Film Directing Fundamentals: See Your Film Before Shooting [NOOK Book]


Film Directing Fundamentals gives the novice director an organic methodology for realizing on the screen the full dramatic possibility of a screenplay. Unique among directing books, this book provides clear-cut ways for translating a script to the screen. Using the script as a blueprint, the reader is led through specific techniques to analyze and translate its components into a visual story. A sample screenplay is included that explicates the techniques presented in the book. Film Directing Fundamentals assumes ...
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Film Directing Fundamentals: See Your Film Before Shooting

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Film Directing Fundamentals gives the novice director an organic methodology for realizing on the screen the full dramatic possibility of a screenplay. Unique among directing books, this book provides clear-cut ways for translating a script to the screen. Using the script as a blueprint, the reader is led through specific techniques to analyze and translate its components into a visual story. A sample screenplay is included that explicates the techniques presented in the book. Film Directing Fundamentals assumes no prior knowledge and thus introduces basic concepts and terminology.

About the Author:
Nicholas T. Proferes is Professor of Film at the Film Division in Columbia University's School of the Arts

Unique among directing books, Film Directing Fundamentals provides a clear-cut methodology for translating a script to the screen. Using the script as a blueprint, Proferes leads the reader through specific techniques to analyze and translate its components into a visual story. A sample screenplay is included that explicates the techniques. The book assumes no knowledge and thus introduces basic concepts and terminology. Unique, focused approach to film directing that shows how to use the screenplay as a blueprint

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Just bring your talent, add a touch of luck, and the rest you will find in this book." - Milos Forman, film director (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt)

"Nick Proferes doesn't tell you how to direct, which would be as silly as telling you what to direct. Instead, he does something much more valuable: He explains how directors actually think their way though the job." James Schamus, Associate Professor of Film at Columbia University, producer and screenwriter (The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

"An admirable overview of the nuts and bolts of directing,
Film Directing Fundamentals takes a unique approach in discussing the craft...Full of interesting observations, this book could be a welcome addition to the aspiring director's bookshelf." - Videomaker Magazine
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781136069499
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 10/19/2004
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 296
  • File size: 9 MB

Read an Excerpt

Film Directing Fundamentals

See Your Film Before Shooting
By Nicholas T. Proferes

Focal Press

Copyright © 2008 Elsevier, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-08-092754-1

Chapter One



The first dramatic films were rendered as if through a proscenium. The camera was placed in position, and all the action in the scene took place within that camera frame. The audience's view was much the same as a theater audience sitting front row center. The American director D. W. Griffith was one of the first to move the audience onto the stage with works like For Love Of Gold (1908), The Lonely Villa (1909), The Lonedale Operator (1911), and the highly influential, but strongly racist, Birth of a Nation (1915). "Look here!" he said to the audience with his camera—"Now here!" Griffith was not only moving the audience into the scene, he was then turning their seats this way and that—moving them into the face of a character, then in the next instant pulling them to the back of the "theater" to get a larger view of the character in relation to other characters or showing the character in relation to his or her surroundings.

The reason for putting the audience into the scene is that it makes the story more interesting-more dramatic. But by moving the audience into the action and focusing their attention first here, now there, the director can easily confuse and disorient the audience. The geography of a location or the wholeness of a character's body becomes fragmented. Whose hand does that belong to? Where is character A in spatial relationship to character B? Usually the director does not want to cause confusion. Rather, she wants the audience to feel comfortable in this film world—to be spatially (and temporally) oriented—so that the story can take place unimpeded. Usually the director wants the audience to know, "That hand belongs to Bob, and Bob is sitting to the right of Ellen" (even if we haven't seen Ellen for a while). There are times, however, when we will use this possibility for confusion and disorientation to our advantage to create surprise or suspense.


When film became a series of connected shots, a language was born. Every shot became a complete sentence with at least one subject and one verb. (We are talking about an edited shot here, as opposed to a camera setup, which can be cut into a number of edited shots.) Like prose, a film sentence/shot can be simple, with only one subject and one verb, and perhaps an object; or it can be a compound sentence/shot, composed of two or more clauses. The type of sentence/shot we use will first depend on the essence of the moment that we wish to convey to the audience. Secondarily, that sentence/shot will be contained in a design of the scene, which can be an ingredient of an overall style. In Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948), where there are but nine sentences, each one 10 minutes long (the length of a film roll), each sentence contains many subjects and a host of verbs and objects.

Let us look at a simple sentence/shot: a wristwatch lying on a table, reading three o'clock.

Without a context outside of this particular shot, the sentence reads, "A wristwatch lying on a table reads three o'clock." The significance of this film sentence, its specific meaning in the context of a story, will become clear only when it is embedded among other shots (sentences); for example, a character is someplace she is not supposed to be, and as she leaves we cut to the very same shot of the wristwatch on the table reading three o'clock. Now the shot—the sentence—is given a context and takes on a specific significance. Its meaning is clear. The character is leaving behind evidence (that could cause her trouble). The fact that it is three o'clock might very well have no significance at all.

The necessity of context in interpreting a particular shot applies to the camera angle also. No camera angle—extreme low, extreme high, tilted to left or right, etc.—in and of itself contains any inherent dramatic, psychological, or atmospheric content.


Professionals in the film industry don't usually refer to a shot as a sentence. But in learning any foreign language, we have to think in our native language first to clearly formulate what it is we want to say in the new language, and the same principle applies to learning to "talk" in film. It can be extremely helpful before you have developed a visual vocabulary to formulate the content of each shot into a linguistic analogue (the prose and syntax of your native language) to help you find the corresponding visual images. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that film, unlike the words of the screenplay, is rendered on the screen in a series of images that, when combined in a sequence, gives a meaning that goes beyond mere words. The late Stefan Sharff, a former colleague of mine at Columbia, in his book The Elements of Cinema, wrote:

When a proper cinema "syntax" is used, the viewer is engaged in an active process of constantly "matching" chains of shots not merely by association or logical relationship but by an empathy peculiar to cinema. The blend so achieved spells cinema sense—a mixture of emotion and understanding, meditative or subliminal, engaging the viewer's ability to respond to a structured cinema "language." ... A cinematic syntax yields meaning not only through the surface content of shots, but also through their connections and mutual relationships.


Film language has only four basic grammatical rules, three of which are concerned with spatial orientation as a result of moving the audience into the action. The fourth also deals with space but for a different reason. All of these rules must be followed most of the time, but all can be broken for dramatic effect.


The 180-degree rule deals with any framed spatial (right-to-left or left-to-right) relationship between a character and another character or object. It is used to maintain consistent screen direction between the characters, or a character and an object, within the established space.

When a character is opposite another character or object, an imaginary line (axis) exists between that character and the other character or object. The issue is most acute in the sight lines between two characters who are looking at each other (Figure 1-1). As long as A and B are contained in the same shot, there is no problem (Figure 1-2). (The axis exists even if the characters do not look at each other.)

Now let's place a camera between the two characters, facing toward A, who is looking, not at the camera, but at B, who is camera right (Figure 1-3). (Characters almost never look into the camera except in very special situations, such as an object of a point of view (POV) shot, a comic take, or a reflexive moment that recognizes the presence of the camera.)

Let's now turn the camera around toward B who will now be looking camera left (Figure 1-4).

If we were to shoot separate shots of A and B then cut them together so that one would follow the other, what we would see on the screen is the two subjects looking at each other. In other words, their sight lines would be correct, and the audience would understand the spatial relationship between the characters. What happens to the sight lines if we jump the axis during a scene (Figure 1-5)?

Still shooting in separation, we have moved the camera across the axis for shooting A while leaving the camera on the same side of the axis for B. Subject A will now be looking camera left. B will also be looking camera left. When the two shots are cut together, the result will be that the subjects/characters will be looking in the opposite directions, and the audience will become confused as to spatial positioning between them, the dynamics of the dramatic moment thereby broken.

It is possible to cross the axis with impunity as long as we keep the audience constantly apprised of where the characters are in relation to each other. We could dolly across or around. Or we could cut to a two-shot from the opposite side of the axis. Other than the fact that character A will jump to the left side of the frame, whereas B will jump to the right side, the audience will still be correctly oriented (Figure 1-6). This "flip-flopping" of characters to opposite sides of the frame, at the right dramatic moment, can be another powerful dramatic tool.

Having characters change sides within the frame is also a staging technique often used by directors, and it is one that is highly effective in punctuating a moment. This is made even more powerful if, say, the position of characters A and B within the frame is changed forcefully. A good example of this exists in Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), the highly memorable scene in which Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) exclaims to the private detective, J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), "She's my sister, she's my daughter!" At the start of this hysterical outburst, Dunaway is on the right side of the frame. Nicholson tries to calm her down. He fails until he slaps her hard, sending her reeling from screen right to screen left. This change in their positioning vis-à-vis the frame serves to end that dramatic "stanza" and announces the arrival of a new one. Another good example of flipflopping of characters to the opposite side of the frame is in Taxi Driver (Martin Scorcese, 1976) as Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) makes her way to a taxi pursued by Travis (Robert De Niro) after a disastrous date at an X-rated movie. Keeping both in the frame, the camera crosses the 180-degree line four times, dramatically punctuating Betsy's exit.

Can we ever jump the axis between our characters while they are in separation? The 180degree rule often terrifies the beginning director, and so much heed is paid to not breaking this rule that it rarely is. But we can break it—jump the axis between characters—with great dramatic effect if we do it on an act of energy: This act of energy can be either psychological or physical. We will see an example of this when we add the camera to a screenplay in Chapter 8.


If we are going from one shot of a character or object (Figure 1-7) to another shot of the same character or object without an intervening shot of something else, the camera angle should change by at least 30 degrees.

The effect of disobeying this rule is to call undue attention to the camera; it seems to leap through space. If the rule is obeyed, we do not notice this leap. But in some instances, disobedience can be dramatically energizing. In The Birds (1963), Hitchcock ignores the rule to "punch up" the discovery of the body of a man with a series of three shots from the same angle, each shot coming dramatically closer: medium to medium close-up to close-up. (Three is the magic number in this style of elaboration, as well as in other stylistic and dramaturgical aspects of film. Given any two types of patterns we anticipate the third, creating dramatic tension.)

Sometimes, because of the geography of the set or other limitations, we have to cut to the next shot from the same angle. We see it done successfully fairly frequently, but the reason it works is because of one of the following mitigating factors: the subject is in motion, the second shot includes a foreground object such as a lamp shade, or the change in image size from one shot to the next is substantial.


The sections that follow explore various aspects of screen direction.


If a character (or car, or anything else) exits a frame going from left to right (Figure 1-8), he should enter the next frame from the left if we intend to convey to the audience that the character is headed in the same direction.

If we disobey this simple rule and have our character or car exit frame right (Figure 1-9), then enter the second frame from the right, the character or car will seem to have made a U-turn.


Excerpted from Film Directing Fundamentals by Nicholas T. Proferes Copyright © 2008 by Elsevier, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents




Part 1 Film Language and a Directing Methodology 1

Chapter 1 Introduction to Film Language and Grammar 3

The Film World 3

Film Language 3

Shots 4

Film Grammar 4

The 180-Degree Rule 4

The 30-Degree Rule 7

Screen Direction 8

Film-Time 9

Compression 10

Elaboration 10

Familiar Image 11

Chapter 2 Introduction to the Dramatic Elements Embedded in the Screenplay 13

Spines 13

Whose Film Is It? 14

Character 15

Circumstance 16

Dynamic Relationship 16

Wants 16

Expectations 17

Actions 17

Activity 17

Acting Beats 17

Dramatic Blocks 18

Narrative Beats 18

Fulcrum 19

Chapter 3 Organizing Action in a Dramatic Scene 20

Dramatic Elements in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious Patio Scene 20

Notorious Patio Scene Annotated 21

Chapter 4 Staging 28

Patterns of Dramatic Movement 30

Changing the Stage within a Scene 30

Staging as Part of a Film's Design 31

Working with a Location Floor Plan 31

Floor Plan for Notorious Patio Scene 31

Chapter 5 Camera 36

The Camera as Narrator 36

Reveal 36

Entrances 36

Objective Camera 37

Subjective Camera 37

Where Do I Put It? 38

Visual Design 40

Style 41

Coverage 41

Camera Height 42

Lenses 43

Composition 44

Where to Begin? 44

Working toward Specificity in Visualization 44

Looking for Order 45

Dramatic Blocks and Camera 45

Shot Lists, Storyboards, and Setups 45

The Prose Storyboard 46

Chapter 6 Camera in Notorious Patio Scene 49

First Dramatic Block 49

Second Dramatic Block 53

Third Dramatic Block 57

Fourth Dramatic Block and Fulcrum 59

Fifth Dramatic Block 63

Part 2 Making Your Film 67

Chapter 7 Detective Work on Scripts69

Reading Your Screenplay 69

A Piece of Apple Pie Screenplay 70

Whose Film Is It? 75

Character 75

Circumstance 75

Spines for A Piece of Apple Pie 76

Dynamic Relationships 76

Wants 77

Actions 77

Acting Beats 77

Activity 78

Tone for A Piece of Apple Pie 78

Breaking A Piece of Apple Pie into Actions 78

Designing a Scene 79

Visualization 79

Identifying the Fulcrum and Dramatic Blocks 79

Supplying Narrative Beats to A Piece of Apple Pie 80

Director's Notebook 86

Chapter 8 Staging and Camera for A Piece of Apple Pie 87

Staging 87

Camera 89

Conclusion 115

Chapter 9 Marking Shooting Script with Camera Setups 116

Chapter 10 Working with Actors 123

Casting 124

Auditions 125

First Read-Through 126

Directing During Rehearsals 127

Directing Actors on the Set 130

Chapter 11 Managerial Responsibilities of the Director 132

Delegating Authority While Accepting Responsibility 132

The Producer 132

The Assistant Director 133

A Realistic Shooting Schedule 134

Working with the Crew 134

Working with the Director of Photography 134

Chapter 12 Postproduction 136

Editing 136

Music and Sound 138

Locking Picture, or, How Do You Know When It's Over? 138

An Audience and a Big Screen 139

Part 3 Organizing Action in an Action Scene 141

Chapter 13 Staging and Camera for Over Easy Action Scene 143

Development of Screenplay 146

Director's Preparation for Directing an Action Scene 147

Where to Begin? 147

Over Easy Action Scene/Staging and Camera Angels for Storyboard Artist 148

Part 4 Organizing Action in a Narrative Scene 185

Chapter 14 Staging and Camera for Wanda Narrative Scene 187

What Is the Scene's Job? 187

Choosing a Location 188

Staging 188

Camera Style in Wanda 189

Part 5 Learning the Craft Through Film Analysis 219

Chapter 15 Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious 221

Overview of Style and Design 221

First Act 222

Second Act 224

Third Act 235

Summary 236

Chapter 16 Peter Weir's The Truman Show 237

Overview of Style and Design 237

First Act 238

Second Act 243

Third Act 252

Summary 256

Chapter 17 Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 257

A Masterpiece? 257

The Director as Auteur 257

Dramatic Construction 258

Overview of Style and Design 258

Detective Work 260

First Act 260

Second Act 269

Third Act 281

Summary 284

Chapter 18 Styles And Dramatic Structures 285

Style 285

Narrative, Dramatic, and Poetic Visual Styles 286

The Variety of Dramatic Structures 286

Tokyo Story, Yasujiro Ozu (1953, Japan) 287

Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder (1959) 288

The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo (1965, France) 289

Red, Krzysztof Kieslowski (1994, Poland, France, Switzerland) 290

Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Steven Soderbergh (1989) 292

Shall We Dance?, Masayuki Suo (1996, Japan) 294

The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg (1998, Denmark) 295

The Insider, Michael Mann (1999) 297

The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick (1998) 299

In the Mood for Love, Kar Wai Wong (2001, China) 300

Little Children, Todd Field (2006) 302

Chapter 19 What Next? 304

Building Directorial Muscles 304

Writing for the Director 305

Begin Thinking about Your Story 305

Concocting Your Feature Screenplay 306

"Writing" Scenes with Actors 307

Shooting Your Film before You Finish Writing It 307

The Final Script 308

Shooting without a Screenplay? 308

Questions Directors Should Ask about Their Screenplays 308

Conclusion 309

Bibliography 311

Index 313

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