Color and the look of a film – Visual Analysis

Have you ever wondered or noticed why certain films look a certain way tonally? It is not just a simple matter of color grading an image in post-production. A director works closely with a director of photography, production designer and costume designers to create a color palette that fits the story of the film. The color of the film is controlled on a set. Each story itself can be told in a plethora of ways – meaning, depending on what that story is about, and what is the thematic underpinning of it – the look of the film will often be based on those factors. For instance it may depend on the setting and the world within which the story takes place; time period, location of it. Therefore the color palette of the film will largely be dictated by these elements. So let’s start looking at some examples..

In a scene from The Usual Suspects below… look at this image, and try to see why it’s visually appealing as well as, in a sense, homogeneous.


See it?

How about…


It’s pretty cold isn’t it? Now imagine if Spacey was wearing an orange suit — wait, how about if all of them wore t-shirts of different vibrant colors. The image wouldn’t look correct, because it wouldn’t match the background, the walls. This is carefully selected, so it’s visually “in sync” so to speak with the environment. If you take it a step further, why these suits were chosen also fit what the scene is about. If you can recall it, it’s an infiltration so they have to blend by acting like service people. The backgrounds are carefully chosen however so that visually everything you see is appealing to the eye, so you don’t question its validity.

Let’s take a look next at Die Hard, and The Thomas Crown Affair. Why are flares for instance are used? It is afterall an element of the photographic process. Before JJ Abrams and many of the music video directors began to use it as a stylistic choice (at least in music videos) – John McTiernan and Jan de Bont were purposefully creating flares in Die Hard, and McTiernan on his own chose to utilize them in a scene, early on in The Thomas Crown Affair. Now one can definitely make a case for Abrams using flares not only as an emulation of Spielberg, by whom Abrams has largely been inspired – but using flares in Star Trek simply to make a film feel as if it is set in a distant future. Hence, it is not simply used as a stylistic choice, but a choice that adds to the story.

Take a look at the below video in which I’ve selected two bits from McTiernan’s comments on Die Hard and The Thomas Crown Affair to see how and why they’re used.

Notice how McTiernan uses the lens flare to his advantage – it actually means something within the scene it occupies. The dramatic value it creates cannot be argued, because it adds a certain sense of urgency, tension, and suspense.

Let’s take a look at another example of how a lens flare is used for a dramatic effect which adds value to the given scene.

In the film Rust and Bone – (very slight spoilers) – there is a scene in the film where Marion Cotillard’s character has spent a few months inside her house, away from everyone, depressed and lonely. Now she finally makes her way outside, where it’s bright and sunny. Light breaks through clouds and hits her face. The use of flares is quite heavy. The frame is filled with glares and flares. It’s overbearing, and it’s blinding to her and to us. However why it is used, is more important. It’s in no way a stylistic choice that has no meaning or purpose. The flares are full of purpose, because considering the fact she’s been in a self-imposed lockdown for months, in darkness – and she sees light for the first time – it’s blinding to her physically – and emotionally the flare’s use is logical. It’s overbearing.

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This kind of use of flares or any photographic flaws – have purpose and drive the story and scene in which they’re used. The audience may not be consciously aware, but they feel it has meaning. In the back of everyone’s mind, they feel that its given use is right

Which brings us to a scene in The Dark Knight which is similar in execution, only the use of a flare is substituted with a powerful, overexposed light.

The Joker sits calmly in the interrogation room, which is lit only with a lamp on the table. It’s emotionally calm – the light creates this calm environment, no matter how dark the room actually looks. tdkd tdk-dark

Cut – immediately – to an entire room filled with harsh, hard light – and a sudden slam of Joker’s face against the table.


This combination of harsh light, and the abruptness with which Batman slams Joker’s face against the table is masterfully executed by Nolan and Pfister to give the audience a jolt from calmness to a much more frenetic emotion. However, it’s the light itself that is the half of this emotion.

The particular scene itself, and the lamp lighting also serves another purpose, actually two.

  1. It makes the Joker look menacing by the way he is lit. Adding to the characterization.
  2. When the lights are switched on, we find out Batman was there the whole time – listening, being the detective that he is. Trying to glean information from the Joker, if any can be gleaned from him.

Light affects the audience’s feeling and emotions of scenes based on how it’s used. Next time you watch a film, pay close attention, be aware of the light of the given scene. Also, recall from your own life how you feel during certain moments of the day; afternoon – when the sun is directly above you, harshly bright, mid-afternoon – when they light becomes less harsh, the magic/golden hour – when the sun casts a beautiful warm glow to everything… Try to think how you feel during these moments of the day, or when you’re in a brightly lit room as opposed to a minimally lit room; how do you feel ?

Directors and DP’s exploit light to make the audience feel what they want them to feel in any given scene. Most of the time, none of this is left to chance – it’s planned, and executed to drive the story. Everything in film in essence is guided by the story and its themes.

If you take a look at this example from the opening scene of Joe Versus The Volcano – you’ll see the elements discussed above, and how they align with the content/story of the given scene. Joe works a dead end job which depresses him entirely.


This is his office. Take a look at the brick wall, its color, Joe’s suit is navy blue – the lamp is also blue (the sailship is actually his “dream” – in the same way Jamie Foxx’s “island” photo is his ‘dream’ and ‘escape’ from reality in Michael Mann’s Collateral)

Look at the light which falls on Joe’s face that the fluorescent lights create. It’s nauseating, just like he feels. Have you ever felt that way in a certain environment? I’d bet you have. Again, all of these elements are harmoniously fused to create this feeling. But the feeling is correct for the given scene and what it represents.

Now look at the following examples below, study them, analyze them, and see how color, light, production design play a role in creating a certain look for a film.


A lot of people who find this film to be something “cool” are people who simply look at a film and observe the surface. However, The Matrix’ green tint (and blue, which gets lost in discussions of the film’s look) are actually representations of the opposing realities. The green tint isn’t there simply for the film to look cool, it is there for a reason. It is the matrix. Its color palette is based on the green text code that is by now a part of pop culture easily recognized. 

The film has another reality, which is represented by the use of a muted, blue tint. This reality is the real world (that’s also debatable if you watch the subsequent sequels). These color choices are carefully selected so as to not only thematically, and symbolically represent the different, opposing worlds, but as to not confuse the audience as to what is going on, on screen.

Let’s take a look

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As you can see, this is the matrix world, and it is represented by green tint. However, pay careful attention how the scheme is executed. It’s not simply a matter of shooting something and then just color grade it in post. As mentioned previously the color is controlled on a set. This means, it’s the wardrobe, it’s the props, it’s the production design, it’s the lighting. Study closely these images and look at how every element that occupies the frame makes the image somehow “right” for the frame. This is important. You can’t just have Neo – in the above image – wear a red suit, it just wouldn’t work. Careful selection and consideration must be taken when approaching how one is to film the scene. It truly is no different than painting, the frame is your canvas, and you fill that canvas with different colors.

Now let’s take a look at the real world. The blue tinted reality.

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Do you notice how essentially every element of the frame supports that blue tint. Look at the sweaters they are all wearing, they’re grey – occasionally you get some color, like Cypher’s maroon vest – notice, it’s not bright red. It’s muted. All these color choices are carefully selected, never underestimate color and how it aids the particular look you are going for.

Study the rest of the images carefully.

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Robocop’s color palette is no different; meaning the choices for the light, wardrobe, and locations are all carefully considered and are all there to represent the world in which the story takes place.

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It’s got a very muted, cool color palette. The greys, blacks, and muted navy blues are harmonious. They represent the world, the setting (a futuristic Detroit) and the seedy underworld of it all. An excellent use of color.


Now you’ve got another representation of a distant future, and there are more vibrant colors within this environment. I may be wrong on this since I haven’t checked out my facts, but I do remember a fan of the comic books commenting a few months ago on the official 2000AD forum that they actually got the colors from the comic books. Which is an example of how films and its crew can reach for the source material to tell their story.

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This particular shot is done in post production, however it’s a wonderful example of the use of color to represent a concept, idea, emotion. In the given scene, it is the “lockdown” and the sense of urgency the color provides is a perfect way to represent it. Also, it fits in perfectly with the futuristic setting, as something like an entire building turning red is a plausible concept that could be implemented in a futuristic world.

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As you can tell, it’s gritty and raw, yet still colorful, but the colors are utilized as elements of storytelling and not as something abstract and without meaning.


Another example of a much more distant futuristic world. If you’ve watched the behind the scenes of Prometheus, Ridley Scott uses color thematically. It enhances the story, and moods he wants the audience to feel.

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Watch how Peter Weyland, and Vickers – who are funding the expedition, are dressed. The suits are sleek, futuristic, and opposed to the crew, speak “rich” to the audience. The colors and choices are in essence thematic. Also, look at the first image and watch how the wardrobe itself is visually homogeneous with the background, and the props.

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As you can see, their uniforms here are all visually similar even if not exactly the same; greys, slightly olive, and navy blues – against the silver, greenish tint. The environment is already created. The theme of the look of the Prometheus ship is established, now Ridley is not only dressing his characters thematically, but also he’s balancing the colors against the background of the sleek design of the ship.

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This scene is slightly warmer, however the characters are dressed in such a way that the look works visually. Shaw isn’t dressed in a red robe, and even if she was – it would have to mean something on some level for the given scene.

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Perfectly homogeneous. The colors are balanced within the environment, and they not only tell of a futuristic setting, but they have a clinical sort of feel – and it fits, because of what the scene represents, and its content.


Cigarettes & Coffee – Visual Analysis – Part I

I am going to assume everyone reading this, even the most noob beginners, have some understanding of shots – if not, you should teach yourself the vocabulary of it because if you expect to be an effective storyteller you need to know them.

Paul Thomas Anderson – Cigarettes & Coffee – Visual Analysis

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Film starts with an Extreme Close Up (ECU) of an action being performed – cigarettes being lit. 

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The camera then pans to the left to reveal another person’s hands, nervous.

WHY: PTA establishes the scene with an action performed without giving the audience any idea or sense of the place or time. This is intentional. He’s not flat out letting the audience know from shot one: “You are here” – instead he makes the audience ask the question: “Where are we?” The nervous hands signify right from the beginning a certain hesitation and – well, nervousness. Reasons to which are unknown yet. Mystery as a theme is already established in the first few frames.

Cut to…

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A Close Up (CU) of one of the TWO people as they begin to talk and a…

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CU of the other person responding, the nervous guy (TWO SHOT in CLOSEUPS)

WHY: What better way to establish/introduce a character than by a CU? You want the audience to give a shit about the people in the first place. Again, this doesn’t mean that it’s a “rule of thumb” – you don’t see Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now until the last 30-some minutes, yet you’ve heard his entire story by now… It all depends on your story and what you’re trying to do. Do you want people to get into your characters right away, or do you want to keep them in suspense for a long time? For instance in The Third Man, the entire chase scene through the tunnels, you don’t know who he’s chasing, well – that’s because Welles wanted to keep it a mystery. This story is smaller scale, and it’s character driven – so PTA began the film mysteriously for a few moments, indulged in mystery (yet he does it throughout the entire film) and got into his characters immediately. Showing the audience the faces in great detail, and what better way than through a CU? We can see enough detail so that later PTA can cut to other people or shot lengths and we wouldn’t be straining to identify the characters.

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Still in a close up (CU), but also from a “PROFILE ANGLE” as Hall smokes and you can see his hand in the frame

WHY: So why does it change from a previous CU that kept our characters at a 2-dimensional side view ? Was PTA just bored and thought it’d be cool to change it to a different angle? Fuck no. He changed it because this shot was telling a story. What story was it telling? Look at Hall holding a cigarette and talking about it. This angle of view (profile, 3-dimensional view) is a better angle to show this action as well. You have to be making decisions not only on how it serves the story – but you have to be the EYES of the audience – Just because you’re on set and you physically see the location and your mind constructs an understanding of Hall smoking a cigarette and you half-assedly choosing how to shoot that action, also doesn’t mean the audience is going to get what you got. Two things here; 1. This shot serves the story/action of this particular scene, and 2. It is visually the correct angle of view that visually shows this action to the audience. You’re not making people strain to see what should be clear.

The subsequent “back and forth” shot decisions thereafter are also visually continuous. Meaning, whenever Hall talks, the previous shot, that was chosen (with the cigarette) is used even when you don’t see the cigarette, because it’s also a CU.

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It does not go back to…

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There’s no need to jump back and forth, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, keep the story moving, and keep it visually continuous and progressive (meaning, don’t go back or linger in the same shot if you’ve already established a new shot – unless you really need to go back to that shot because it serves the story

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In these “back and forth” exchanges, you can see how PTA didn’t change this characters shot to the same one of Hall’s profile (3-dimensional) angle. It psychologically and subconsciously lets the view feel a certain amount of tension, because you’re now wondering “Why is Hall being shot from this angle while this guy is still in the previous?” – well, first of all, he wants to keep the audiences focus on this character through this decision. Just to go back to what I was saying how if you need to change to a different shot if it has a purpose to the story then you would do it. PTA lingers on the same first sideview CU because it serves the story, since this character recalls a story through narration later on. He is in essence, important to the story.

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Camera cuts to Medium Long Shot (MLS) for the first time (Establishing Geography) as it TRACKS/Dollies to the LEFT to reveal another COUPLE in a MLS

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WHY: Well sooner or later you want the audience to see where the hell everyone is at – even if you allude to it or it becomes obvious, you want the audience to feel the space – unless your entire goal is to make a film like Buried – with a sense of claustrophobia. When it cuts to this MLS – it does two things; it establishes the geography of the place, a coffee shop, big windows, and mountains in the back

but – it also drives the story forward. It achieves this by the fact that once it cuts to the MLS, the camera immediately dollies to the left side of the frame/Diner while also physically tracking the waitress that walks over to the couple sitting at the other side of the Diner. What PTA is doing here is not only establishing an entire geography of the diner by using the MLS and dollying, he’s also adding whatever visual rhythm he can to a static story. But he’s not doing it just because he thinks it’s cool. (Although, it is visually stimulating) He’s using all these techniques to serve the story. I can’t stress it enough. Every single shot has to be there to drive the story forward not stagnate it.

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For the first time PTA cuts to a Medium Over The Shoulder (OTS) of the Man and…

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A Woman

Throughout the conversation he keeps staying in Medium OTS (I say Medium, because there are also Medium, Medium Close Up, and Close Up OTS shots)

WHY: In this case this is a Medium OTS, because when it first cuts to this shot, you can see the man performing an action with his hands. The woman is also eating. PTA’s decision for this shot length is clear – it serves the story (keep this in mind always and your decisions for what type of shots you need will always be clear). Throughout this scene PTA wants you to see not only the couple ‘having breakfast’ but since he has established the geography of the place, he keep it continuous (Remember what McTiernan spoke about in the commentary, he always wants the audience to have a sense of a geography. PTA is doing exactly that. Besides, it kills two birds with one stone; 1. It keeps the geography whole. 2. It serves the story, because you see both of the man and woman’s physical action. If there was a moment in the exchange, hypothetically, where the man said something to the woman that PTA wanted to underline, he would immediately cut from this type of shot to a Close Up OTS of a woman reacting with a puzzled or surprised look or any other emotion, depending on what the man would say. But none of this happens here, so it stays in a conversational OTS shots.



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WHY: Well first of all – a Two Shot is a standard shot for conversation, however PTA extends the two shot and morphs it into something continuous – he drives the story forward by revealing a new action / character. Because through this shot he progresses the story by introducing a new character visually. He now CUTS to…

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the OUTSIDE: to REVEAL this person who has arrived in the car getting out of the car.
IN A LOW ANGLE which turns into FULL SHOT as the guy walks to the trunk

WHY: Because PTA visually established the fact that there was a car that pulled up outside the shop, and you saw a person getting out of it, he can now also cut to this person. By now it really should be obvious why this decision was made, but I’ll reiterate it: to drive the story forward. Clearly this character is important for PTA to make a conscious decision to cut from the couple to a two shot then slightly move a camera to reveal this car pulling up… If PTA’s choice was to keep this person suspensful, he could have not cut to this shot in order to make a much more shocking revelation if this character would show up in a pivotal scene – because PTA already gave enough visual information for the audience to catch on to “Ok…theres a car…outside…and a man got out of it, and I saw it…then it must be important” and indeed it is – because if you’re a filmmaker, every decision you make HAS to make sense for the story. You can’t just do what you want cause it looks cool. It’s not how storytelling works, you risk of becoming pretentious and unclear with your vision.

So the LOW ANGLE show establishes the psychological factor of this person being important – this is a well known technique of cinematic language, it also turns into a Long Shot (LS)

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Which gives you just enough of a sense of the geography of the place.

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Notice that iIt did not cut to a shot that shows what he got out of the TRUNK – you only see a business type bag/case. This lack of emphasis can be for two reasons: 1) it is simply not important to the story or 2) it is kept in mystery, on purpose

However you do see what he got out of the trunk in a brief shot (which is the same one PTA cut to from inside the Diner)

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This decision to briefly show it can also be because PTA wants you to see what he got out of the trunk, he may not want to call attention to it by cutting to that shot though. In any case the decision not to call attention to it can be one of creating mystery. As we see the character leave the frame PTA cuts back inside the diner to the couple

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AND DOLLIES BACK TO THE RIGHT from the previous couple…

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WHY: PTA goes back to an established visual technique by repeating the dolly, it is visually continuous and it also has a purpose because it tracks the man that got out of the car, got the bag, and left the frame – our eyes follow his movement – PTA is killing two birds with one stone again. If the first time he 1) established the geography of a place and 2) move the action to the other end of the Diner to introduced new characters. Then here he is 1) Signifying the importance of the new character by following him, as well as 2) moving the action back to the characters we began the film with, because later they will drive the story forward. PTA is doing everything John McTiernan would be proud of.

The dollying stops with them – while the guy we followed in the background left the FRAME THOUGH immediately. Perfect timing, synchronous.

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In a moment’s notice PTA cuts OUTSIDE to the man who got out of the car and…

stays on him in a MCU shot throughout the scene

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WHY: This shot gives the audience enough room to see him when he talks on the phone, his expressions as well as it is wide enough to show you this half of the phone booth, which keeps the geography whole

Immediately after the man says “Im gonna tell you EXACTLY what happened” – it cuts back to a Medium OTS of HALL.

cigarettes & coffee (44)and now for the first time you see the man opposite of Hall in the same angle of view

cigarettes & coffee (45) WHY: First of all, PTA cuts around at crucial moments when the action is just beginning to rise to keep a sense of mystery and suspense, in doing so he keeps the viewer engaged. But, it’s also because PTA took everything Sturges said in the Bad Day At Black Rock to heart, and studied the advice of one of the masters of American film. If you remember how in the commentary Sturges mentioned the Hitchock’s quote that “making movies is ‘meanwhile back at the ranch'” – this is your example here in all its glory. It’s the suspense that truly drives this story and PTA milks it like a motherfucker.

This entire scene is kepts at a Medium OTS because all dialogue is usually shot in Medium Shots (MS) but also because PTA wants you to see the physicality of the performance. For example if you look at the above shot, you see the hand of the man facing Hall, so whenever he does something with them and adds to the performance, the audience can see it and from these actions make up their own decisions on who or what the character represents.

Now here’s something an average viewer may not spot

There is a slight zoom when Hall responds with “I think telling the story again will help you see it more clearly”

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WHY: You may not be aware of it consciously, but this plays on psychology – it seems that PTA wanted to emphasize that point without cutting to a CLOSE UP. There could be more than one reason, but it’s obvious he didn’t want to emphasize it too much, just slightly, hence the slight ZOOM. Oh yeah, and you thought films were just lining up a shot and compose a nice little picture. WRONG.

For the FIRST time, we leave the Diner and enter into a montage while we still hear the dialogue from the previous scene, which is now narration (We get a sense of continuity, however more than that – to not exhaust the audience, PTA uses this montage to his advantage, to inject a sense of “Cinematic Production Value” as well as to drive the story . He is giving us these pieces and builds and builds to so we can piece it by ourselves.


“Sometimes I step OUTSIDE…”


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cigarettes & coffee (52)cigarettes & coffee (54)We see the narrator now visually through the actual story stepping in a MCU shot

WHY: You get to see that he’s actually got a cigarette in his mouth, as well as his facial expression as well as the glittering lights in the background (which gives the VIEWER an IDEA of the GEOGRAPHY)

As you hear through narration a line about “Take a bill out of my pocket” – the camera IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS that ACTION in a PAN. It does not CUT to this shot

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it is still in a MCU shot framing, so you see enough of the “geography” as well as what’s in his hand. The emphasis is on these things he’s describing, in this case a bill.

Cut to a CU shot of the bill

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WHY: PTA wants the audience to see what he’s doing, the shot serves the purpose of telling the story. It is synchronous with the narration.

Cut to a MLS

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WHY: For the first time PTA gives you a larger sense of geography and the surroundings he’s in. You can see all the neon Vegas lights, and a sense of a street behind him as you see cars whizzing by. It is geography based, but also not a ‘filler shot’ by any means, nothing extraneous.

 CUTS BACK to the MCU as he finishes off writing on the bill
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and then another MCU where he looks at it.
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His story that the character narrates is essentially broken down visually for the audience to see.

What’s interesting now is we get an Extreme Long Shot – the moment in the narration the protagonist says “I take that bill back inside” and proceeds to describe his usual routine – this shot for the FIRST time shows the audience exactly that this is a CASINO.

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WHY: It’s sort of a reverse way of doing an establishing shot. It is an establishing shot, but it does not come in at the beginning of the scene. In cinematic language, you can do this usually depending on how you’re telling the story. In this case given the nature of how mysterious the entire film and its characters ARE: it fits the story – the shot pattern, the establishing shot coming in later as opposed to the beginning of the scene. It’s keeping up with the overall mystery and suspense. PTA had a clear intention to fuck with the audience, not only in terms of the mystery of the characters but shot design as well. The theme of mystery is carried on through not just the structure of the story but is supported visually.

The minute he stops, it cuts back to the diner, a MCU – OUTSIDE of the story he is recalling. When Baker says “And?”

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WHY: This is done with precision. Because it has a better effect on the audience as opposed to just hearing it within the narration. It also has a purpose, because the narration itself has the narrator speaking and no-one else – so this is why PTA cuts back into the diner. He wants the narration to be pure and not confuse the audience with multiple voices.

Once Baker asks the question “And?” it cuts to MCU of the narrator whose face you can see clearly enough to see his emotions during the response “I don’t make it back into Casino…”

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WHY: This shot is tight and wide enough for the audience to see the geography (mountains in the back) and the expressions on his face. Every shot length has a purpose.

The moment he finishes the sentence about running into his friend

CUT to a MS of this friend – so we have a visual immediately!

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This shot hangs in there LONG ENOUGH for it to turn into a MCU shot – so that it goes from “mystery” to “identifiable”

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WHY: It’s important to establish everyone and everything visually for the audience. You don’t want them guessing. Unless your entire purpose is to be vague intentionally, but you risk to walk the line of telling a very confusing story.

The next shot is composed from the GROUND UP

cigarettes & coffee (67)

cigarettes & coffee (68)

WHY: It gives the audience a nice look into the glittering lights of the Casino as the two characters meet in the middle of it. This goes back to what John Sturges was also talking about in the commentary for Bad Day At Black Rock. When he mentioned John Ford’s westerns, how he shot people from lower angles against mountains or any vast backgrounds to emphasize the characters’ grandeur as well as giving the audience a sense of geography. The shot itself stays in a Long Shot – because if you want the audience to have a sense of this geography you have to have a wider shot. It wouldn’t have the same “oomph” if you shot it tighter – It doesn’t mean you couldn’t shoot it that way however. Because what is important to understand about cinematic language is that your choice of lenses and shots have to serve the story ask Wally Pfister, or Roger Deakins, they’ll all tell you the same thing. It’s about what you’re trying to emphasize or tell the audience what to look at. Sturges also mentioned in the commentary what motivates his choice of “angles” – and besides the angle of view of a character, it’s also the psychological impact of the scene. Like who is the “bigger / stronger” or “weaker” person of the scene? The same shot selection is reduced to essentially what you’re trying to show, tell, emphasize to the audience, and how important it is in the given scene. The best approach to this is treating every shot as a separate story. Because essentially every image is a story. It’s only when you string the shots together into a sequence it becomes an experience, a narrative, a storyline.

Part II coming soon…

John McTiernan on cinematic language – screen specific version


I spent quite a lot of time with this one. Compiling all the valuable bits from all of the commentaries McTiernan had recorded and then making them screen specific. I was trying to edit it more like a lesson, a lecture and some people have told me it seemed that way.

Two screen-specific scenes from Bad Day at Black Rock

Here are two screen specific scenes (actual video). One of which is in the selections I have posted, and one I couldn’t fit into – besides it works better as a screen specific option.

I encourage everyone who has something to say in general or even specific to post in the comments.

#1: Photographic decisions




#2: Staging of a scene

staging1 staging2

David Mamet on film + reading material and some info

David Mamet

So the blog and the channel are growing – no surprise there – and will continue to grow. However I’m not seeing any comments, so lots of lurkers. I would encourage you all to post in the comments section of the blog or in the comments of the channel. This isn’t really to fulfill some sort of egotistical desire for attention, I’m actually interested in people’s thoughts on the commentaries. I also would encourage discussions that go beyond the commentaries; your thoughts on the concepts presented, maybe stories from your personal shoots that you can relate to the concepts discussed and vice versa. I want this place to become a melting pot of all the amateur and working filmmakers, and hear you all talk about filmmaking. This will help me, this will help the next guy who comes across this blog, and most importantly this will help you. Believe it or not, actively discussing, analyzing filmmaking makes you solidfy these concepts in your HEAD much better than just listening to or seeing anything on screen that pertains to filmmaking. That’s why I wrote that scene analysis for Dogtooth and I’m going to continue breaking things down like that so that I truly grasp what I see on screen. The psychology of learning is very real. Take for example the Socratic method, which Mamet mentions in the selections I’ve posted below… “stimulates critical thinking which illuminate ideas”

So stop being a lurker and start discussing along in the comments if you’re serious about learning filmmaking. If you have something to say; say it. Don’t lurk in the shadows; be active, you win in the end.

John Sturges schools you on filmmaking – part II – storytelling


Part 2 of the selections from Bad Day at Bad Rock. I know everyone on here wants to listen to the full thing – but in all seriousness this is the meat of the commentary, these two sections. I’m going to upload a third, shorter part of the pieces that didn’t fit into the 15 min limit, but that’s about it. I don’t upload full commentaries because they’re useless in their entirety, that’s why I sacrifice time to compile only the best ones so that when I personally want to listen to good advice I don’t have to listen to 2 hours of something. Cinephilearchive has the full thing up if you wanna listen to it in full. Though mine are organized like small lectures, so they’re more ‘reference friendly

Thanks to centrino from KG for the rip!

John Sturges schools you on filmmaking – part I – process

sturges is the manPhew…finished it, right at midnight. Most would simply upload the entire thing and not waste time. But not me, I guess this is my obsessive, detail-oriented nature, where I have to have everything done right (for the ones who are perplexed by my definition of “right” – meaning, it’s the compression, organizational process of choosing the most valuable info from a commentary that pertains to filmmaking) But then again, I’m doing this for myself anyways, so in the long run the time spent on all of this benefits me regardless. Also, it’s training. Training to be precise, just like a director, DP, or an editor. So I spent some time going through the commentary (PTA didn’t disappoint, it lived up to the hype) and I split it in two halves, one mostly that has to do with storytelling, and the other is about the filmmaking process which I’m uploading first. The other half I’ll up tomorrow or the day after. The film itself is an hour and 21 minutes, when I got done splicing up the bits I marked as informative – I had about 50 minutes of material from Sturges. After the split, I left out about 20 minutes that was good, but mostly outdated. So what you’ve got is essentially 30 minutes of some really great fucking filmmaking discussion.

I am thankful that this great man left us with some insight before he left this earth.

big up to centrino from KG for the rip

I’ll end up doing a screen specific at some point.

In the bag!


Save your money and forget film school. Go buy Bad Day at Black Rock and listen to John Sturges’ commentary and you’ll learn more about filmmaking than 4 years of going to school. – Paul Thomas Anderson

Watch this space… the compilation process will commence in a little while. I am just as excited to listen to it as everyone else who have heard about it through that PTA quote. This is an exclusive, it’s never been released on any DVDs of the film, it stayed on the Criterion LD for ages – until it was ripped a while ago. So the only way anyone could ever hear this is if they had a laserdisc player. Well, not anymore.

An analysis of a scene in Dogtooth, epiphanies, or hitting two birds with one stone.

So I am watching Dogtooth, the first film of the Greek new wave – and it is gorgeous to look at. The film Martha Marcy May Marlene which I would also highly recommend, has been compared to Dogtooth in a way that it has the same clinical approach to visuals/aesthetic.

What I want to share are my thoughts and epiphanies of sort that are further confirmed by this particular scene in the film I will illustrate. I’ve seen hundreds of films, I think maybe even over a thousand throughout my short life but only when I seriously began to study cinema I began to analyze each film I watch – mostly my preoccupation lies in studying the images and how they relate to the story. The visual language. I think it’s one of the best ways to learn these things, is through conscious analysis.

So this image comes on.dogtooth-shot1   Pretty right? Indeed, look at the beautiful lines and how they lead your eye to her standing. Wonderful. I love it… the shot is held there for a while so then I begin to think, what is she waiting for. It’s not a mystery once you see it’s a….


Because in the beginning it was established that she was riding in the car and you saw this same car again a few scenes prior and who was in it and so on and so forth…

At the point where she was walking over to get inside the car, a thought sprung up in my mind and it was.

What will be the next shot?

I thought, will the car just drive off in this same wide shot? My questions were answered.

It cuts to


A nicely composed shot that resembles a medium close up.


But why? It was answered immediately.


You see, the beginning of the film established this particular visual


It reminds me of something I heard while compiling my next commentary featuring David Mamet. In it, he mentions how he saw the film Daybreak and the use of props in that film. How they were established in the film early on, then brought up again in the second act or so, and again at the end, reminding the audience of its importance to the story. Now I haven’t yet finished Dogtooth so I do not know whether it is a prop that comes into play in a much more important way rather than just being an element of a story (in this case being simply that she must not know where she is being taken to every time). But all of this is an insight of mine which I’ve come to see is something that has been employed in various other films. The idea of establishing something, then reminding an audience of its existence, calling to mind that it may be or is important to the story. Inception has done that with the whole totem thing.

Now how does this blindfold relate to visual language of cinema you might ask? And I answer, it’s all about the story and how every image, every shot must serve the purpose of the story. Treating each individual composition as a story in itself.

I came across an interesting quote by Pablo Picasso recently which I’ve included in the Advice section

Art is the elimination of the unnecessary

Think about these words and think about what I just analyzed in this scene, and then every time you watch a film, or go out and shoot a scene – remember this quote and look at how each shots of the given films are chosen and why, and think about how you will shoot, respectively.

If you look back at the first shot


Had there been no blindfold, how would you imagine the director or the DP would go about getting out of this scene? This could have remained for the scenes entire duration; the car arriving, her getting inside, and the car driving off. However let’s say, hypothetically even if there was no blindfold – you could have still had the same second shot of her getting inside the car


and have it simply drive off. However what would the reason be besides just showing her getting inside the car? Do you see what I’m getting at? There must be a purpose on some level, and that purpose in this scenario could simply be her expression on her face – sadness? joy? indifference? You may have had to compose this shot a little bit tighter to show that expression, or you could have cut to a close up after this shot. Though how would her expression play a part in the film’s story? Every shot has to be considered for the sake of what you’re trying to tell the audience by using it.

Everything I’ve written here is confirmed in the section Finding the frame of the book I shared here recently, Filmmaker’s Eye

Here is the section…



These are my own epiphanies and realizations, and confirmations of the truth of the cinematic language. I am beginning to see it all myself and I gotta say it is wonderful to be able to notice these things consciously, the experience of watching a film also becomes quite more fulfilling.