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Annoyed by Shaky Cam


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#1 Jet Graphics

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 10:51 PM

In this age of outstanding image quality, HDTV, and the wonders of CGI, I am at a loss to understand why cinematographers / cameramen / directors degrade the image with hand held shaky cam.

In just about every fight scene, all that stunt work, clever choreography, and lighting, is reduced to a blurry, nauseating, and thoroughly annoying experience.

It is not entertaining, and I have ceased watching innumerable TV shows, movies, and other video productions because of it.

Please, please, please, tell those who think that the audience enjoys it that they are wrong, wrong, wrong. At best, they tolerate it. At worst, they despise it.

I was recently watching "Enter the Dragon", and was grateful that Bruce Lee's outstanding direction, choreography, and lighting wasn't spoiled by shaky cam.

I know of no one who walked out of a movie, thrilled by shaky cam, or could describe with any detail, a dramatic sequence that an integral part of the story marred by it. Why bother to hire talent, when one could just shake the camera and blur the image in post production?

I pray that the second decade of the 21st century will be a transformation and restoration of the visual artistry lost to the visual equivalent of a "laugh track".
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#2 Jake Iesu

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 01:35 AM

Although I do agree that it can be over used at times, I get the feeling you are missing the point of hand held "shakey cam" Watch the openening of saving private ryan and imagine that shot on dollys and steadcams.

It is about conveying an emotion as is most cinematography, and alot of the time shakey cam is used effectivly to create a feeling of insecuity, unrest or urgency.

My the world would be a boring place if we watched it all from the comfort of a tripod.
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#3 Jet Graphics

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 01:57 AM

Although I do agree that it can be over used at times, I get the feeling you are missing the point of hand held "shakey cam" Watch the openening of saving private ryan and imagine that shot on dollys and steadcams.

It is about conveying an emotion as is most cinematography, and alot of the time shakey cam is used effectivly to create a feeling of insecuity, unrest or urgency.

My the world would be a boring place if we watched it all from the comfort of a tripod.

Perhaps pristine imagery would be boring to you. Not to me.

I have to fast forward or close my eyes during "shaky cam" sequences - so I do MISS the point. There is no feeling, except disgust and annoyance. Ditto, for attention deficit disorder editing.

Frankly, I would have greatly enjoyed the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, if the imagery was steady, focused, and clear.

Personal, subjective opinion flag on:
I think that the trend toward miserable imagery is not unlike the Emperor's New Clothes. The proponents keep telling each other how wonderful it is - but in truth - it is not.

I suspect that an audience's reaction to a clear action sequence versus a jerky, blurry, swooping, quick cut sequence would tend toward the former and not the latter.

Can you imagine the urgency, danger, insecurity of the opening sequence of Star Wars IV, done in jerky mode?
I doubt if that would "Wow" the audience.

---------

Was watching old Rock performers, from TV archives of the 1970s, and noted that the camera operators took time to let the audience perceive the musicianship, instead of endless movement, swoops, and jump cuts. It's probably why I can't stand to watch the "Amateur" performers of current TV. It's the camera work, not the artists.
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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 03:48 AM

"Barry Lyndon" a film with beautiful imagery mounted on tripods and the dolly also has shaky cam when the surface veneer of the world and a character's falls apart. Kubrick also used hand held in 2001.

It's a matter degree and if unsteady images are justified by the story. Although, sometimes you are asked to put in more shake on a job than your normal hand held shooting usually has.

"Saving Private Ryan" took it's opening camera style from the war newsreel, the camera being placed where the cameraman wouldn't get shot and filming without tripods.

Certainly, there has been excess of the technique, often to jazz up bland content and perhaps TV is to blame more then cinema. You don't want to sitting in the front row of the cinema watching a film that excessively uses shaky cam or uses the effect for the entire film.

BTW Good hand held camera work isn't necessarily shaky.
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 05:23 AM

While I have no problem with this technique done in moderation, it was certainly overdone in The Hurt Locker, which I watched on DVD a couple of days ago.


P
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#6 Daniel Sheehy

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 07:59 AM

It is about conveying an emotion as is most cinematography, and a lot of the time shaky cam is used effectively to create a feeling of insecurity, unrest or urgency...


It can be a useful tool. But when it becomes disruptive to the viewing experience, it has obviously been abused.

I personally feel that the current trend of trying to replicate the visual experience of actually being there, is counter-productive to the story telling.
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#7 Jet Graphics

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 12:47 PM

BTW Good hand held camera work isn't necessarily shaky.

Hand held camera work is not annoying. It's the visual cacophony that is presented to the audience as "Artistic".

In contrast, I was watching "Sharpe's Peril" on Masterpiece Theater, and noticed that in action sequences, the image quality was far superior, absent jump cuts and shaky cam. Frankly, it was far more entertaining, despite the lack of gymnastics in the stunt work.

Based on the current crop of movies, the "shake, rattle, and roll" school of disruptive story telling is dominant, fashionable, though tasteless as it may be.

I hope that the printed word never becomes victim to "shaky cam" - but with Kindle and iPad, that may change...
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#8 Justin Hayward

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 01:57 PM

I’m finishing a movie right now with a domestic fight scene that I had to shoot in this style. I wanted so bad to stage the whole thing in one single, static, wide shot similar to the domestic fight scene in Raging Bull, but it was beyond my abilities to make it authentic. I just couldn’t do it and believe me I tried. So, the last minute decision was to shoot in the Borne style and make it in editing.

The scene came out okay, but I can’t help but think how much better it would have been if I could have staged it properly in a static wide shot.

Point is, we do what we feel we have to in order to make it work. The shaky cam scene is one of many, many, many compromises I made on this movie. When you’re in charge of a project, you do whatever it takes to make it the best it can be and obviously there are plenty of directors out there that feel the shaky cam is what works best for their project. If you don’t like it, then get out there and show us how it’s done. ;)
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#9 Donald Wong

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 01:25 AM

The shaky-cam/run & gun style is troubling to me too. I saw THE HURT LOCKER recently and even though I sat near the back of the theater, I had to close my eyes for several minutes a number of times to avoid motion sickness. At least I made it through the entire movie. I had to walk out on CLOVERFIELD and THE GREEN ZONE because I was strongly feeling the onset of nausea.

Why are directors choosing this style of shooting so much in recent years? Doesn't it make more sense to create images that get a "you can't take your eyes off the screen" reaction instead of "I had to look away/close my eyes or I would've vomited" reaction.

As far as creating a sense of being there or a sense of reality, ask yourself what are among the most real feeling movies you've ever seen and if hand-held camerawork was truly a factor in creating that sense of reality.

And isn't it also possible that audiences are or will be expressing their displeasure with movies that employ the heavy use of shaky-cam by essentially boycotting these movies?

- Dino
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#10 Chris Bowman

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 10:32 AM

To me, the most offensive use of shaky cam was 007: The Quantum Of Solace. The film had the budget, the staging, and the skill available to do anything. Instead, the director chose to use shaky hand held camera work to exaggerate the fight sequences. I felt ill and had to close my eyes (something I've never had happen on ANY roller coaster). The "artistic" decision to use shaky cam grossly cheapened the film.

I avoid watching films in theaters which I know or suspect will have much use of shaky cam. Films which use cheap gimmicks deserve to be watched on the cheap. I wait until they are available from Redbox, and watch them on a small screen. That way I don't feel sick, and I don't reward poor production values.

I'm not saying all hand held cam is bad (I loved the camera work on Saving Private Ryan). I do think, though, that the camera work should be appropriate to the film. Bond, for example, ought to be classy and elegant, a perfect big screen experience (yes, even in the action and violence). Shaky cam, alas, simply is not any of those things.
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#11 Jet Graphics

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 10:37 AM

The shaky-cam/run & gun style is troubling to me too. ...

Why are directors choosing this style of shooting so much in recent years? Doesn't it make more sense to create images that get a "you can't take your eyes off the screen" reaction instead of "I had to look away/close my eyes or I would've vomited" reaction.

As far as creating a sense of being there or a sense of reality, ask yourself what are among the most real feeling movies you've ever seen and if hand-held camerawork was truly a factor in creating that sense of reality.

Agreed.

And isn't it also possible that audiences are or will be expressing their displeasure with movies that employ the heavy use of shaky-cam by essentially boycotting these movies?

- Dino

Good point. Instead of a boycott, I think folks should demand their money back. That would make a stronger signal. The hierarchy running the "business" do not really listen to the audience - they listen to the money. A slew of complaints from theater owners would do more to influence change, because "box office receipts" are all they fixate upon.
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#12 Jet Graphics

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 10:51 AM

So, the last minute decision was to shoot in the Borne style and make it in editing. If you don’t like it ...

The Bourne Ultimatum was a visual disaster, and I did not finish viewing it.
Come to think of it, I didn't finish viewing Mission Impossible III.

After reflection, I do tend to gravitate more to the older movies, where image stability is the rule, not the exception.

Maybe producers should label their products with SHAKE scores:
I = no shake, no jump cuts
II = some
III = moderate
IV = roller coaster ride
V = river rapids, inverted 6 G aerobatics, barf bag
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#13 Marcus Allemann

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 11:08 AM

the argument that scenes shot with static set ups are better than "shakey" cam sequences outright is a bit of an unfair generalization. at least now that we've established that Jet's not simply slandering handheld camera work in general (which would just be a tad ridiculous), a line needs to be drawn to specify that it's just the more frantic sequences but where do you draw the line between what's effective and what's just nauseating?

if you wanted me to, I could easily give you a top 10 frenetic handheld sequences off the top of my head that I felt really hit the mark in getting the response and involvement of the audience that complimented the story. but really, i think that's irrelevant. it's a cinematic tool just like any other. it'd be like listing a top 10 steadicam sequences, and a top 10 list of long wide shots only to argue that steadicam sequences are better than long wide shots.

and as for "shakey" cam being a recent fad, I'm sure there would be many cinematographer's filming before the 70's who would have considered the option aesthetically had it been a bit more practical. Even if it suited to shoot a fast paced handheld sequence in Enter the Dragon, I don't think the thought would have lasted long with the possibility of a day's shooting handheld on a bulky 35mm camera with anamorphic lenses. as cameras have gotten lighter and more mobile, of course the options for handheld operating spread dramatically so it's no surprise over the past 20 years it's been incorporated into many more television shows and movies.

but people have been doing it since the realist films of the 40's and cinema verite, on top of many documentaries and features over the years (many of them to very great effect mind you). of course it's become more common

i hate it too when it goes a bit over the top for more than a brief period but anything in excess can ruin a film, including the flip side of having exciting action really blandly.

if the image of saving private ryan was all steady, focused and clear it would for certain lose the potency, energy, drama and urgency that plays such an integral role in its execution. can you imagine if band of brothers was shot all clean and locked off for that matter? I'd argue it just wouldn't suit everything else they strived to achieve in accordance with the make-up, effects, performances and even the writing really.

if it's just pristine images you're after, go look at some pretty pictures. if you want images that evoke an emotional response and contribute to the telling of a story, be prepared to watch movies without the comfort necessarily of a tripod. a cinematographer should be able to keep an open mind about all assets at his disposal and consider whether they can do the job to support the story.
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#14 Justin Hayward

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 12:24 PM

The Bourne Ultimatum was a visual disaster,


Well, you put “A comment from a “nobody” in the audience” in the topic, so you gotta understand how this comes off as a bit of “arm chair quarterbacking”. But, that goes for all critics I guess. :D

Plus I kinda liked the Bourne movies, so…
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#15 Jet Graphics

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 01:51 PM

if it's just pristine images you're after, go look at some pretty pictures. if you want images that evoke an emotional response and contribute to the telling of a story, be prepared to watch movies without the comfort necessarily of a tripod. a cinematographer should be able to keep an open mind about all assets at his disposal and consider whether they can do the job to support the story.

"Telling a story" is fine.
Driving away the audience is counter productive. They will find other entertainment.
Though inflation hides the true bottom line, audience numbers are dropping for movies and TV.
I wouldn't be surprised if it was a reaction to visual irritation.
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#16 Hal Smith

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 03:06 PM

While I have no problem with this technique done in moderation, it was certainly overdone in The Hurt Locker, which I watched on DVD a couple of days ago.


And I walked out of "The Hurt Locker" for that very reason. You saw it on a TV screen (how big?), I was in the middle rows of a stadium style theater where the screen takes up most of your visual field. I am willing to bet Ms. Bigelow was watching the action on a small monitor telling the camera operators to "Make it look exciting". All shakycam did for her movie was to take a very interesting visual story and turn it into a badly shot roller coaster ride. There's a reason why it was an Academy Award winner that didn't win much audience. Don't get me going on why her Oscar very likely was about political correctness, not film-making.

I've seen a lot of WWII combat footage where the camera is as steady as a rock even though the cameraman was under live fire. Have you seen any of the Kodachrome George Stevens shot on D-Day and afterwards in Europe? It ain't shakycam even when handheld.
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#17 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 04:19 PM

I've seen a lot of WWII combat footage where the camera is as steady as a rock even though the cameraman was under live fire. Have you seen any of the Kodachrome George Stevens shot on D-Day and afterwards in Europe? It ain't shakycam even when handheld.


I think the more extreme shaky cam effect seems to have come in recent years. perhaps because you don't have to switch off the camera and it's just left recording. The clockwork camera added a discipline to how you operated. I suspect they also knew that shaky stuff wouldn't get used because they knew it was going to be projected on a large screen. Even today most news camera people don't do shaky cam unless people are bumping into them, I suspect it's a point of pride as to how steady you can hand hold the camera with a long lens.
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#18 Daniel Sheehy

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 04:57 PM

Even today most news camera people don't do shaky cam unless people are bumping into them, I suspect it's a point of pride as to how steady you can hand hold the camera with a long lens.

It is.
I took great pride in being known as a steady pair of hands.

The news cameraman who breaks into a run with a rolling camera is not trying to make the experience more authentic, he/she is trading off image quality to guarantee 'getting something' as opposed to not having an important shot. The really great guys (IMHO) are the ones who can guess what will happen next and are ready, eliminating (as much as possible) the need for compromised footage.

So you can understand why I disagree with the idea that the shaky cam is somehow better at making you feel like you were there. If it's shaky enough to make me stop and think 'Hey, that'd be pretty poor hand-held technique if this was a news clip', then I think technique has compromised content. I don't believe technique should ever be allowed to compromise content in narrative work. It happens, but when directors have the budget, skills etc to avoid it, I think they should!
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#19 Sam Kim

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Posted 10 April 2010 - 12:10 AM

it's all about how it's used.
when subtle and used right it's so effective.
watch Unforgiven and watch the english dude get his ass kicked and most likely on the first pass you'll never notice it.

i have a feeling though it's just this generation. :]
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#20 Simon Wyss

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Posted 10 April 2010 - 03:44 AM

Jet Graphics, please fill in your civil name like anyone else.

I dislike unsteadiness, too. I hate mince meat editing. The expression montage is ridiculous to me. Not that titles and action should be long ond boring but I want to be treated as an attentive and sensitive visitor. That demands a narrative will behind or within the expressive means, not in front of them. You can judge a video or a film by this: Am I explained anything firmly, am I told a story, am I told a joke finely?

Seems that make-believe comes from television. I seem to have to believe all the incredibly inconsistent rubber foam.
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