Multi-Point Reframing in MUNICH
Legendary music video director Joseph Kahn once said: "Pretty much any style of filmmaking that is strictly cutty with one beat a shot unimpresses me. It's cinema on one cylinder."
What did he mean by that?
Kahn is referring to the tendency to let editing drive your entire work. Editing is important, but only one of the tools you have at your disposal as a filmmaker. If you're only driving the story forward with cuts, you're missing one of the most important elements of narrative blocking:
This term refers to multiple frame movements within the same shot. Each time the camera moves, it's essentially moving to create a new frame –– hence, "reframing." How do you do this? Most times, it's motivated by blocking the actors in a dynamic way. After you structure your scene around a series of separate shots, try to figure out how to connect them with the camera instead of with editing.
Steven Spielberg is the master of reframing. He's continually pushed the boundaries of camera movement throughout his entire career, but he really hit a high point in the 2000s. In my opinion, MUNICH is the best example of reframing in any narrative film:
Relying solely on cuts to drive a scene forward can result in a disjointed feeling between performances and a compromised sense of geography. Most of the time, you don't want these things –– unless spatial disorientation is your intent. If you cut between two actors in a scene, it's quite possible you could have shot them in different months and on different continents, then spliced them together in post. Unifying them in the same shot creates a visual cohesion that adds to your composition. Someone like Robert Zemeckis will try to design his scenes around an evolving master shot –– a long wide shot without cuts that covers the entire action with multiple reframes –– then decide which moments really deserve a cut to a close-up.
So why doesn't everyone do this?
It's not an easy skill, and it comes more naturally to some directors than others. Someone like Ridley Scott is much more content to spray a scene with anywhere between four and ten cameras, and then figure out the rhythm in post. That's not wrong, but it's definitely less impressive scenecraft in my opinion (Ridley gets away with it because his individual frames are so gorgeous).
I've found that in my own work, reframing is much harder to accomplish in a commercial than in a longer narrative. Commercials rely so much on time compression that cutting often becomes the best way to drive ideas forward –– especially in action sports. Furthermore, most clients equate more cuts with more excitement. I've designed fairly elaborate single-take shots only to see them broken up in the edit to fit a 30-second time block. (Most people in the action sports world generally balk at longer shot lengths. If you look at my motorcycle commercials –– especially HEARTBEAT –– you'll notice that the whole thing is literally a bunch of millisecond cuts.)
No matter what, my general rule of thumb is to move the camera more, cut less.