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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 12:47 AM

Having just seen John Ford's "My Darling Clementine", I took a look again tonight at his earlier "How Green Was My Valley", which really shows how back then a great production designer created sets with the camera angles in mind. You can see this here:

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This is a shot at a wedding where the man who was in love with the bride watches from a distance on a hilltop. Ford said to his DP at the time "Maybe I should get a close-up of him, but if I shoot it, the studio will just make me use it, so forget it." It shows how much more interesting the compositions in a movie can be if the director plays scenes more in mediums and wide shots.

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These last two show the religious painting aspect to some of the framing:

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#2 Mike Rizos

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:40 AM

These are quite amazing. I think the lack of a close-up in the man on the hilltop scene, while avoiding sentimentality, allows us to imagine what the man feels. Plus any close-up at that point would drop so much compositionly, that we would naturally and automatically reject it.
The fourth still with the overhanging tree reminds me of the Barry Lyndon duel setting.
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#3 Dan Goulder

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 11:15 AM

Having just seen John Ford's "My Darling Clementine", I took a look again tonight at his earlier "How Green Was My Valley", which really shows how back then a great production designer created sets with the camera angles in mind.
This is a shot at a wedding where the man who was in love with the bride watches from a distance on a hilltop. Ford said to his DP at the time "Maybe I should get a close-up of him, but if I shoot it, the studio will just make me use it, so forget it." It shows how much more interesting the compositions in a movie can be if the director plays scenes more in mediums and wide shots.

David, thank you for the striking examples. Can you tell us the location where these scenes were shot?

Edited by dgoulder, 04 February 2006 - 11:17 AM.

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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 12:17 PM

Can you tell us the location where these scenes were shot?


Near my old film school CalArts (before it was built) in the hills of Newhall, CA. It was a lot easier to fake Ireland back in the days of b&w.
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#5 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 12:44 PM

I guess by saying the PD helped out the DP, you mean the sets was built on lines that would easily convey depth. (The street is "cheated" to force perspective.) Another example of stacking the deck in your favor.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:19 PM

I guess by saying the PD helped out the DP, you mean the sets was built on lines that would easily convey depth. (The street is "cheated" to force perspective.) Another example of stacking the deck in your favor.


I'm just saying that back then, production designers basically "designed" the wide master shots, so the whole set was laid out for a specific camera angle, and then further tweaked to provide other angles for other scenes. Look at all of William Cameron Menzies work for "Gone with the Wind" -- he had more to do with the camera set-ups in some ways than the director's and DP's that Selznick hired and fired.

They still do it today to some extent, but we tend to not use wide shots as much, nor hold on them. Nor do we build sets as much as we used to.

Whether it is a weakness in modern design modern cinematography, or modern directing, I don't know but the art of composition has been much diluted over the years, probably under the notion that a well-composed shot with depth is somehow less "realistic." In the 1970's there was a conscience decision among filmmakers to break with the Hollywood tradition of what constituted "good" photography because it had gotten so stale -- a healthy reaction -- but sometimes you throw the baby out with the bathwater when you try and re-invent the rules. I remember the AC article on Nykvist shooting "Cries and Whispers" talking about Bergman and him trying to eliminate depth in staging, "artistic" foreground elements, etc. although that movie is still elegantly staged. Trouble is that most filmmakers are not as great an artist as Bergman and Nykvist, so nowadays you get people breaking the rules when they were never competent enough to follow them in the first place.

Whatever his weakness as a storyteller, at least when Tony Scott breaks things up into multiple tight angles and fragments and abstracts everything, there is a painter's sensibility behind the deconstruction, but many directors and DP's don't even have that level of aesthetic development, yet copy that style.
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#7 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:24 PM

Near my old film school CalArts (before it was built) in the hills of Newhall, CA. It was a lot easier to fake Ireland back in the days of b&w.


---I believe it was actually the Fox ranch in Malibu.

Also the art director later directed 'The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman'

---LV

Edited by Leo A Vale, 04 February 2006 - 01:27 PM.

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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:27 PM

---I believe it was actually the Fox ranch in Malibu.

---LV


Could be. I always heard "Newhall" but the height of the hills looks more like the Malibu Creek State Park area.
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#9 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:32 PM

Whether it is a weakness in modern design modern cinematography, or modern directing, I don't know but the art of composition has been much diluted over the years, probably under the notion that a well-composed shot with depth is somehow less "realistic." In the 1970's there was a conscience decision among filmmakers to break with the Hollywood tradition of what constituted "good" photography because it had gotten so stale -- a healthy reaction -- but sometimes you throw the baby out with the bathwater when you try and re-invent the rules.


---I suppose that's where this contemporary disdain for deep focus comes from. Since composition becomes paramount for directing the eye, rather than throwing everything out of focus except for the main subject.

---LV
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#10 fstop

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:40 PM

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Any idea who did the matte painting?

I agree with David about older school designers really designing the sets for the lenses, even the format. I interviewed Peter Murton about the movie KING LONG LIVES last year, and I was absolutely blown away to hear how he created locations. The movie was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina with a few sequences in Tennesse. There are some really nice wide and medium shots of Borneo rainforests in the movie. Murton revealed to me that the rainforests were nothing more than the Wilmington Arboretum dressed with foreground exotic plant elements and stuffed parrots! Murton described it as very much a collaboration with director John Guillerman. It really paid off, because they didn't just go for static locked off shots, there are many precisely choreographed dolly shots in there too! Production design isn't just about literally building as much as you can of an actual to scale physical location/set. Designers also use to get more involved with the visual effects of movies too, to the point where they have their own regular matte artists. I think the lack of all that really shows today.

You also certainly use to see designers names credited as second unit directors on movies too. Not too much of that anymore.

Whatever his weakness as a storyteller, at least when Tony Scott breaks things up into multiple tight angles and fragments and abstracts everything, there is a painter's sensibility behind the deconstruction, but many directors and DP's don't even have that level of aesthetic development, yet copy that style.


Ironic, as Scott is often cited as starting the trend of framing for Pan and Scan (on Top Gun).
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#11 Patrick Neary

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:53 PM

great posts!

thoughtful composition seems to be a lost art anymore, so many movies are nothing but collections of standard close-ups and Over-The-Shoulders...why is it so prevalent? maybe directors directing from their video village, editors working from tv-sized screens, or timid conservatism driven by some sort of bland-is-best television mentality? King Kong was rotten with close-ups (okay, some very nicely lit close-ups!), as was Gladiator, two movies (off the top of my head) that really should have been big-screen experiences. Watching some older films is a real treat because filmmakers clearly thought about camera placement.

It's so rare to find a current film that uses the camera as something other than a machine just to record talking heads.
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#12 Paul Bruening

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 02:26 PM

Hey Gents,

Am I mistaken to say that it is the idiot box that has had the largest impact on framing and composition? What does the director frame for? Sure, the big screen will make some of the investment back. but DVD sales and rentals put the money back in the pocket.

I watched Bringing Out the Dead on my projector. I had seen it many times before on the boob tube. I was shocked how much more involving it was on the big wall. I haven't had this sensation with every movie. I beleive it has to do with a conscious decision the director must make to compose the scenes to favor big screen or small screen. They are two different beasts and, in effect, two different mediums.
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#13 Greg Gross

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 11:12 PM

I mentioned it earlier in a post tonight that I was so impressed with the camera
work done on "East of Eden". The framing just impressed me so much and the
great close-ups with say two actors in dialogue. Maybe this was an Elia Kazan
trade-mark, I haven't studied his work enough to know.

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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 February 2006 - 12:19 AM

Actually, even though they look like matte paintings, most of those wide shots were done in-camera -- you can tell because there are closer scenes to the factory set at the top of the hill, so it wasn't faked. In this shot, you can see the smoke blowing normal scale, plus there are other scenes at the top of the hill.

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Where you see a lot of matte paintings is in the beginning of the movie showing the (now aged) town after years of coal mining, with a giant slag heep covering the hills.
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#15 Bill Totolo

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 02:33 PM

Thanks for bringing this movie up, David. Especially under the heading of classic compositions.

I was very priviledged to meet one of the two credited art directors on this film, Nathan Juran, who won the Academy Award for his work on this film, on a documentary I was shooting. We interviewed Nathan in his home in Palos Verde a couple years before he passed away. One of the highlights of my career was meeting Nathan and holding an authentic academy award from 1942.

I wish I had the opportunity to talk to him about his work on this film, the only opportunity I had for chit chat with him was on his directing career.

Interestingly I learned my compositional skills (as meager as they are) from another Art Director named Gene Allen, who worked with and designed many compositions for George Cukor. Talk about a wonderful career. Gene was also the head of the Motion Picture Academy on two occasions.

"How Green Was My Valley", unfortunately still relevant today in the wake of the mining accidents. Seems like the more things change...
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#16 Michael Collier

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 04:06 PM

One of the highlights of my career was meeting Nathan and holding an authentic academy award from 1942.


That was from a year they only gave out ceramic awards right? Does he still have the ceramic one, or did they take that away when he got the gold one? I always wondered what happened to those ceramic awards. They must be worth a fortune these days.
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#17 Bill Totolo

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 06:19 PM

I don't know what it was made of. It looked like a worn version of the current statues. All I can say is it was heavy.
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#18 Dan Goulder

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 11:02 PM

I mentioned it earlier in a post tonight that I was so impressed with the camera
work done on "East of Eden". The framing just impressed me so much and the
great close-ups with say two actors in dialogue. Maybe this was an Elia Kazan
trade-mark, I haven't studied his work enough to know.

Greg Gross

Another James Dean movie with impressive composition would be "Giant", filmed in Vistavision with a 1.66/1 aspect ratio.
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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 11:55 PM

Another James Dean movie with impressive composition would be "Giant", filmed in Vistavision with a 1.66/1 aspect ratio.


I don't believe "Giant" was shot in VistaVision -- where did you read that? Is it in the credits?
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#20 Dan Goulder

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Posted 07 February 2006 - 12:34 PM

I don't believe "Giant" was shot in VistaVision -- where did you read that? Is it in the credits?

My original source claimed a 1.66/1 Vistavision aspect ratio, although I'm pretty sure the version I saw was cropped to 1.85/1. As I don't see any further corroboration regarding Vistavision, I'm assuming the reference was used strictly to describe the filming aspect ratio, and was misleading in the mention of Vistavision. My apologies. That said, the shot composition looks all the more impressive, knowing it was shot with standard gear and lenses. This is an excellent example of the conveyance of large open spaces in a non-anamorphic format.
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