechanical, that you do it because everyone tells you to do it. You should understand (1) how you plan on editing the scene and (2) what alternative approaches you may want in the editing room. That will tell you what coverage you may want, when to overlap action, etc. A reverse angle, for example, may be a good cutting point, or a POV, an insert, a reaction shot... you may even want to dolly on those closer shots so that the motion matches what you are doing in the master. Or maybe it's not necessary or will only make it a harder cut. You have to think musically and imagine the flow of the scene.

You always have the option of not using the coverage, so if you have the time, shooting some coverage is generally a good idea.
 

Dan Selakovich

New member
I understand Dave. I was once told by a suit to "put in more close-ups". It's such an idiotic thing to say as the drama of a scene has nothing to do with more or less close-ups. I can't believe the same thing came out of an editors mouth. I'm reminded of the days I took Avid classes and I was the only professional editor in the room. The rest thought if they learned the machine that they would be "editors". Maybe this guy was one of them.

Token, it's not about more coverage or less coverage. In your short, you didn't play it safe, and that's admirable. Most students would have gone for master, 2 shot, over the shoulder, close-up. But what you need to think about are the needs of the scene. By using a device outside the script, Dante's inferno, you left the audience in the dark about what you were trying to accomplish.

Let's take the bar scene for example where you start with a long tracking shot of the waitress. I assume you wanted to show us the lay of the land, but the scene didn't really call for us to know the geography of the bar. Now if someone in the booth pulled out a gun and started blasting later in the scene, we would need to know where everyone is, but that wasn't the case. I don't exactly remember what the 2 men at the bar were talking about, but let's assume they are planning their caper. That's something that is pretty private, right? So you might want to start with a tight two shot, or a tilt up from the bar tender putting drinks on the bar to a tight 2 shot. That way we know they are at a bar, the tight 2 shot gives us some privacy. Then use a wider shot later in the scene to let the audience in on where we are. Now what about the girl? She ends up being very important in your story, but her introduction is her walking into a 3 shot. I would have added a little mystery and shown her entering the bar, maybe track with her a bit. This is just basic stuff off the top of my head, but you get the idea. Also, when you move the camera think about moving into things like an over-the-shoulder, then finish out your reverses from that point in the dialogue. Watch "Citizen Kane" over and over with the remote in your hand. The dolly shots end on specific words of dialogue. It's pretty ingenius. The dolly wouldn't have been as effective if they had ended on a different line. Take a look, you'll see. It's that kind of care that needs to go into your coverage. Now maybe once you are on set, things will change. Let's say you have a bad performance from an actor. Then you WILL need to do a lot of coverage so the editor can cut a good performace out of him. I think when you are learning shooting a little more than you think you need to is a good idea until you get your own style and confidence about a scene.

When you move the camera such as you did, you really need to think more like an editor in the pacing of the move and not just the staging. I would take a scene, like the bar, and shoot it again (just in a room. no need to go back to the real bar) without moving the camera at all, then edit the thing yourself. Give the footage to a friend and let him/her edit it too. Then you can learn 2 things: pacing in editing and how your shot selection influences another editor and how someone with complete objectivity will edit your scene.

Walter Murch, one of the finest editors that ever lived, breaks down his decision on whether to cut or not to the following. In order of importance:

1. Emotion
The cut is true to the emotion of the moment.

2. Story
The cut advances the story

3. Rhythm
Is the pace rhythmically interesting?

4. Eye-trace
Where and how the audience perceives what’s in the frame.

5. Two-dimensional plane of screen
How does the photography capture a 3 dimensional world on a 2 dimensional screen.

6. Three-dimensional space of action.
Where characters are in the scene in relation to one another.

I think these are exactly the SAME THINGS a director needs to think about when breaking down a script for his shots. The goal is to get all six at once. But maybe you can only get the Emotion and Story. Maybe you can only get one, so you start with the emotion of the scene. If you can't get that, move to story...and so on. Make sense?

Really study films you like by the Masters.

I think the best director to look at for the following:

For Staging Actors: Alexander Mackendrick "The Man In the White Suite", "The Lady Killers" and "Sweet Smell of Success".

For using a wide lens (and generally cramming the frame with info): John Frankenheimer "Ronin", "The Manchurian Candidate" (the original!) "The Birdman of Alcatraz"

For the use of 50mm lens and camera movement that really matters: Alfred Hitchcock "North by Northwest", "Vertigo", "Rear Window", "Psycho"

For amazing perfect composition: Orson Welles "Touch of Evil", "Citizen Cane"

For longer lenses: Steven Soderbergh "Ocean's 11", "The Limey", "Out of Sight"


Scroll down to "Books I like".

Dan
 
If you want to study great telephoto lens composition, check out 1960's era Kurosawa films, in particular, "Red Beard" -- but also his other b&w anamorphic films of that period like "Yojimbo", "Sanjuro", "High & Low"...

Unlike most use of telephoto lenses, his work is fairly deep-focus thanks to often lighting interiors to an insanely high light-level, like f/16 to f/22. So you get a flattened but deep effect, like Japanese panel art, unlike the wide-angle deep focus look of Welles.
 
D

DAS19

Guest
Dan Selakovich said:
If you're going to NAB in vegas in April, sign up for my class!

Dan


You didnt by any chance go to the NAB in NYC. I was there I took the Long Form Editing class.
 

Dan Selakovich

New member
Yep, I was there in NYC where I taught 2 seminars: One on building your own rigs like dollies, cranes, steadicams, etc., and one on Camera Composition and Movement. I had a great time, but unfortunately, I came back with the flu! I blame American Airlines!

I hope you got a lot out of the editing class. To me, it's the most amazing part of the filmmaking process.

Dan
 

wburke

New member
lovin this tread!!!
i reckon the deal with editing is that great art of being able to squeeze out new ideas with the footage, and for that you need to be harsh to the material. tear up the script n start over.

However i think ya gotta get magic on the day. Woody gets magic and i think he knows it when he gets it. Good DPs have the ability to think out a scene, and go for what they feel is right. They make bold desisions and then they stick to them. When it comes to low budget film making the simple pen n paper cuts it everytime.
 

Dan Selakovich

New member
"gotta get magic on the day"...

Hmmm, maybe. Maybe not. I made a pretty good living re-cutting movies after a director and editor had a go at it. People think that there are some pretty drastic changes that go on in a process like this, and sometimes there are, but it's the tiny changes--moving an actor's look earlier, over-lapping a bit of dialogue, cutting an odd line here or there--that makes HUGE differences. Was the magic there originally and the director just missed it? Maybe. Which brings in a whole new topic: It's important that student directors learn to work with the footage they've got, and not the footage they THINK they have. You may have started out wanting to make one movie, but often you end up with something else altogether--sometimes something much better!

Dan
 

Lazlo

New member
I'd be interested to hear any of your opinions on the following.I read that peter jackson shot over 200 hours of footage for king kong, finally nailing it down to that 3 hour flick. What do you think of that?
 
Top