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Breaking the conventional film-making rules


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#1 Neven Udovicic

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 04:57 PM

Hello to all of you... writing my first post here! ;)

I'm doing a research of breaking the rules in movies/filmmaking, and would appreciate any suggestion you might have!
For example, the lens flare.. I've read somewhere they were once considered mistakes, so they had to shoot the scene again if it happened! I didn't find when did they become acceptable... In the 70's?
Drop frames are another example, handheld camera, also the 180 degrees rule.. but to go further down that road, I'd need your help cause I'm a newbie in film theory.

So, what rules would be some of the most important, conventional ones in the field of filmmaking (cinematography) that are being broken in the last few decades? And which filmmaker are breaking them?

Sorry for my English... and thank you very much for your replies! :)

Neven U.
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#2 Jim Keller

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 05:31 PM

The biggest "rule" I'm seeing break down currently is in editing. Not long ago, one would never cut from a shot to another shot from the the same setup. If you wanted to cut different takes of the same performer together, you would always go from closeup to long shot, or vice versa. However, nowadays, you can cut the closeup to the same closeup, or the long shot to the same long shot. The first time I recall seeing this done was in Another Day in Paradise, a decade ago now, and the effect was jarring (but worked nicely with Larry Clark's faux-documentary style). But now that it's the de facto shooting/editing style of choice of every internet vlog, I'm beginning to see it done with great regularity, both in comedies and dramas, and especially on television.

It still rankles me, but I'm sort of old-school. :)
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#3 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 03:35 AM

There's n old saying in the film industry, " In Hollywood, there are no rules, but you break them at your own peril." You can basically do anything you want, but it better work, 'cause if it's unconventional and it doesn't work, they'll crucify you for it. What the French New Wave and Cinema Verite' did back in the late 50s and early 60s is standard practice now, Hell what Eisenstein did in the 20s broke every rule in the book at the time and is now the rule. I don't believe in rules, I believe in what makes the most powerful impact for telling the story. If that's a more traditional approach, fine, however if that happens to mean bizarre angles with completely disorienting editing and twisted lighting, well then so be it. By that logic, no one has ever broken any rules, they either made the imagery work or did not and that's the only real rule there is. :)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 14 March 2009 - 03:39 AM.

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#4 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 05:16 AM

interesting post anyway, what are today's rules?

- 20 cuts and differents camera positions to tell a guy siping a coffee?
- fine grain + sharp clean and desaturated images
- steadycam moves cuts with close ups
- show and light every single thing happening on the script

what is the convention today?
make HD look like film?
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#5 Paul Bruening

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 01:25 PM

Hello Neven,

Welcome and, please, join in often.

The only rule in this industry is, "Always listen to Paul." All the rest you can break at your own discretion. Except, of course for the second rule, "Don't talk about fight club." ...and the third rule, "Liquor before beer, nothing to fear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker."

There are some minor ones having to do with actually making a movie. I wouldn't let them worry you. Just follow the main three.
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#6 DJ Kast

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Posted 14 March 2009 - 02:33 PM

There are so many "rules" in filmmaking, but as in anything else, rules are meant to be broken. The only thing that I would caution about, is that you need to know the rule, and why you are breaking it.

I remember seeing an old western a few years ago(the name escapes me) and there was a shoot out. People were scattering in every direction, and one man was fleeing on his horse. He was riding toward a tree, and as he was being closelined by a branch, the camera switched sides, breaking the 180 rule. (he was traveling right to left and after the cut, he was falling left to right).

This is a perfect example of when rules can, and should be broken. It underscored the sense of confusion and randomness to the scurring peoples movement. Certainly it was a concious decision between the director and DP, and it worked. So break the rules, but know them, and know why you are doing it.
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#7 Neven Udovicic

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Posted 16 March 2009 - 05:23 PM

Thank you to all who contributed with their answers! :)
I'm researching as much as I can on the Internet in order to find titles that used a technique, or "broke a rule" first ever (or at least close to that).

I'm writing my thesis on breaking the rules in graphic design, and I'm also doing a few pages on photography and film (as I see them connected). I'm not educated in film history, but I'd like to have my data right, and not miss some important elements. So, I'll just ask a few bonus questions, just in case someone here knows the answers, and takes the time to answer them. (I'm not asking anyone to do the research for me B))

Regarding the lens flares, I've seen stills from a black&white, 1958. movie (I Soliti ignoti) that has them... But I'm far from knowing which movie was the first to use them... Can we at least say that in Hollywood, the first one was Easy Rider, 1969.? (source: Vissions of Light documentary). Did maybe Kubrick have them in the 50's?

The 180 degrees rule, I suppose it was broken a few times before Kar Wai Wong came along.. The western DJ Kast mentions probably is older.. Does anyone know a more older example? Hollywood/non-Hollywod, doesn't matter..

Splattering the camera... (with blood, water, whatever) When did that start to happen? The only thing I read was about John Toll (Braveheart cinematographer) having sea water splashing the lens of the camera in the movie Wind. Seeing how this was 1992., I suppose there's tons of earlier examples..?

Showing frames simultaneously on the screen; a movie called Time Code did this in 2000., with four frames. Any other examples of this technique?

Eisenstein, I suppose, did a revolution by focusing on the montage... In which segments did Citizen Cane make a revolution in filmmaking (other than deep focus)?

I guess that would be all for now.. I hope I'm not bugging too much. :unsure:
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#8 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 08:08 AM

Showing frames simultaneously on the screen; a movie called Time Code did this in 2000., with four frames. Any other examples of this technique?


Well ACTUALLY you COULD argue Griffith did that nearly a 90 years before Figgis in Birth of a Nation when in certain scene he had what was suppose to be a flash back playing above the head of a character. Figgis changed the context and pushed it to the extreme but it is basically the same idea. There were numerous split screen experiments done in the 60s and 70s using this technique including some godawful horror picture Wicked, Wicked (1973) that showed the killer in one screen and the victims running from him in the other. Simultaneous action using a split screen is nothing new, therefore not that innovative, ground breaking or rule breaking for that matter. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 17 March 2009 - 08:09 AM.

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#9 Paul Bruening

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Posted 17 March 2009 - 02:21 PM

All of the rules that you previously listed in bold have to do with the suspension of disbelief (http://en.wikipedia....on_of_disbelief).

If you are concerned with the viewers' immersion in your presentation, then you'll follow the rules that avoid "waking" the viewer from your dream-stuff.

Yet, as was increasingly popular in the 60s and 70s, some creators benefited from breaking those immersion rules. So, the handy rule of Do what works always, always, always applies, as has been stated, here, by rule-breaking fiends like JSB. Oooooh, that JSB. Lock up your precious rules, fathers. JSB is in town.
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#10 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 18 March 2009 - 02:44 AM

ABSOLUTELY, fathers, lock up your rules...........but go ahead and leave your daughters outside and with in easy access, preferably wearing high heals and something skimpy.......this of course only applies to good looking daughters, so if you happen to have ugly daughters, feel free to lock them up along with the rules. In fact they could even sit in the safe and hold the rules just to make the rules easier for you to find once I've left with the good looking daughters. :rolleyes:

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 18 March 2009 - 02:48 AM.

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#11 Simon Wyss

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Posted 18 March 2009 - 10:19 AM

There is one rule in the movie thing, only one, but that one must not be broken. Your public will not forgive you in doing it.

This is the rule: Guide the spectator, lead, take her and him by the hand, entice them to listen to you, to follow the line of your pictures.

One can study that so well with Chaplin. The shots are simple, no camera movements most of the time, but he forces us to enter his ideal realm ever deeper. Do not let a listener down once you have begun to tell a story. It's mutual, they want to hear more of it, you serve and steer at the same time.
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#12 frederico parreira

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Posted 18 March 2009 - 04:11 PM

maybe the guy wants actually rules that were, and are not anymore, etc. nice quotes are not needed, maybe.

for example: irreversible. the movie starts with soooooo many rules being broken, lights frontal to the camera, terrible camera movement, the lights in the street are (sodium) yellow, etc. as the film goes and goes, everything starts to be more 'normal'.

my 2 cents
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#13 Neven Udovicic

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 03:05 AM

maybe the guy wants actually rules that were, and are not anymore, etc. nice quotes are not needed, maybe.

for example: irreversible. the movie starts with soooooo many rules being broken, lights frontal to the camera, terrible camera movement, the lights in the street are (sodium) yellow, etc. as the film goes and goes, everything starts to be more 'normal'.

my 2 cents



Haha... You're right! I prefer "data" to quotes. Thank you all! I think I'll go now and finally write! ;)
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#14 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 21 March 2009 - 02:39 AM

Well, see, but your "data" is based on a misconception, the misconception that there are any "rules" in the first place. There are no official rule books regarding film making. The DGA is not going to fine you for bucking the norm in fact they may applaud you and give you an award if you buck the norm well enough. There are at best, traditional ways to shoot a film and tradition does not a rule make. There are ways of filming and editing that might make something clearer or simpler to explain to an audience much more readily than others but in every case where that applies in any given piece of material, there is someone who has shown it can be done another way and often a more interesting way in another. The problem with having a film "school" is you must have a curriculum for that school so they create one, and unfortunately that curriculum tends to be a "one way fits all" kind of attitude which should you stray from, you will be penalized and that tends to make everyone follows what they are taught because that's what they believe to be the "right" way to do something which really murders creativity.

Now I can understand WHY they do that. If you're in the business of running a school, you have to answer to boards and the state and parents and other such entities AND to the students themselves who have been brought up since they were small children to get good grades. But HERE'S the problem, how do you objectively "grade" creativity? In other words, how do you prove your students are learning something for the money they're spending? Well you give them tests and how do you grade tests? Well you have right and wrong answers in fact, that is imperative, if you want to test there must be a right answer and a wrong answer. But see with any artistic endeavor, there are no right or wrong answers, there are only emotions, if your audience felt like the art spoke to them and it created emotion within them even if it was not the emotion you intended, then you did it right, if your audience is ambivalent towards your art, EVEN though, you followed every rule in the book, you failed. So what you're writing is based on faulty data so no matter what you write, it will be incorrect form a artistic standpoint, because your basis for any conclusions are incorrect. You might get an "A" but even if you do, that grade will be meaningless other than as an academic exercise in conformity which in and of it's self is an exercise in tedium. I guess all I'm saying, f you are in school, now's the time to start thinking for yourself and take everything these professors say with a grain of salt because the really do all have their own agenda which may not, often time IS not in your best interests and in fact may not even have anything to DO with you what so ever. Just something to think about. B)
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#15 Karel Bata

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Posted 23 March 2009 - 01:43 PM

Well put James. I couldn't agree more. Here's my 2p:

Film 'rules' are like the rules of grammar in a language. Every now and then someone comes along and adds some new bit of slang and the purists throw up their hands in horror at this bastardization of their mother tongue - and sometimes with some validity. The only test, the ONLY test, is if it's still around in a few years, if the audience takes to it, or if it's just a fad.

Looking at old films to me is sometimes like reading Olde English, kind of quaint and charming and a bit cumbersome, but sometimes I marvel at their eloquence, at their mastery of a language with fewer short cuts. It all seems a little lazy now.

I strongly believe it's important to understand the rules before you start breaking them - for instance, what exactly is 'the line' (p.s it's actually a vertical plane) and what does it do, and why is it there? Study your craft. Like you're now doing ;) . The most successful fashion designers (another field with it's own evolving language) really understand their market, and don't just do what they think looks good. Likewise, if you invent some new verbal slang you could completely mystify who you're talking to, or (maybe worse) look pretentious. Same with film.

I think the first film that intentionally 'crossed the line' was Antonioni's L'Aventurra (bet I spelt that wrong <_< ) and I STILL hate it for that! :lol: Reminds me of when I once told David Bailey he'd crossed the line in a set-up. Never worked for him again. :o And it's all been downhill for me since then. :D

There's a fantastic book on rule breaking Alternative Scriptwriting: Successfully Breaking the Rules by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush.

Best of luck! B)
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#16 Jacob C Ross

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Posted 08 April 2009 - 11:15 AM

I think filmmaking is still a relatively new artform..

what you see popularized on TV is just hollywood trying to use gimmicks (ie: shaky everything, quick cuts, etc)

camera tricks/trends come and go, good stories stand the test of time.

I think overall what has drained the attention span of folks is convenience culture, quite a disturbing thing.... but this could veer off into philosophy territory so I'll cut it short :P

films like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, 400 Blows, Taxi Driver, Stalker.... all would be considered somewhat avant garde/arthouse and pretty far outside the conventional Hollywood techniques at the time, yet all remain classics that have withstood the test of time

same can be said for Hollywood films like Citizen Kane, Planet of the Apes, Casablanca.... a good universal story taps into the collective unconscious... this transcends just about everything...

now when you have an amazing story COMBINED with innovative techniques, well then my friend, you are sitting on the next instant classic
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#17 Tom Jensen

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Posted 08 April 2009 - 11:27 AM

Never hold your pee on a set. Go when you have to go or it can kill you.

Whatever you do, everything has to tell the story. Don't do something just for the sake of doing it.

Listen to Paul.
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