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visualizing a panic attack?


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#1 Lee Tamer

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 11:24 AM

For my upcoming film, the main character has a panic attack and cannot react to the current situation. What would be the best way to represent this on screen?

Anyone have any ideas or references i could look at?
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 11:32 AM

Well; some things you could try would be that dolly shot al'la jaws :



perhaps reverse it, though, so the background compresses onto him/her.
Then, maybe some POV stuff with a lens-baby, really focus on the smaller details in the scene (perhaps macro work as well).

It's pretty open to you and the director to figure out how you want this panic attack to look.

You could also try what they did in The Aviator right after he has his first "locked on sentence" moment where he's in the car and the lighting gets very harsh and pulsating-ish (going off of memory here).
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#3 Lee Tamer

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 11:42 AM

Actually a lens-baby was the first thing that came to mind. Or using a wide lens really tight on the actor's face so it distorts it.
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 11:48 AM

I would think that wide angle might be kinda the wrong direction; I'd maybe go more telephoto to really close in the world around the person; that's just me of course; and of course I often associate panic with small spaces-- but in the end, it's down to what you and the director want for the scene in relation to the rest of the film-- else it may break all the grammar and syntax you're built for your film up to that point.
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#5 Lee Tamer

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 02:51 PM

ah good point.

I really dont want the audience to mistake it for a drug induced experience , thats what im most worried about. I want to avoid the whole room spinning thing ive scene dozens of times.
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#6 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:06 PM

ah good point.

I really dont want the audience to mistake it for a drug induced experience , thats what im most worried about.


Panic attacks may be a form of internally created drug experience. The mind and body are generating something to create the panic attack feeling. I think your instincts are great in worrying about this scene (ha ha), because panic attacks would probably turn off most viewers, whereas a drug induced scene appears easier to get the audience to laugh or stay involved.

Maybe another question to ask yourself is, from what point of view do you want to show the panic attack. If it is too self absorbed, the urge by all others to flee (including the audience), may be too difficult to overcome. However, if we see another human being relying on the panic attack person, then the scene, writing and acting may overcome your concern about it looking like a drug induced experience.

Maybe Cher is available to slap the person and say, "snap out of it".
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#7 Mei Lewis

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:31 PM

Maybe another question to ask yourself is, from what point of view do you want to show the panic attack.


I think that's a key question.

If you want to show it from the panicking character's POV then some of the above might work well.


If you want to show things from the outside though you should rely on acting and editing more than camera tricks. Panic attacks are internal things, the only external signs should be the character's actions. They're panicking when they have no reason, freaking out in a situation that doesn't call for it. That's disquieting in itself.
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#8 Lee Tamer

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Posted 12 December 2011 - 08:18 PM

The character's girlfriend is held at gunpoint and he doesnt know how to act. He has always been weak and timid, so violence is something he doesnt know how to react to. As for point of view, the story really doesnt have one main character, it has several. But this particular scene is from that character's point of view, since its a flashback.

Does this make any sense?
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Visual Products

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Wooden Camera

The Slider

Abel Cine

FJS International, LLC

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS