Directing – Art of Cinema

You can have a director who is a microcontroller.

You may have a director who is very reliant on his DP (Director of Photography)

As a first time director, you are going to be very reliant on your cinematographer. Everything you see in Citizen Kane was credited to the cinematographer. This relationship can be defined in a number of ways.

If you look on the left, you can see how these overlap or don’t. There is a synergistic relationship between the director and the editor. I don’t have a position on sound design.

So the first chapter, you are going to read is called “mise-en-scene.”

It is a very slippery term, very overused.

Yellow: Director

Blue: Cinematographer

Red: Editing

Green: Sound Design

Left: Directing in the Past

Right: Directing in the Present

Mise-en-scene: Staging the scene, The Shot: what is in the frame (composition) A style of long duration shots that places itself in opposition to editing.

Is that what directing means? It depends.

How many editing decisions are built into that relationship. Let’s say a director is loosely responsible for putting something on the camera. Let’s say you don’t have a choice, what decisions do you have to make? You have to decide it’s going to start here and ends here. Two decisions. Closely fused.

The director should be in control of the composition of the shot. 

shot: One uninterrupted run of the camera (on-off)

Don’t confuse with: Take – the number of times a shot is taken Setup – one camera position/movement from which the same shot is shot (may be many)

This raises a question. What kind of frame are we going to use? There are a lot of choices. 1:33:1 “Academy Ratio” This is historically how film was exposed. That was the old standard.

The Shining was shot 1:33:1

Now we have a fusion of possibilities. 16:9 is the standard for HD. It is the de-facto standard. Historically once they broke out of the 1:33:1 mode, you get into really wide screens. Just understand there is a range.

How would you make a choice, what are the aesthetic issues? Why would you shoot in widescreen? My students say it looks cool.

Let’s say our screen looks a 16:9 screen. you are going to have to letterbox it. So who wants to answer the basic question? What do you get? There are a lot of reasons to choose, maybe the character is in an oppressed space. You have to go back to your roots in art theory.

Composition, Principles of Design (from traditional art theory) We are going to borrow from that.

Theory of Thirds – A composition divided into thirds vertically, horizontally, and/or diagonally. Considered by many to be visually pleasing to the eye, with points of emphasis often occurring at the cross section of intersecting thirds.

It means, you don’t just throw up anything on the screen. So let’s see the forms. Some things may be more interesting if they are hovering on a cross. Don’t confine yourself to lines, you could do quadrants. Friezes. So you’ve lines, you’ve got regions, and the hotspots: the intersection points.

See if you can nail one of these hotspots. It is visually pleasing, it makes everyone smile.

We can agree the bulk of this image is occupying one of the thirds. It can be used to show depth. It is helpful, but not entirely. It can break up the frame on the x-y axis and it can show depth.

Isn’t limited to frame:

traditional three act structure (Aristotle)

Comedy “rule of three” (Setup setup, payoff)

Drama: A run of three is a satisfying progression.

(Shows clip from Juno: Abortion Clinic)

Three seems to be a magical number. It seems to play prominently in art, media and film.


In the physical world, objects with identical “visual weight” are balanced.

This type of balance is called symmetry.

Kubrick shot: A composition like this is balanced and symmetric. I do not mean exact. Good enough. For our purposes it is symmetric.

I wish to reject something the text suggests; symmetrical compositions reject theory of thirds. I disagree. I think this is a perfect example of theory of thirds, and they are compatible.

Balance does not mean it has to be symmetric. There can be asymmetrical balance. The balance of unlike objects. Two unlike objects that counterbalance the visual weight of a third.

Theory of Thirds: Balance, Symmetry, Asymmetry. Let’s take this a little further.

How do you define this frame? This is referred to as compositional stress. Some say there is too much on one side, some say the large amount of white balances the black face. Your eyes are drawn.


Deep-space composition – a total visual composition that can place significant information or subjects on all three planes of the frame and thus creates an illusion of depth.

Deep-focus cinematography – using a short-focal length lens, keeps all three planes in sharp focus.

what do we mean by focus versus blurry? Focused is crisp. Out of focus, it is blurry. We will give a defined meaning.

Here is an image from Notorious. This is deep space composition. Notice the size of the coffee cup. Is it actually the size of the actress?

So that is deep space. Let’s watch a clip here.

Watch as he walks into the background. It is almost all in focus. This is an astounding shot. If you play with cameras and attempted to pull off a shot like this. This is shot when film was relatively insensitive to light, not like your digital films. In order to get a shot in focus like this, there must be about 25 feet. They must be drenched in light. There is an incredible glare of big lamps. This is deep focus and space.

Subtle, comprehensive. For legal reasons, they cannot show running film. We are actually going to watch cinema.

A different interpretation of balance and nose room.

A shot of a guy running who is pushing against the edge of the frame. Little nose room because we want it to seem like he is dying to burst out of it.


Primary function:

“Eye” of the camera. Brings light that emanates from the subjects in front of the camera into a focused image.

Basic Properties: Focal length: Distance from lens to focul plane on film/sensor (technical definiton) Who cares? Here is what you really care about. What is the relative angle of the shot? If you are looking at an image down a walkway at a university, you can see what different focal lengths remain. As we go down toward 55, I cannot read the bottom, it is beyond 400.

You have a sense of what happens when you zoom in hard. Designated in millimeters.

4 ranges: Short (12.5mm-35mm)

Medium (50mm-85mm)

Long (120mm-?mm)

Variable (zoom)

Each has its own characteristics.

Short lenses, what are the characteristics?

Wide angle view (fisheye at extreme)

depth exaggerated, z-axis speed increased. Can distort at the edges. Visible camera motion reduced (smoother)

Wide lens exaggerates forward/backward motion.


“Neutral” angle of view

“approximates human eyesight

What meanings might these suggest?


Narrow angle of view

Depth compressed/flattered

Aparent x-axis speed slowed

Visible camera motion amplified

Need solid support

Everything coming at us is going to appear to move very slowly. If you are on a long lens, it better be bolted to something solid. If you so much as breathe on it it will show.

Cars going 60 mph seem to be moving through molasses.


Light rays converge as much as possible on film/sensor

Focus can be used as a creative tool. I blurred the image of the boxer. So the crisp one, waiting for the final blow, the blurry one is from the POV of a guy that is about to go down because he’s punch-drunk,

Focus can mean different things.

Lenses Basic Properties: Depth-of-field

Range of distance in front of lens that is in focus. Crisp squirrels (example on powerpoint)

a home movie, everything is in focus. When you limit your depth of field it seems fancier.

As a general rule, the shorter your focal length the wider your depth of field

long focal length lens = narrow depth of field

Aperture: Adjustable iris controls the amount of light passing through.

Another way to control DOF (depth of field)

The rack focus can shift attention in depth. Rack focus is a term you need to know. split-diopter shot.  Two lenses that are cut in half and meet in the middle? You see this fuzzy edge? This is where the two lenses are meeting.

Shot types:

Relative size of the framing. Labeled with a fairly loose nomenclature that suggests how close the camera is to the subject.

Ranges from Extreme Long Shot (XLS)

to Extreme CU (Close up)

AKA “wide” to “tight”

Full shot, closeup, extreme close up, long shot, extreme long shot

Camera angles: high angles may be subtle or extreme (aerial) is it condescending? probably not. probably a little more benevolent. There is something God-like about it. Just know that when you’re on top what is below you is not worthy. That is the way that scene plays out, it is very sweet.

It may be outside our normal experience, Superior POV

What is the purpose of the angle in the spiral staircase shot? If the normal eyelevel is everyday experience, what could you say about high angle? Is that part of our normal experience? How often have you been hovering? Yes, it is an unusual perspective. Hitchcock was known for doing it. Spielberg did it more recently.

Let’s start with the low angle. childlike, inferior POV. Not at knee-level.


Intimidating. We are intimidated by the man in the shot. In this extreme shot, we get this sense of stumbling motion.

Dutch angle, canted. any deviation from horizontal would be Dutch. The expressionists in the 20s used it. Here is Uma Thurman, here is Denzel Washington. These shots are the essence of the Dutch angle.

Camera Movement

Stationary Platform

Pan shot/tilt shot

Mobile platform

-Dolly shot/zoom

XYZ axis

-Crane shot




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