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Is it common for directors a variety of focal lengths in a movie? Or do they tend to stick with a certain kind?


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#1 scott karos

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 09:08 AM

For example, is it common for a director to use mostly wide lenses in a film such as 24mm, but occasionally they use something longer like a 50mm or higher?

 

Can a director use a 24mm in one shot, and then the very next shot can it be a 50mm?

 

Bottom line, Im wondering if there are any rules against using multiple focal lengths throughout a film.


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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 10:40 AM

Most films use a combination of focal lengths for example CUs on faces tend to look better with slightly longer focal lengths, However, that's not to say that a film won't use a limited range of focal lengths, one Super16 film  I worked on was mostly shot with a 16mm lens and some directors are well known for favouring particular type of lens.


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#3 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 11:04 AM

My standard lens package is usually an 18mm, 25mm, 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm. I'd say the 32mm gets used most, followed by the 50mm & the 85mm


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 11:11 AM

Sure, an action film, for example, may run the extreme range from super wide-angle to telephoto.  An interior dialogue scene, though, is more likely to work within a more conventional range but not necessarily.  I've done scenes for television that started out at the 15mm end of the 15-40mm zoom and ended up shooting coverage at the 290mm end of the 24-290mm -- not my favorite approach but it happens.  I once read an article where Owen Roizman mentioned that for commercial work, it was more common to use the extreme ends of the focal length range for visual effect.  Certainly you see that in Michael Bay movies.

 

Generally though you'd try to match focal lengths in coverage, i.e. in a two character scene, you'd have a close-up of each on the same focal length, etc.  But I've also deliberately done mis-matching focal lengths, for example, when the main character is paranoid in a crowded room and he gets a close-up shot with a wide-angle lens intercut with longer-lensed POV shots of faces looking back at him.


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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 01:31 PM

If you're shooting interiors in small rooms, you'll probably select something in the 14-16mm range if you need a frame that looks even remotely "wide."

There are a lot of practical considerations that go into focal length selection as well as aesthetic reasons.
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#6 Albion Hockney

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 01:39 PM

certaintly examples of both exteremes. A famous japanese director ozu would only use a 50mm lens ...wes anderson films are mostly shot at 40mm anamorhpic. On the other end action movies somtimes have everything between 14mm and 400mm. The film blue valentine is a good example of using focal lengths with purpose. The scenes shot in present day are all very long lensesed on tripod to create a sense of distance where the nostaligc past is all shot at a normal focal length handheld


Edited by Albion Hockney, 11 August 2014 - 01:40 PM.

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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 03:17 PM

Personally, I prefer the more deliberate use of focal lengths rather than the kitchen sink approach of most movies today, but I can understand the need for it when shooting action.

 

Sidney Lumet was a director who chose certain focal lengths for storytelling purposes -- for example, in "Murder on the Orient Express" the flashbacks to the previous interviews with the suspects are shot on wider-angle lenses, more from Poirot's POV.


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#8 Albion Hockney

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 06:20 PM

the difference seems to between having intention in lens choice  vs creating a pretty picture without understanding the context of its place in the film.

 

I often find watching student work or low rent films you will see ackward cuts in shots ....all nice looking frames ....but they are ackward because they have no place in the paticular film.

 

 

I think its super imporant early on when working with a director to establish some sort of the theory or ideas behind use of focal lengths.

 

 

David do you by chance have any stories or insight on establishing such theories with directors you have worked with?


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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 08:45 PM

I have to gauge a director's personal taste on focal lengths when beginning a project.  Some are more prone to shorter focal lengths as a matter of course than others, they don't like the "distancing" effect of longer lenses, they rather be physically close with the camera on people.  Other directors like the visual effect of long lenses and will scout locations to make sure they can get the camera back far enough to shoot on long lenses even for the looser coverage.  So to some degree, I have to learn to think like the director in terms of taste in focal lengths.  Beyond that, it's the usual discussion on what the emotional tone of the scenes are and what focal length choices will serve that.


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#10 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 12:45 AM

I have worked with directors who prefer certain focal lengths. Earlier this year, I worked with one who specifically asked for a 32mm, rather than a 35mm, and who hated 135mm lenses. He also had a liking for 50mm lenses, but only if they were wide open. Once I got to know him, I could understand where he was coming from, and it actually changed some of my own opinions on lens choice.


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#11 James Martin

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 09:39 AM

In my experience it is very much a taste thing. I know one director who considers a 35mm to be "a wide" and another who considers a 25 to be "quite tight"


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#12 scott karos

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 01:18 PM

Thanks for all the answers everyone.

 

One question I wanted to ask again that I didn't get an answer that I wanted.

 

Lets say you have a scene, a basic scene of maybe just dialogue and some action or movement. Is it common for a director to use several different lenses in one scene?


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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 04:32 PM

I kinda thought we all answered this... The answer is yes with some exceptions. And movies are nothing but exceptions, it's hard to speak about a "generic" dialogue scene directed in a "typical" fashion, but I'll try.

It would not seem unusual to shoot a wide shot of a room with a 25mm, for example, and then shoot medium shots on a 35mm, an over-the-shoulder on a 50mm, and a close-up on a 75mm. This isn't a right or wrong issue, just a matter of taste and certain physical/logistical constraints -- for example, it might be hard to pull back to a wide shot on a 75mm, or if you shot an over-the-shoulder with a 25mm, you may not feel you are getting tight enough on the person facing camera and you can't get physically closer with a shoulder in front of the camera.

However one can also find examples where focal length choices are very restricted by choice.
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#14 Dan Dorland

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 05:09 PM

 

Sidney Lumet was a director who chose certain focal lengths for storytelling purposes -- for example, in "Murder on the Orient Express" the flashbacks to the previous interviews with the suspects are shot on wider-angle lenses, more from Poirot's POV.

Another good example of Lumet using focal lengths as a storytelling device is 12 Angry Men. Initially the jury room is shot with all wide lenses for a casual atmosphere, but as the tension and prejudices come to the surface the focal lengths get slowly and steadily longer. Close-ups become very personal and characters become very vulnerable, helped by fantastic acting.


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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 August 2014 - 11:05 PM

A quote by Lumet about "Prince of the City":

 

"I decided to shoot the entire film at an aperture of 2.8 in order to give it a certain visual style. I told Andrzej Bartkowiak [...] that I did not want any normal lenses. [...] In order to create an atmosphere of deceit, and false appearances, we only used wide angle and zoom lenses. The lighting in the first half was never on the actors but rather on the background. In the middle of the film, the lighting had to alternate between the foreground and the background, and at the end, on the contrary, the lighting was aimed on the foreground only." 

 

 

Here's a page about lenses by Lumet from his book:

http://www.scribd.co...by-Sidney-Lumet


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#16 Bruce Greene

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 06:41 PM

One more approach to consider:

Think first about where to put the camera (and audience!), and then choose the focal length to choose how much of the scene to see in the frame.

This also forces one to consider who's point of view is best for the scene, or even just that set up.
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#17 scott karos

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 07:07 PM

They makes a lot of sense.

 

Is that concept (placing the camera then deciding the lens) a common way people work?

 

Are there any other ways people commonly work? 


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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 August 2014 - 07:19 PM

Generally you decide on where you need to see the action from and at what screen size and whether a dolly move is involved, at which point the focal length will be discussed.  

 

It's not necessarily one and then the other decision though because the lens affects the field of view and the object size, and assuming you have any flexibility (i.e. you aren't backed against a wall with your widest-angle lens just to get a desired wide shot), your camera position and focal length is sort of combined into one discussion -- for example, you want a waist-up shot, but that could be done with a 25mm three feet away or a 50mm six feet away, so you make a choice based on the amount of optical compression/expansion you want in the perspective and how that will affect a camera move or depth of field or how the actors look as the move closer or farther, or how they look in relation to the background and/or other actors, etc.  Often I ask a director if they want to be closer and wider-angle, or farther and longer-lensed after we discuss the shot size we need.

 

Camera moves have to be factored in because a dolly move into a close-up, for example, is more dynamic (or too dramatic) when done with a wider-angle lens because the shift in perspective and the speed of the movement is more pronounced.  On a longer lens, it may look more subtle -- or it may look too much like a zoom in, and the movement may be less noticeable than the bounciness of the dolly move, since a long lens will make every bump in the track more obvious.  But it's not a question of a right or wrong choice, you just have to know the effect of different focal lengths on a dolly move.

 

You also have to factor in all of your coverage -- for example, you may be shooting a two-person dialogue scene and when you get to the first person's close-up, you have enough space to use a longer focal length if you want, but you have to factor in whether when you shoot the reverse angle, you'll have enough space to be able to use that same focal length on the other actor's close-up.


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