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What drives cinematography fads such as handheld?


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#1 rlogan

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 01:21 AM

I am sick beyond description of the ubiquitous "in your face" camerawork the industry seems to have fallen into, and am curious what is actually driving this stupid fad.

One facet is the extreme overuse and exaggertation of handheld. It isn't just mandatory that all fight scenes have the camera shaking so badly that you can't tell what is going on - even scenes where almost nothing at all is happening have this annoying intrusion on the plot and characters.

But that isn't all. It is also in zooming, panning, close-ups, quick cuts lasting no longer than .0000000001 second and the ridiculous swooping 360's.

I know full well what some industry people claim about handheld, for example - that it supposedly creates "tension". Sure it does - it makes me want to tension my hands around the throat of the person responsible for it.

Likewise, each of the other techniques has some purported benefit. But most of them have been around for many decades, and it is only in recent years that I find myself leaving movies that would otherwise have been fine because of the nauseating distractions of this pox.

Forget how revolting this is for me, and what a huge fan of it that you may be. My question is what is actually driving this fad? Is there some marketing data demonstrating that fans pay more for movies where they cannot focus on anything for more than a millisecond?

I don't mean opinion. I mean are there any facts? Obviously, directors who worship the speeding, shaky camera think they are doing the right thing. I am not interested in opinion because frankly this crap makes me angry and I am not wishing to be patronized.

Instead, has there been (for example) surveys, focus groups, sales figures or whatever from the consumers that demand front-to-back waving, zooming, cut-cut-cut? Is this now the 11th commandment of film school: "Thou shalt never hold the camera still?"
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#2 Chris Cooke

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 01:45 AM

You don't want our opinions but your giving us yours quite blatently. That was your first post dude, wow quite an entrance into this community. I would have expanted a rant like that from Phil Rhodes or Landon D. Parks.
I will go ahead and answer your question to the best of my knowledge though and I'll throw in a little opinion just for the fun of it. Shaky cameras, fast zooms and jump cuts started getting used in a big way in the mid 90's music videos and the first drama to use this technique was the weekly NYPD blue. Some of our best cinematographers in the world such as Roger Deakins, ASC use this technique with great interest and accuracy. Great cinematographers understand that camera movement will in most cases upstage what's going on in front of it. But they also understand that an obtrusive camera can send a message. Always make sure that you know what you're trying to say with the camera with every choice that you make. So many amatures like that style and they use it only because they saw someone else use it. I say, if it definitively helps you tell your story, go for it.
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#3 Rik Andino

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 03:18 AM

Chris hit the nail on the head when he said Music Vids...
If you do some research on Music Vids most of the viewers are kids...
Ergo the kids like all the exciting camera work....

I don't know you're age-range
but if you're over 35 rest assure they're not that concerned in making movies you like
Most of the films today are aimed at the younger crowd...
I'm in my late 20's and I sometimes have a hard time relating with today's movies...
Most of the action films and horror films are made for kids who grew up with MTV
And as we continue you'll see more and more crazy FXs and camera work.

Sometimes it works like in Fight Club, Narc, Point Break, Amelie, etc...
Sometimes it just goes too far like in Gone in 60 Seconds, Bad Boys II, Too Fast Too Furious, etc...

But know this, they won't stop using these techniques just because you dislike them.
Unlike our parents and grandparents era--this is a youth oriented culture...
As you grow older be prepared to feel left out more and more...

Many big cities have movie theaters that offer revivals of classic films from 30, 40, 50 years ago...
You can try viewing those, you'll be less frustrated...
Or you can learn to like the new fads.
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#4 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 04:53 AM

Shaky cameras, fast zooms and jump cuts started getting used in a big way in the mid 90's music videos and the first drama to use this technique was the weekly NYPD blue.


I kinda disagree here, more rapid and shaky camera work, as well as crash zooming has been around since the sixties. Watch a film like On Her Majesties Secret Service where all the fight scenes are staged that way... How about The French Connection, it made great use of shaky and delebretly 'sloppy' camera work. I'm sure for audiences watching those films at the time they were enthusesed and it felt like a more realistic approach and a breath of fresh air. Now we've come to the 90s and music videos and MTV interviews and rockumentries have really brought that back and pushed it further - now dramas have taken it on board it has become to the level of abstraction, in the UK not only tv cop shows are filmed that way but period tv dramas like Bleak House and a biographical film about Princess Margret too. It does feel incredibly silly watching a period film handheld - but thats doesn't always mean its wrong.

rlogan - perhaps your problem isn't with 'handheld' despite your long and very irritating rant about it but perhaps is a problem with copycat or fashionable filmmaking - from bad filmmakers. This is nothing new if it wasn't handheld camera work, it was formula editing in the 40s/50s where every scene would start on a wide go into medium close ups for dialougue and then a close-up for the emotional revelation. Bad filmmakers is nothing new, and they will always copy the thing of the day (ever watched the show Dragnet - that set of a chain of copies).

There have been excellent films using this style for the sake of genuine and appropriate texture, and you can't write them off just because of the current trend. Look at the film Traffic would it have been a better film had it been shot more conservatively, definatly not. City of God, perhaps that film pushes it to far and it does become distracting but most would agree it was the right route to go.

and for heavens sake 360 degrees swooping isn't ridiculous, for every bad example you have proably seen there is proably an example of genuine good use of it. Ever seen the Polish film Structure of Crystals, that has a brilliant sequence using it.

rlogan if you don't like watching bad films avoid filmmakers and tv shows that you don't like and then you don't have to rant about it here.

Edited by Andy_Alderslade, 04 April 2006 - 04:56 AM.

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#5 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 05:00 AM

If you are a director or cinematographer you know best what the film you are working on requires in terms of camera movement (among the myriad of other things). If you don't like a particular approach-don't use it!
I believe that real "art" comes from knowing why you are doing things more than how you are doing things.
If you want to avoid in your face, over the top camera movement, it's probably best to avoid films with titles that sound like video games. In fact I think that the gaming thing is the new MTV in terms of influencing the excessive use of camera movement. Also the IT age has formatted many people to be infatuated with gadgets and consumption. Just try to know what you like and do it. Always stay open to other approaches.
There are many ways to skin a cat!
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#6 Josh Bass

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 09:09 AM

Well, HE'LL never be back.
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 09:58 AM

Do I... rant?
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#8 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 10:29 AM

Do I... rant?


No you don't, you're normally very short and to the point, a little blunt perhaps, well very blunt. ;)

"Well, HE'LL never be back."

Well maybe he'll join an architecture forum and moan and rant about modern architecture, after all there's enough reason to.

Edited by Andy_Alderslade, 04 April 2006 - 10:30 AM.

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#9 rlogan

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 01:55 PM

Never be back?


You don't want our opinions but your giving us yours quite blatently. That was your first post dude, wow quite an entrance into this community.


Exactly so. A great deal of pent-up frustration, and apologies to those offended.


the first drama to use this technique was the weekly NYPD blue.


Yes. I found it extremely annoying.

I have a specific interest in boxing productions, and handheld or zooming is required in order to follow the action better. It is not a nuisance for that very reason.



Great cinematographers understand that camera movement will in most cases upstage what's going on in front of it.


Agree 1000% and this is why I am seeking some hard data on why camera movement is so ubiquitous.


From Rik, and others with the MTV history of this abominable fad:

Most of the films today are aimed at the younger crowd


This is getting closer to the heart of my question on marketing data.

So let me try posing the question this way: Will a film that has outstanding characters, actors, plot, and so forth be viewed by producers and directors as a failure to this marketing group if it does not have the in-your-face camera movement?

Exactly how have producers and directors determined so? Is there an example of a film or show that flopped and there is some actual evidence that the failure to use these techniques caused the fatality?


From Andy:

it was formula editing in the 40s/50s where every scene would start on a wide go into medium close ups for dialougue and then a close-up for the emotional revelation



Thank you for this parallel.

I mentioned in my post that all of the techniques have been around for decades. It is the extreme overuse that is at issue.
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#10 jijhh

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 02:28 PM

About the marketing aspect, yes they have done surveys about shot length and quick cutting and today's audiences respond much better to it. The average shot length in films today is a tiny fraction of what it used to be.

As for the film school commandment remark, I've been in film school for a few years now and can tell you, from my personal experience here, that if anything, people need to experiment more with camera movement; it's hardly a fad here at all.
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#11 Dan Goulder

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 02:51 PM

Whatever the camera does or doesn't do, it's most effective when it pulls people in, rather than push them away. Of course, in this day of "extreme" this, and "extreme" that, one could hardly be surprised that we'd also get hit with "extreme" cinematography. Don't worry. People will get sick of that, too.
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#12 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 03:12 PM

I don't mind handheld at all. Far more annoying is bleach bypass-emulation, shutter effects and all those close-up's. That's really annoying.

I think I'm going to bring back Vilmos Zsigmonds, ASC's, Hamilton-y flashing and fog filters for my next project... :P
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#13 rlogan

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 03:56 PM

About the marketing aspect, yes they have done surveys about shot length and quick cutting and today's audiences respond much better to it. The average shot length in films today is a tiny fraction of what it used to be.


I know that TV commercials are sometimes subjected to focus group testing, and there is one case where the quick cut is at its most extreme. I very nearly phrased the opening post as an observation that what has been true for commercials in 15 second spots has now become full length feature film application.

All tactics are subject to a point of diminishing returns, and why complete saturation has come to dominate seems to stand in contradiction to that basic rule.

As for the film school commandment remark, I've been in film school for a few years now and can tell you, from my personal experience here, that if anything, people need to experiment more with camera movement; it's hardly a fad here at all.


I do not question your personal experience. What I see coming out in production is overuse.


Adam, I also see the over-use of close-ups too. So close that only a portion of the actor's face is visible, for example, and not even framed in a way that makes sense to me. Also at weird angles.

dgoulder, I would agree completely with the statement that the camera work needs to pull people in. I have found myself needing to look away because of the combined effect of the cut-cut-zoom-pan-shake-shake- blitzkrieg. There is only so much of it one can take.
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#14 Filip Plesha

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 04:28 PM

I think a lot of people these days are addicts to adrenalin, or at least it's trendy to be an adrenalin addict.
30 years ago it was trendy to be nicotin addict, now smoking is definitivley "out", and being nervous and jumpy is "in". How many times have you aread "adrenalin" as a argument for why someone likes some activity.
Everyone keeps saying: I like this or that because there is so much adrenalin going on.

Look at Beavis and Butthead. While some consider that show to be promoting teenage stupidity, it's actually doing the oposite, it's showing how teenagers most often behave and think: they are twisted and imbalanced versions of normal human beings.
But that's how they are. They can't keep their concentration on one thing for a second, otherwise it gets boring to them. They just keep staring at the TV, and everything is boring and to laugh at, either that or is cool for like a second, then it gets boring again.
So if you are going to make a movie that targets such audience, you have to make it fast, to the point and "cool", whatever cool is at that moment.
Of course you can't expect such audience to see it more than once, but by the time they all finish seeing it you'll be rich so it doesn't matter anyway.
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#15 santo

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 04:41 PM

I completely agree with rlogan, even though I enjoy using handheld in my own stuff I'm doing.

It comes down to this, I think:

Handheld is great if it's used creatively to search out the most important composition or focal point in the shot, and in moving from composition to composition. It's being used to tell the story and feels very organic.

Handheld is a mindless style fad when used as a trick because nothing is really going on in the scene and it's used to try and "energize it" because it has not been blocked worth a crap or creatively directed or lit and composed. Then it never works and becomes really annoying.

The former takes talent, the latter does not. I think its overuse as a fad is like most most things that become fads -- it's started and used by people with talent to accomplish something, then aped by people who really don't understand the reason it was done, or how to impliment it properly so that it's effective and artful. They just think it "looks cool".
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#16 rlogan

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 04:59 PM

saying: I like this or that because there is so much adrenalin going on.


I think that you are spot on insofar as identifying a physiological basis. Processing rapid-fire information, and especially that which is distorted in some way may trip the endorphine trigger.

They can't keep their concentration on one thing for a second, otherwise it gets boring to them.


I was a university professor for about 20 years, and one of the alarming trends over time was the kids adopting a horribly superficial communication pattern that mimics sit-com dialogue. The one-liner slam retort in the place of careful multi-step logical reasoning.

I believe these to be corollary developments.
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#17 rlogan

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 05:11 PM

Handheld is great if it's used creatively to search out the most important composition or focal point in the shot, and in moving from composition to composition. It's being used to tell the story and feels very organic.

Handheld is a mindless style fad when used as a trick because nothing is really going on in the scene and it's used to try and "energize it" because it has not been blocked worth a crap or creatively directed or lit and composed. Then it never works and becomes really annoying.


This was well said, and I thank you for it.
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#18 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 05:30 PM

I think that you are spot on insofar as identifying a physiological basis. Processing rapid-fire information, and especially that which is distorted in some way may trip the endorphine trigger.
I was a university professor for about 20 years, and one of the alarming trends over time was the kids adopting a horribly superficial communication pattern that mimics sit-com dialogue. The one-liner slam retort in the place of careful multi-step logical reasoning.

I believe these to be corollary developments.


You seem very angry over very trivial things. If you don't like it don't watch it, or in the case of your pupils don't listen to them, isn't that what most 'professors' do? You know there's no need for you to sit through an episode of NYPD, or even watch the latest Bruckheimer movie, I certainly don't. Infact here's something that will definatly suit your taste:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/
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#19 Filip Plesha

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Posted 04 April 2006 - 06:58 PM

I can't see anger in the part of the text you quoted
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#20 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 05 April 2006 - 12:41 AM

You don't want our opinions but your giving us yours quite blatently. That was your first post dude, wow quite an entrance into this community. I would have expanted a rant like that from Phil Rhodes or Landon D. Parks.
I will go ahead and answer your question to the best of my knowledge though and I'll throw in a little opinion just for the fun of it. Shaky cameras, fast zooms and jump cuts started getting used in a big way in the mid 90's music videos and the first drama to use this technique was the weekly NYPD blue. Some of our best cinematographers in the world such as Roger Deakins, ASC use this technique with great interest and accuracy. Great cinematographers understand that camera movement will in most cases upstage what's going on in front of it. But they also understand that an obtrusive camera can send a message. Always make sure that you know what you're trying to say with the camera with every choice that you make. So many amatures like that style and they use it only because they saw someone else use it. I say, if it definitively helps you tell your story, go for it.


Not exactly correct. Hasn't anyone ever heard of "Cinema Verite"? It is a style of filmmaking that became popular in the 60's in Europe. It's basically a documentary technique to make the camera unobtrusive in an attempt to capture more realistic behaviour from your subject. This became possible with the advent of lighter, more reliable cameras. This technique became synominous with "reality" in filmmaking. The technque became fashionable in America with the foriegn film explosion of popularity the gripped the US in the late 50's and early 60's.

The techique gained a boost in modern popularity due to the Dogma movement that was an atempt to make a return to "pure" filmmaking in 1995 which stated as one of it's "voes" that the camera must be hand held. This was subsequently adopted by many low budget and art filmmakers wanting to ditch the standard Hollywood fare in favor of more meaningful films. Unforutately few of them were any good at filmmaking or screenwriting, which is why so many bad movies use the technique, also it's cheaper to hold the camera than rent or build a dolly or steadicam and the Dogma movement gave them an excuse to be sloppy with their filmmaking.

The technique, because it is associated with news and documentary is valuable for creating a "realistic" feel to a film, which is why NYPD Blues and other "gritty" projects adopted the technique. In my OPINION, it has become somewhat overused.

Quick cuts however are used to create excitement for the ADD afflicted youth epdemic currently cutting a swath through the MTV generation of this nation. I'm sure it will run it's course and be replaced by something else. I saw something on the Sci/Fi channel that may be the next wave, a film animated to look like a video game. If this is the next trend, maybe I'll just skip the rush and blow my brain out right now or move to Amish country were there are no movies or TV and take up farming.

Edited by Capt.Video, 05 April 2006 - 12:50 AM.

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