Blocking a busy scene (2 replies and 1 comment)
Part of my graduate film takes place in a WW2 aircraft hanger. There are planes littered everywhere. For context, two enemy soldiers search through the hanger for the main character (he's hiding in a helicopter). The outcome is the soldiers are distracted and leave.
There's so many options and it needs to cut nicely so I'm in danger of getting it wrong. It needs to be tense.
How would you approach a 'busy' blocking scene? The soldiers will be split up weaving through the area. For you, what makes cinematography tense?
To create suspense, an audience needs information early on -- what are the stakes (how dangerous are these men, what might happen to him if he is caught, etc.), what is the geography / set-up (where is he hiding, how close are the soldiers getting to his hiding place, etc.)
Once you do that, you have some flexibility to mislead the audience if you want to prolong the suspense -- Spielberg did that in the kitchen scene in "Jurassic Park" where the kids are hiding in the stainless steel cabinet and for a moment, the raptor sees the kid and runs towards him only for the viewer to find out that it was a reflection of the kid in the side of the cabinet when the raptor runs into it. For example, you could see your hero duck into a helicopter and then the soldiers get closer and closer to it, opening the door... only to find it empty, because the hero is in a second helicopter parked next to it, etc. Then they get called away just as they are about to look in the second helicopter.
Sound can help with the suspense if you are in close with the hero in the dark and you hear the soldiers getting closer / louder.
Setting the scene at night or a dark hanger and having the soldiers use flashlights might also add to the mood, or conversely, at some point they turn on the overheads and the room is so brightly lit that there seems no place to hide anymore.
Also the added beauty of the use of just flashlights at night - if you were to shoot a wide, it'd be easy to spot your two soldiers getting split up and weaving around without them getting lost in the chaos.
I find such scenes are best done when the director pays attention to detail. For instance, if the scene takes place in a hangar, then we can assume there might be birds inside the hangar flying about, and if the scene takes place at night and it's raining with a storm pounding, then it makes it harder to find the man they're looking for, and perhaps there are tarps on the aircraft, which makes it even more difficult. This would work, because, there's no reason why the soldiers shouldn't search every aircraft if they know for sure this guy is hiding there. So, it would have to be a clever character who knows how to use such things to his advantage. Meaning, he is able to make slight sound and can time his movements with thunder, or the sound of birds fluttering about.
If you keep him inside a helicopter, it just wouldn't be very creative, it's best, if he is able to slip in and out of different aircraft, timing the soldiers movements by looking at their flashlight beams. Maybe he spots a bird and traps it, and holds on to it, only to use it as a diversion in case he makes too much noise.
It wouldn't make sense if it's a day scene, because there's no way you can hide inside WW2 planes or a helicopter, because the only compartment you can get into is the cockpit, and the hatch is made of see through fiber glass. So, the audience would never believe the soldiers won't be able to see him. If you search images of WW 2 helicopters, you can clearly see that there's hardly any room to hide without being spotted.