Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Follow Shot

Hey guys,

I love the video below. Longtime friend of this blogger and former film critic for The New York Times, Matt Zoller Seitz, put together a montage called “Following”
for The L Magazine that celebrates the Follow Shot, which I also love dearly. He wrote:

"Following" is a montage of clips illustrating one of my favorite types of shots: one where the camera physically follows a character through his or her environment. I love this shot because it's neither first-person nor third; it makes you aware of a character's presence within the movie's physical world while also forcing identification with the character. I also love the sensation of momentum that following shots invariably summon. Because the camera is so close to the character(s) being followed, we feel that we're physically attached to those characters, as if by an invisible guide wire, being towed through their world, sometimes keeping pace, other times losing them as they weave through hallways, down staircases or through smoke or fog...

You can read the rest
here in which he describes briefly the history and influences of the Follow Shot. In fact, I’d say that’s one of my favorite aspects of Kubrick and Scorsese films. It’s a way of marrying the characters to their environment and saying, “Hey, look, these characters are products of their environment” or “They are being horribly affected by their environment.” So how does one describe a Follow Shot in a script? You write about the character walking from room to room with the use of Secondary Headings.

So here’s the vid. Hope you enjoy it.



Unknown said...

Great stuff, thanks for sharing. I like how he points out exactly how much empathy this technique can create. You point out the way the enviroment is encroaching on these characters we're following, but also kinda interesting that more than a few of these moments are introductions to worlds and protags that aren't good, lovable heroes, or people we've latched onto and have gone off into places we're kinda trepidatious to follow: Travis Bickle, Mr. Blonde, Stewart at the end of Vertigo, Goodfellas... some could argue Willie, I'm sure. But it's kinda dragging us along whether we want to follow or not. That just a few seconds of film can illustrate that is brilliant. Much love, cinematographers, the power you wield goes a long way.

The montage also made me think of another similar device, the reverse actor-mounted tracking shot, like with Caesar in BOUND or THE HANGOVER (I can't think of any more examples right now, sorry.) Sorta similar to the gliding Keitel-orbiting shot from Mean Streets which does something a little different than the shot of a character's back as they move through their world. With the front mounted shot you can read the face and it usually pretty jarring because there's no give in the camera movement it just bounces around and makes everything look really stiff and clunky. Funnily enough, I loath that shot and it's precisely because it's jarring, I feel way to close to the character, I want to back off, but it's like you're pinned there with them until they cut away. I guess it's usually seen at some traumatic moment in the story, so the fact that I just hate seeing it makes it pretty useful to convey emotion.

GabbaGoo said...

I happen to have a "following" or as I like to call them "Long Take" in the start of my new script...

I know that PT Anderson loves those shots... which is the reason it inspired me to use one.

DM said...

I happen to like them a lot as well, and in fact use them in my own scripts, much like PTA. However, I call them "Extended Tracking Shots." I've never heard anyone refer to them as a Follow Shot before. I definetly don't like quick cuts or rapid editing. I prefer long, fluid shots. I'm also glad that very few directors use them, so it will still be somewhat novel if I ever get to direct my own scripts. It would suck if EVERYONE was doing it.

Thomas Rufer said...

I don't seem to find the opening scene of Kurosawas Yojimbo, which is I think one great way to open a movie. With a following shot and a soundtrack like that. At least it stayed with me.

I think another great "following shot" is being in the enemy's point of view. You are unwillingly the enemy of the protag/victim. I think the opening shot of Halloween is so great for that cause. It begins like a voyourism and starts to get creepy (knife taken by a childs hand... aha... putting a mask on... killing a naked woman). I think when the parents take of the mask and we are forced to third perspective it is anticlimatic (should've have stayed first person view). Otherwise great one.

Brian DePalma uses this technique often. It does raise suspense (hitchcock said the camera shouldn't cut back and forth to protag and antag for that it lowers the suspense) because you as an audience are only in control of one point of view. And if you are in control of the antag, you feel uncomfortable.

I think one of the greatest "following shot" missed in the video (which is again following the antag) is the one in JAWS, where the three guys in the boat finished talking about the USS Indianapolis and we cut to the water and that beeping barrel surfaces. We know it is here. It's not even a following shot per se... but so great to have a metaphor for a presence coming. So it's not third perseon, nor first person...

I could write more, but then it would end up in a complicated essay.

Anonymous said...

These are definitely called "tracking shots". As you may recall, the opening of THE PLAYER is an extended tracking shot following a pair of characters discussing famous tracking shots in movies, such as: the opening of TOUCH OF EVIL, Godard's freeway shot in WEEKEND, the shot following Debra Winger in THE SHELTERING SKY, Hitchcock's ROPE. Of course Scorsese and DePalma is famous for regularly using tracking shots. Some nice recent examples are the one in ATONEMENT, following the kid through the TV station in MAGNOLIA, and the opening of JCVD. -Mike Le

ChristopherR2D2 said...

It doesn't matter what they're called - they're called what ever the director wants to call them at the time ... it's not film school anymore chaps.

Another few great "Following," "Tracking," "Insert your preference here" shot can be seen in Children of Men. Amazing what the filmmakers behind that film did. In these examples, it's not so much about the pleasure of experiencing cemetery, safety, and point of view, as it is experiencing pure horror and chaos.

MM - thanks for the awesome post!

Anonymous said...

While movies get deserved attention, TV series are ignored! Both Deadwood and Freaks&Geeks use follow shots in ways as masterful as a Kubrick film.

Love this post and the video, I'm such a sucker for follow shots I learned to use a steadicam.

Mystery Man said...

I’m SO sorry for my delay in responding. I’m trying to get caught up, I swear!

Nic - On the reverse actor-mounted tracking shot: I love those, too! I suspect "Requiem for a Dream" made that shot popular.

Gabba - Yes, he does!

Thomas Rufer – Yojimbo, yes! I love that film. I’ve been going through all of Kurasawa’s films. Every week, I watch a new masterpiece I haven’t seen before. Interesting point about Jaws.

Mike – Touch of Evil, baby! I love that film! In Matt’s defense (and I could be wrong) but I think he’s trying to be very specific about being placed behind the character and following them, whereas a lot of tracking shots have you in front and to the side and just generally near the character.

Chris – I think Children of Men is in the montage. But I love those, too.

Returnon – Great point.


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mert said...

Mike – Touch of Evil, baby! I love that film! In dizi izle Matt’s defense (and I could be wrong) but I dizi izle think he’s trying to be very specific about being placed behind the character and following them, whereas a lot of tracking shots have you in front and to the side and just generally near the character.

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