SPOILER WARNING. Listening to Vincent Laforet might leave you forever changed, never able to watch film or TV the same way again. The silver lining is he can also change the way you shoot, and engage, with your audience. With that disclaimer out of the way (you can't say I didn't warn you), join me as I talk to Vincent for this exclusive as we venture down the film and motion rabbit hole. How deep we go is really up to you...
For the last three months, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Vincent Laforet to develop innovative content and materials and help him prep for his 10 week US workshop tour, “Directing Motion”. I’ve also developed a very odd, unforeseen side effect to this work, and I’m not totally sure what to do about it (more on this later).
Let’s make no bones - Vincent truly understands how to create some of the most intensely satisfying and compelling motion work we’ve seen in recent years.
From his game-changing Reverie short back in 2008 which ignited the DSLR-led, indie-shooter world, to his latest full blown Nike commercial (see below), and his gear and technology developments like the MoVI stabilization rig, it would be easy to forget his roots as a long time stills photographer. Now a full time motion director, his only constant, it would seem, is that he is happiest when he is creating compelling visual media and motion work.
The strange side effect I've encountered– and the point of the half-joking, half-serious spoiler warning - is that you might also experience the same feeling I'm having if you attend one of his upcoming workshops
Over the last few months of working with him, I’ve inadvertently developed a "cinematic sixth sense" – and I can’t turn it off.
The analogy that springs to mind is, aptly, a film one. Recall how, in the modern Spiderman film, Peter Parker first experiences the exhilaration of being able to climb walls and shoot webs - which quickly turns to panic when he realizes he can’t turn these powers off. That’s kind of what I’m getting right now. When I watch films and TV now, I feel like I’ve been exposed to radioactive cinematographic rays.
I'm finding that rather than being sucked into whatever I'm watching, I'm constantly analyzing the camera movement or thinking about the direction. This untapped power might affect your life and those around you in ways you least expect. If my wife hears me say, "I wonder why they did a push in at that point?" one more time, she's liable to slap me, and I can't blame her. Consider yourself warned of the potential to see film with greater clarity than ever before.
Which leads us to this interview. Vincent has decided to undertake an impressive (some might say sadistic) 10 week, 35 city North American tour to talk about two things that are near and dear to him – how, when and (critically) why do we move the camera, and how do you direct what’s going on in front of the camera, to maximum effect.
As someone who has been shooting video of one form or another for about 25 years, I never really even asked why I did what I did with camera motion until recently. I just kind of did what I felt was right. Strangely, this is the process I've followed for a rather long time, and suddenly lots of pieces of the puzzle have begun to fall into place.
This interview will hopefully give you a flavor of what I have been exposed to, and you'll learn something from it that you can apply to both your motion and stills work.
Welcome to an exclusive Fstoppers exclusive interview with master of motion, Vincent Laforet.
Me: Vince, thanks for taking the time today. So - let’s cut straight to it. Can you describe what the main focus of these workshops will be, and why you feel this is of real importance at this point in time with what’s going on in the industry?
Vincent: Sure. We’re in an age where everyone is obsessed with technology, whether that’s 4k or even 18k (yep, we were actually discussing 18k resolution output today, albeit for military applications). I kind of feel we need to refocus on what’s truly important.
Even though I’m associated with cutting edge technology and gear, that in and of itself doesn’t make really good content or film. It can definitely help, but, it can also hinder, especially if you don’t know how to use it. We’re at a time where it would serve a lot of us well to focus on the “craft” of filmmaking.
Me: Ok, can you explain what you mean by the “craft of film making”?
Vincent: Its one thing to watch a film and see what the director is doing if you’re trying to analyze it, but its another to find yourself on a set with everyone looking at you for direction. When you’re in that position, you understand there is a craft involved in creating a scene. Movement, both of the camera and within a scene itself, are the most important aspects of what this craft is all about.
My focus is to break down how, when and most importantly WHY to move the camera, as well as how to direct the motion in front of the camera (called “blocking”), which is just as important.
Me: Ok, so let’s break something down - why do you move the camera? What is it that makes you decide to make a camera move in a shot?
Vincent: One of the primary questions you need to ask when you want to add movement to any shot, is “does it add or detract from the overall audience experience”. If it’s motivated by something in the scene, or to reveal (or conceal) something, or trying to draw out a certain emotion or reaction from the audience, it’s motivated. This is why I would move the camera, to better engage the audience. I honestly feel you can’t be competitive as a film maker today unless you understand this.
Me: What can someone attending expect to get out of the workshop that they can't get from other workshops, Creative Live or other learning resources?
Vincent: I can say with relative certainty, that very little out there focuses on what I’m teaching, and certainly not to the extent and depth that we will be focusing on. I’ve spent the last three months in preparation for this tour with you and others and we’ve totaled about 1000 man hours preparing. Nothing else like this currently exists as far as I know. The link to the video below gives a small taste of what I'm trying to impart on this tour:
We're also employing the use of never before seen cinematic learning tools, using motion graphics to help break down and analyze key scenes and shots within classic films.
One of the things we’ll do in the workshop is what I do for myself when I get ready to shoot. I carefully diagram and shot list everything. We’ll look at this as a way not only to break down key scenes, but how to maximize efficiency when shooting. We'll also carry out a number of "live shoots" where we take the theory, and actually shoot in class to reinforce the practical side of the theory we go through.
Me: Would a wedding videographer, or someone who is not necessarily a commercial film director, or even a director, benefit from what you’re teaching?
Vincent: Let’s remember that anyone shooting video – or creating motion work - builds upon a common cinematic language. Whether you shoot weddings, music videos, documentary or independent films, you’re applying the same basic principles time and again; you just might not realize it.
You actually don’t even have to even be a film maker to benefit from what I’m teaching. Any film enthusiast, or story teller will benefit. It will take you from being a passive consumer of film to actively analyzing what is being done in classic movies to make the motion work you produce more effective, and the narrative more impactful and resonant with your audience.
The fact is, as visual storytellers, we use these techniques every day, we just might not be aware of what they are doing or where they come from.
I’ve specifically constructed this in a way to appeal to photographers too. The truth, is most photographers come into motion work with a good understanding of creating beautiful frames and telling a story, but with a limited understanding of how to move a camera, or direct the motion in front of it.
We’re going to dive into these processes and utilize simple but effective techniques, such as diagrams, shot lists, storyboards and camera coverage formulas that can be universally applied. If you are a photographer looking to better understand the world of motion, I’ve designed this with you in mind.
Me: What has been the one or two insights you've learnt while prepping for the tour that you hadn't really contemplated before hand?
Vincent: I was amazed at the huge crowds the presentation I gave drew at NAB. I was at the G Tech booth, who are obviously a hard drive and storage supplier, and we had over 100 people stop and look at a small screen with some of the details of what I’ve been describing. The response was really amazing.
The reason why, I think, is that this stuff applies to everyone – directors, DPs, editors – even actors. I had an actor walk up and say, “If only I had been taught this years ago, I would have had such a better understanding of what the director was asking me to do”. This stuff is really universal in it’s applicability.
It’s only been through the process of analyzing 100 or so films in such a short space of time that I’ve come to realize how applicable this stuff is across the board. It actually amazes me that so few people teach this stuff, and that they all seem more obsessed with picture styles and resolutions.
Me: What is your measure of success for this workshop and what do you personally hope to get out of teaching it?
Vincent: I’ve already heard the feedback from people that they’re saying they aren’t able to watch film or TV in the same way again after having watched just 30 minutes of the material I’ve planned. It’s like we’re removing the veil to something undiscovered and that’s really exciting.
Personally, I’ve already benefitted from the prep for the tour. I always wanted to do something like this, but never found the time, and this was really a guilty pleasure for me, to sit back and just watch film after film and break them down over several months with a clear purpose of collating the best teaching examples out there.
In photography, we were always told that the best thing to do is to just go out and shoot. In film making, it’s a little different. It pays to have a solid understanding of camera movement and great direction beforehand, given the amount of time, energy and resources you’re going to spend on even a short piece of motion.
Investing in something like this will hopefully provide that solid understanding and certainly help your film and motion work a heck of a lot more than just investing the latest gadget, in my opinion. At the very least, you’ll never be able to look at a piece of cinema or TV in the same light again.
Thanks to Vincent Laforet for his time in answering these questions.
For those of you thinking about checking out the tour, Vincent has a schedule you can check out here:
I’ll also be reviewing the Directing Motion workshop at Unique Photo in New Jersey on May 8th for an exclusive Fstoppers feature to bring you my thoughts on just what it is Vincent is doing. If you happen to be there, please come and say hi and let me know what you think, or connect to me, I’d love to hear from you.