You need to get the audience into your character’s headspace – here’s how
A single shot is worth a thousand words.
Film is a unique art form because of its special ability to convey meaning through a single image. At any point in a movie, a viewer can stop a movie and pick out the subject matter and the emotional depth of a scene, and that’s amazing. There is no need for dialogue; Instead, the basic tools of filmmaking are at work in a dynamic way.
One of the best ways to use visual storytelling is to break up the subjective view of the narrative. Visual choices are made to show the audience the filmmaker’s connection to the story, rather than just being decorative. Even the most brilliant shots capture the character’s state by using the simplest of film techniques, such as camera movements, to provoke empathy.
Must see movies breaks this down in a video on how to create visual storytelling that puts the audience in the character’s headspace. Listen.
Visual elements such as camera movements and image sections have to do a lot of work. The choice of camera lens, the movement, the cuts, and the length of focus on an object and person can reveal a deeper layer of story that couldn’t be told otherwise than visually.
A solid understanding of mise en scene is always important, but shouldn’t be the main focus when deciding how to create a particular shot. Director Sidney Lumet and his book Make films suggest that we start at the beginning of the creative process before focusing on the final product. Films don’t start with the visual. You start with a story. The style should come after the filmmaker has a clear understanding of the story and how it relates to it.
Once you have a clear understanding of the story and the connection to that story, ask how it should be told. This is a big question for the project as it will affect every single department that is working on it.
How should the recording be composed? The way the shot is framed affects how the audience understands the emotional weight of a moment. A great way to understand certain settings is to study moments in films like the opening Hunter of the lost treasure or the entirety of 12 angry men.
To the Raider, see how Spielberg can tell so much about a character in a minute using specific camera angles, holds, and lighting. We learn that Jones is mysterious, is quick and does not take anything from sneaky people.
In 12 angry men, Lumet uses different angles and lenses to show the ever-growing panic these men share in a room. As the film progresses, the audience feels almost claustrophobic as the space shrinks and there is no room to breathe.
One of the greatest character studies in all of cinema is Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) by taxi driver. The story is about self-destruction, isolation, and predetermined fate versus self-determined fate, and Scorsese tells this whole story at the beginning of the film.
Taking away the music and making the scene black and white will make the visual details easier to see. The steam from which the taxi emerges greets the audience to Scorses ‘subjective understanding of Travis’ perspective of reality. The character is introduced through his eyes and shows the audience that he is an observer who, in the next shot, observes a world distorted by the rain that covers the windshield.
The opening leaves the audience disoriented and restless as we sink deeper into the trance of Travis’ story. This style of subjective storytelling reflects the way the filmmaker likes to tell stories. taxi driver is Scorsese’s comment on how he sees the world, and he uses Travis’ story to visually tell it to the audience.
Movies have the ability to tell great stories on their own, but the visuals add to a character’s emotional intensity and place in the world of narrative. A camera that lasts longer on a character sitting in front of an aquarium can make a story from good to great because that simple image can reveal the character’s state of mind to the audience without anyone having to say anything. Remember to start with the story and let the style follow its function. Let the journey, theme, and shape of the character influence the visual decisions. Never underestimate the power of visual storytelling.
What are some of your favorite films that use visual language to reveal a character’s internal state? Let us know in the comments below!