The Camera is an Eye

Inspiring and intriguing post about directing and cinematography by David Allison at Creative Cow:

One bright day in the spring of my career, I had the good fortune to learn the most important lesson any cinematographer (videographer, cameraman, shooter) can learn. As with any nugget of bona fide genius, it took a long time for the lesson to sink in, take root, and grow into true understanding. This is ironic; since the correlating tendency of such ‘nuggets’ is that they are exceedingly simple.

I was in a Director’s Class with the approachable and jocular, Michael Pressman, when he suddenly threw his arms wide and asked, “If you had one shot to capture this class, what would it be? Where would you place the camera?”

Got that? — You are assigned to record the scene of a teacher speaking to a classroom full of students and you are given ONE SHOT to tell that story. What would your answer be? As for me and my classmates, we could only toss out a few, uninspired offerings: “up high near the door?” / “outside, through the window?” / “straight down from the ceiling?” (The question marks reflect the abject uncertainty with which these suggestions were delivered.)

Before I proceed to “the answer” — I’ll share a couple of notes: in the hushed muttering that followed, Pressman confided to us that it was the Master Director, himself — Orson Welles — who had taught him this way of sizing up a shot. He also anticipated the objection of all us would-be-geniuses who were capable of fresher, bolder and more cutting-edge ideas than any approach the old, washed-up, Paul Masson-tippling salesman could provide: “Of course there is more than one ‘RIGHT ANSWER’ to the question I’ve posed, but before you go off declaring yourself smarter than the greatest director of the 20th century, you might want to know just what HIS answer would be, and WHY.” This was enough to silence the residual chirping.

“Okay,” I bit, “so what’s ‘the answer’?” Following a final, dramatic pause, Pressman simply lifted his hand behind his head and said, “Up and behind me, with all of you filling out the scene in the background.” As a coda to these words, Pressman made a ‘V’ with his arms — a ‘V’ that projected out from the “point” of his position in front of the room. Hmm…

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