Friday, October 10, 2014

Steven on Steven: Studying Staging with Spielberg and Soderbergh

I'm late on this, but I wanted to reblog this Steven Soderbergh post about his exercise to study the "staging" (moving the camera and its subjects) of Raiders of the Lost Ark, after removing all the color and replaced the audio with a techno track. This is a great way to study staging, and it's part of why it's great to watch old black and white movies, even if you're making the latest Hollywood visual effects-oriented films.
The definition of unforgettable staging. 
I recently watched a 1950 noir film by Elia Kazan called Panic in the Streets, which used particularly inventive staging back when camera movement was much more limited. In order to keep his long takes interesting, Kazan repeatedly blocked his scenes out so that characters would move close up and far away from the camera. This resulted in a single continuous shot that would overtime go from a wide shot to a medium shot to a close up and even back to a wide shot at times. There is an uncomplicated scene with just two characters, where the husband (Richard Widmark) goes around their bedroom to retrieve different parts of his Naval uniform, where this is done well. The simple things, if done well, can make all the difference with staging.

A fantastic noir outbreak disaster movie, by Elia Kazan.
 Although I cannot be 100% sure Soderbergh has seen Panic in the Streets, I would venture to guess he has, because it was a notable early "outbreak disaster film" that could have served as useful reference for Soderbergh's own outbreak movie Contagion. Watching any of these movies would greatly help a student of film understand how to build tension with advanced staging. Although I've heard it attributed to Ingmar Bergman and not David Fincher as Soderbergh does, the notion that there is only one "best" way for a scene to be staged is a high standard, and one that should be aspired to by all filmmakers.
Steven Soderbergh's own take on the outbreak disaster genre.