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Films that is shot handheld (12 replies and 5 comments)

Kristian Engelsen
5 years ago
Kristian Engelsen 5 years ago

What is your favorite handheld films in regards to composition, lighting, the mis én scene and the arrangements of the camera with actors? I have difficulties finding films for references that does this in a really well way. I like the works of the Dardenne brother's, Sean Bobbit's collaboration with Steve McQueen and Adam Arkapaw in Snowtown and Lore. Not to mention Matthew Libatique's work in Black Swan. The Dardenne brother's use of longer takes compromises the lighting which I think works in their films set in a world of realism. Sean Bobbit mixes handheld with static and dolly shots really well. The lighting is also really well done. Which I think is because he stages his camera movements in regards to where he is putting his lighting (obviously). Snowtown, Lore and Black Swan is shot in 16mm which I really feel is the format to go with when doing handheld. I haven't really seen any film shot digital that has the same rawness to the camera in regards to movement, not just that 16mm adds grain and texture. What films shot handheld do you guys think is really well done? And why do you think so? 
Also what lenses do you mostly go to when shooting handheld, if you had to pick two lenses for a film? 

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

I have shot two films almost completely hand held, 'Sid and Nancy' and 'Jarhead', but there are plenty more where there is a lot of hand held work. 'House of sand and Fog' and 'Skyfall' have long sections of hand held work and it is something I love doing. What I don't like, unless it is used for a specific effect, is the kind of hand held camerawork that draws attention to itself, that says 'you are watching reality now'. 

I am not sure why you think 16mm is necessarily the way to go for hand held. It certainly makes shooting easier, as the cameras are that bit lighter, but I do like the weight of a 35mm camera for hand held. It sits on your shoulder much better. 

You never mentioned 'The Revenant' in regard to hand held. Or 'Birdman' for that matter. Both these films were shot with the Alexa Mini and operated, to a large degree, hand held by Chivo. The style of operating with this camera is quite different as it involves both hands holding grips to the left and right of the camera body, a technique which allows for a large range of movement. The technique uses no eyepiece as the image is viewed on a small monitor.

Kristian Engelsen
5 years ago
Kristian Engelsen 5 years ago

I agree, I don't like handheld work that draws to much attention to itself. A bit contradictory, but I really like the handheld work in Snowtown and Jerrycan. Both shot by Adam Arkapaw. Here is a link to the shortfall called Jerrycan». Trailer for Snowtown». Both films shot in 16mm. The handheld is somewhat rough and I think that it compliments the rough expression you can get in 16mm. Looks like he has shoot both pieces with longer lenses than you normally would use for 16mm. Guess he uses 25mm and up to 40mm a lot. 

I really like the weight of the Arri 416 camera and I just love the camera itself, especially with the HD video assist that you can mount on it for the directors that is used to working digital. I like the weight of the Arricam LT and the ST on my shoulder more than on 16mm, as well. 

I just saw The Revenant the other day. Stunning work. He really pushes the envelope. I heard he used 14mm and even 12mm a lot. Using the Arri Alexa M and the Mini gives you access to camera moves that would normally be more difficult. Which you also point out. I guess in a way his use of shorter lenses is an outcome of the trend seen in videos and images that is taking with smart phones and go-pro cameras.  The audience is familiar with the perspective a 14mm lens produces from their phones. Not saying that the use of shorter lenses is anything new, but I guess he uses them in a new way. But when I think about Chivo's handheld work, what comes to mind is Children Of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien, and not particularly Birdman or The Revenant. The latter mixing in steadycam and cranes, and the feel of the handheld camera is much smoother shooting at 14mm. So maybe I have to rewire my brain in what handheld camera can be today. 

What do you think about Barry Ackroyds handheld works, Roger? Which in a sense is quite the opposite of what Chivo does these days. Barry uses longer lenses handheld, mixed with shorter lenses, zooming in frame etc. I think he finds the right motivations for his zooms and pans in his works from the actors. When done right I don't really have a problem with the presence of the camera that much. Hoyte Van Hoytema used a lot of handheld with zooms in his early works. Which gave a documentary feel to it, without being overdoing it. There is a balance of how much you can get away with and I think those two does it quite well. 

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

Yes, Barry is a long time friend and I think his work is really great. I am not so big on the zooming etc. I never did those crash zooms etc. when I was shooting documentaries but each to his own. Barry has a style as does Chivo and they are both masters in their own way. I am so glad we are not all the same in our tastes and preferences. 

jthomsg
5 years ago
jthomsg 5 years ago

"You never mentioned 'The Revenant' in regard to hand held. Or 'Birdman' for that matter. Both these films were shot with the Alexa Mini and operated, to a large degree, hand held by Chivo. The style of operating with this camera is quite different as it involves both hands holding grips to the left and right of the camera body, a technique which allows for a large range of movement. The technique uses no eyepiece as the image is viewed on a small monitor."

The films Chivo has shot recently tend to draw too much attention, it's almost like his cinematography has become the main attraction of the movie, overshadowing everything else. Of course this is just the observation of someone who is lower than an amateur, but I don't see what's so amazing about his work, particularly in 'The Revenant'. It's just flashy imagery, and everything is so rehearsed and there is nothing open to interpretation or that visual metaphor that can transcend a film to something more than just a revenge movie. For instance a film like Elmer Gantry has more vitality to it, the cinematography is a participant, and doesn't become to obtrusive nor does it draw attention, the focus is more on the acting and not getting the perfect shot, that is meticulously lit. What I despise about modern films is the need to perfect things, I despise perfection, and I it goes against everything that I love about movies.

What bothers me about cinematography is how most cinematographers are beginning to do multi-million dollar commercials, and in a way selling something that should be sacredly done in films only. I can honestly say there is nothing I enjoy about the movies anymore, quite frankly, it's not the same thing that I loved watching on TCM, too much flashiness gets in the way, directors exaggerate their own self-worth and importance. There are no more intellectuals like John Huston or Orson Welles, it's just not fun anymore, no one has anything worthwhile to say, people just make films to be important and win awards. There hasn't been that film that can change movies for the better, and I don't think there will ever be another poet of the movies, someone who can live outside of the spotlight and pour his heart out with remarkable talent. Tarkovsky or Bergman, they were tormented souls, looking for answers, and although they never found them, at least they raised questions that meant something, or at least make the viewer think about their existence in a vast universe, or mourn the fact that one day we will die and have nothing in the end. It's all lost. Film has no more meaning, it's just flashiness.

jthomsg
5 years ago

It's no surprise people like you enjoy mediocre films which masquerade as meaningful art, something 'The Revenant' is not. Wasn't there a similar film called Apocalypto a few years ago? It's virtually the same film, with different settings.

snakeEater
5 years ago

I just wanted to add that great russian cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky did everything that Chivo is doing now but 60 years before! Watch The Unsent Letter» (1959) and I Am Cuba» (1964) and you'll know what I mean

Kristian Engelsen
5 years ago

By the way Joshua, The Revenant is hugely influenced by Tarkovsky. The bird flying out of his wifes shirt. The burning cabin from The Mirror. Leaving food behind for the indian woman. The scene from the old church. These are almost copied scenes from Tarkovsky's films. Many directors copy from Tarkovsky with no shame. He's the one.

Roger Deakins
5 years ago
Roger Deakins 5 years ago

I was watching 'Solaris' again last week and am re visiting 'Andrei Rubelov' today. For me, both put the films we celebrate today in the shade. 

standucci
5 years ago

Definitely agree. You've talked a few times about Tarkovsky (Ivan's Childhood, Solaris) and wondering if you could share a bit more about your admiration?

I was doing some research on Tarkovsky and came across his making of Offret that gives an amazing view into his process, have you seen it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quoWpNljHRU»

Its fascinating to see him work, his productions seem to be more focus on the 'why' vs expediency. Much of my time is spent answering the question from the AD: "how fast can you get the next shot?" I'm constantly saying to my self "whats the point of rushing if the results aren't good?!"

Benjamin
5 years ago
Benjamin 5 years ago

Are you watching 'Andrei Rublev' on the old Criterion DVD? I hope they might release a reissued blu ray soon - that's one of the oldest titles in their catalog that hasn't been reissued! The reissue of 'Solaris' on the other hand is gorgeous.

jthomsg
5 years ago
jthomsg 5 years ago

I've only seen Solaris once, I can say the same about Barry Lyndon, because they're pretty long films. But the everlasting impression from that viewing made me think how perhaps space and time are mental constructs in every human. It's a rather complicated film, in the sense that it wants to understand human consciousness, something that still baffles the scientific community. There are several Quantum theories about human consciousness being eternal, but I admit they're far too intricate for me to understand. The more I've thought about such films, I think American cinema should take a leap and change film structure, the way European films are done. I think American cinema has a bit of an obsession in explaining too much, all things have to be explained in exposition, and it's more often than not formulaic and predictable. For instance how from page 25-30, the second act should begin, and plot points etc. They're all very noticeable. I recall many people and critics complained about the ending in No Country For Old men, I was there in the the theater when many of them left scratching their heads. Perhaps most American viewers are against thinking or interpreting a film into their own understanding. I think Solaris does have a breakthrough structure, something they don't teach in any screenwriting book. I particularly enjoy Tarkovsky's style because he doesn't move the camera too much, the he can orchestrate movement in a fixed shot, and there's great spacial movement, the way the camera pans is done with great gentility, it's just great atmosphere. But most importantly I love the spirituality of his films, most movies today are devoid of such things, there's emotional depth- which is done exaggeratedly in most independent films, it's a showcase of people crying, but at the center it's devoid of meaning, because we just don't know enough about the people we are watching. As people, our thinking is never structured as we see it in movies, there's always something deep going on in our minds, it's chaotic, nostalgic, and Tarkovsky is the only one who could capture the inward landscape of our mind and conscience. That's breakthrough cinema, it's what it should be. Most American films are just becoming too neat, when there should be more chaos. But that's just how I see things, even in a film like Casablanca or Citizen Kane, we were able to exist outside of present time. citizen Kane, many viewers don't realize that Charles Foster Kane is a ghost, it's only through the perspective of every person being interviewed that he is able to materialize, it is a life made up of memory. 

Kristian Engelsen
5 years ago
Kristian Engelsen 5 years ago

The films of Tarkovsky, Kieslowski and Bergman portrays man's questions around spirituality and  metaphysicality in their films. And they all portray characters struggling with coming to an understanding of faith battling chance and the meaning of our existence. Which I personally love. To get back to the topic. These directors all take to some degree use of the hand-held camera. Which takes me back to Chivo, in broad lines. There is this one scene in Children of Men that takes up the question of faith vs chance in a very beautiful way. Maybe people posting above thinks that the scene is to revealing of Theo's backstory, but check it out anyway; the scene». Beautifully shot, with Theo in the foreground listening in on the conversation in the living room. Theo lit a tiny bit darker then the gang in the living room. Simple movement of the camera. My point by mentioning the scenes is that there are a few directors out there, who also grapples with the bigger questions of our existence in their films. But as you say, Joshua there really is room for more. I can also enjoy features like The Revenant in the way they take a character to the edge of the world and to the edge of his sanity achieving revenge. But I agree with you that todays films don't really have much to say. Isn't it the same in literature and poetry? Art for me is about getting closer to some kind of understanding or a channel to process expression about our existence. Film is more and more just simple entertainment when I look back at films of today. 

Roger, are you watching Tarkovsky's works as reference for the Blade Runner sequel? I don't know if you want to discuss it in that sense, but maybe you can reflect around this question: Why do you think todays films lack something to say about the deeper questions of our existence? If you agree to his statement at all. 

I want to include this video» of Bergman talking about his use of metaphysical context in his films. Check it out if you have the time. Worth watching. 

rlandry1
5 years ago
rlandry1 5 years ago

I think that films such as The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity, Apocalypto, 007, are all just as relevant as small independent films or even dumb slapstick comedies. And are even as necessary as Tarkovsky and Bergman films. No matter how you look at it, cinema is just glorified day dreams. But I don't have to pay $10 to see a dream. I can just go to sleep and see dreams for free. So, why do I pay to watch dreams on screen? Or why do I pay to read them in a book? Because we want to see OTHER peoples' dreams. Its all just voyeurism really. 

I think a lot of people, particularly filmmakers, forget that films are just very simple things. Though they may boast to communicate great facts and truths, they will never escape the simplicity of the rectangular frame.

I think a great revelation to a filmmaker is to realize this fact and approach filmmaking more in the regards that in the end, it will simply be something that people will sit in a theatre or on their couch and watch as entertainment. No matter what, we're always going to have to return to our everyday lives. Whether you live in the opulant comforts that many Americans are often blessed with or if you live in a mud hut in the African plains. 

You as a filmmaker are providing the fuel for peoples' inherent need for voyeuristic pleasure. 

That said. Though many great thoughts  and ideas have been expressed with enormous creativity through film, nothing will ever be as sacred as the often boring sensation of living. Everyday life. Why is that? It's because it's real. You can touch it. Taste it. Breath it. It is imbedded in time itself.

This idea of the importance of reality vs dreams is so important to me, and it is the reason why one of my favorite films of all time is Christopher Nolan's Inception. What!? Yes. It is. Deal with it. 

Kristian Engelsen
5 years ago
Kristian Engelsen 5 years ago

I agree with your take on it as well, landry1. Successful films in my eyes has to lie somewhere between art and entertainment. Both overlapping each other. Every story is told, but it's how you tell them that matters. Art challenges you to use your senses to put the pieces together to make the puzzle. To make sense. Or not. An entertaining cliché told in a original way, that challenges the audience, is what I believe makes a good film. We need entertainment to escape from our real life. We need art to interpret our real life. Or else we end up as Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man. "What does it all mean?" 

A Serious Man is by the way a really good film. A man that hasn't done anything wants to know why certain things is happening to him. He wants answers! He has to accept living with uncertainty in his life. Yet, as a physics professor, he shows his students two principals of uncertainty. The Heisenberg and Schrodinger’s cat paradox. The film raises relevant questions about existence, spirituality and faith, through the eyes of a middle class 60's Job character. A story already told, but through new eyes. 

"What does it all mean?"» Goys Teeth scene from A Serious Man. 

I like the discussion going on. Starting with handheld and off we go!
Hope more people can express their takes on it. 

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