Blocking or where do we put the camera and why?

   Once we have done basic screenplay breakdown I start to do a story breakdown. I will read and reread the scenes and look for what it really is that we are telling. So I the blocking comes easy. I will know where to put the camera, what the shots will be and what the actors need to do. In soap it is very clear: we are talking about the emotional reactions of people to actions of others on a given situation.

I will look at the scene, see who is the winner and  who is the loser and do this for each scene. What are we revealing for the next set up in the story. By doing this I can choose sides and see from whose point of view I will tell the scene. I avoid reporting the scene. We need to focus on one of both (or more) characters in this situation. Often I will switch POV in the next scene if this is a continuation. This way in the end the viewer will have an overal view of what this situation does to our characters. Of course we focus on the leading characters and guests or minor characters are there to tell the story or to support/provoke the leading characters.

Once I have decided on the POV, I will then see which shots we need.

There are in general 2 kind of shots

  1. Those that explain the facts of the situation we are in.
  2. The shots that show the reaction of our main characters in this situation.

We show what is happening and we show what the characters experience: this is the blocking proces. The content is different, the angle is different. Both elements can be combined in one shot, a good movie will do this for us. It will use the thrust of the action to reveal the feelings of the actors his disorientation, fear, anger… while pursuing the love of his life, money, knowledge, revenge…

Very often I find myself blocking from two angles

I will start blocking at the top of the scene to establish the situation, showing what is going on. I might do this starting from a very close shot and then revealing where we are and what the larger view means. Or I might start blocking in a large shot showing who we are telling about and where we are and then go closer to the characters and focus on them.

But very regularly I will know what the end shot of the scene is: I will want to show the reaction of either one of the characters in a close up; a tear rolling down a cheek, a smile or a very deep sigh. This will indicate what the shot will be that came earlier and this will in turn tell us what we need to see previous to that one.

And so somewhere during blocking in the middle the shots have to line up. They will switch from telling the story actions and change to the emotional value of the scene and focus on the winner or the loser of the scene.


Location hunting picture

There are other scenes too: scenes that give exposition to the story and tell what we need to know to understand what is going on. These scenes risk to be very tedious and boring: nothing much is happening. Characters are telling things to other characters so they know what is going on elsewhere. These scenes are tricky to bring to the screen. What is essential is going on out of camera reach. Blocking action scenes is not so easy, with very limited resources we need to get a “believable” result.


court drama storyboard

And then there are “action scenes”. Now and again the story evolves into another genre: someone might get killed and the soap becomes a crime scene and for a while we seem to be a police story. Or some one gets hurt and we turn into a hospital series or a court drama. Now and again we have a fight scene or a love scene.

For a few weeks I’m at my desk, blocking the location shoot and the studio scenes. I’m blocking every scene for 10 episodes on average I have 16 shots per scene. (Aren’t statistics great ?)

How do I work this ? I read the screenplays. And then I read them again. I make a first break down for the rehearsals. I only do a rehearsal for things with a little bit more intensity, action or complexity in the story lines.

Court drama shot

Shot from the court drama episode based on the storyboard

During rehearsals we check for character consistency and story line.  We go through most of the scenes where things are “happening”. Sometimes certain characters or a group of characters is in the build up to a story or has just finished a mid season something and so there seems to be a lull in their actions. I do not hold rehearsals for those scenes, I’d rather go through the others a little bit more in depth. 

I take pictures and sometimes build 3D-views with Frameforge. These are quite accurate. I measure the rooms and take pictures of the textures to dress the walls. With Frameforge I can freely move my camera round the location and discover shots I would never dream up.

Here is a picture from the location visit.

And here is the 3D version.

You’d think this takes a long time but it really doesn’t. You put in the measurements of the room in room builder. You can put in the windows in the right size and place. From a set of objects you choose what you need. As this was a courtroom story, I used the Crime & Justice pack which made things very easy. 

Then I make drawings of the floor plans that show how the actors and camera setups will be.

Illustrations are of actual episodes of H1 of 2012.

Here is the storyboard I made. It may seem a bit of overkill. But if you consider that in 5 days we shot 36 minutes of drama in 45 setups, the word hectic comes into the foreground in red. A storyboard comes in handy, everybody knows what you mean and once it is shot. You can mark it with : DONE.

And this is a frame grab from the final edit. Not bad: Mind over matter !