Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion workshop has done what every workshop should do – it’s challenged my current way of working and given me clarity on how I can improve my work. Less than 24 hours after the workshop, I was working differently, shooting differently and thinking differently. This might just be the best workshop for those shooting (or with an interest in shooting) motion work, ever.
For the last three months or so, I worked with Vincent to help build out and develop content for his tour. The foundation of the work began with the question, “How do you maximize audience engagement?” We tore through and broke down scenes in movies, developed motion graphics animations for new ways to look at shot analysis and tried to always come back to basic principles that were applicable across the board, regardless of experience or genre/focus area.
Nothing prepared me for what the actual workshop would look or feel like, however. What Vincent has managed to do is provide a day-long platform that couples engaging theory with practical hands-on learning experience through a number of live shoots take place throughout the day.
He's designed the workshop for anyone with any interest or experience in motion work, to feel comfortable and to come away with real learning outcomes. It starts off at a nice, steady pace and gets progressively more advanced as the day plays out, never feeling overwhelming. "Directing Motion" is an apt name for the workshop because the emphasis is both on the directing skill set (managing and leading your crew) as well as understanding the core principles of camera motion.
What Is Being Taught?
The daytime workshop is divided up into half a dozen key sections and followed with evening seminar.
During the day we covered:
1. Camera Movement and Language – this sets out not only the common language of camera moves, but – more importantly and definitely more interestingly – explains the psychology and effect that a camera move has on how we feel. Watching a slow zoom in on Normal Bates in Psycho suddenly makes more sense because the director is slowly trying to put us inside Bates’ head with this move. A parallax slide and counter pan in Empire of the Sun past Christian Bale's character as he pretends to be dog fighting in a wrecked fighter plane, make us feel like we are swooping through the skies within the confines of his active imagination. Every great director moves the camera in every shot with intent.
Discussion around building tension within a scene, and what to include and exclude from the frame quickly progressed into more complex montage sequencing and combination camera moves.
2. Live Shoot 1 – this was the first live shoot sequence. Vincent has brought more toys than you can shake a stick at, including an awesome JL Fisher dolly, a bunch of Canon C100s, a MoVI and a bunch of Kessler gear. After discussing how to "block" your actors and camera (where they start and end within a scene, how both the actors and camera moves through the scene, and why), crew members were sourced to step up to the plate for key crew roles such as DP, 1st and 2nd AC, dolly grip and boom operator. As soon as the crew were assembled it was obvious that even the most simple of moves are inherently complex. What was amazing was that people didn't really have experience with their specific roles but still pulled them off.
3. Combining camera moves – we looked at more complex combo moves, and the use of narrative tools (storyboarding, shot lists, schedules) were looked at in prep for planning and recreating some more complex combination moves later.
More psychology of combined camera movement was then broken down. One example was the classic scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta’s character, Henry, wakes to find himself staring down the barrel of the gun his wife has pointed at his face. A classic POV move to build tension which transitions to a bed-level wide side when the tension is released when Henry gains control of the situation. The psychology of camera movement was incredibly fascinating to look at. Although we may have a good instinctive feel for how a camera move can make us feel, it's really important to understand why this is so we can build in our own style to this interrelationship between movement and emotion response.
4. Coverage – Vincent likes to remind the class frequently that certain principles apply whether you are shooting a film, a commercial, a wedding, a documentary, and that’s the importance of coverage – get your establishing wides, your connective mediums and your close up detail shots.
This led into Live Shoot 2 where a really well recreated scene from Schindler’s List was acted out and shot on a set specifically built for the scene. Putting the theory into practice is invaluable when so many concepts are being discussed. Even Peter Hurley got in on the mix.
5. Moving master cameras, and the importance of foreground and background elements – we looked at what a motivated VS unmotivated camera move looks like, as well as how directors use subtle actions to keep a scene alive. The importance of the reverse shot was also discussed to provide depth of coverage to a scene.
6. Live Shoot 3 – this shoot rammed home just how conductor-like the role of the director is. We watched live as a scene from a cop thriller was acted out in front of us on a 2 camera set up. At the end of the night we watched the edited version of this scene back and it was incredible how much it looked like a scene that could have come out of an action movie or high budget TV production. Sure the gear helped but it was the way the camera moved and danced with the actors and how this had been cut together in the edit that was so impactful.
This led to the evening session, which culminated in a look at some of the best one shot scenes in the history of cinema. Vincent has pulled out all the stops and engaged his industry connections to get some incredible behind the scenes, limited access footage that shows how the scenes were being shot (and the mistakes that happened). If you’ve seen Carlito’s Way, and remember the steadicam one shot scene in Grand Central Station, you’re in for a treat. I’ll just leave it at that.
The evening ended as it should have - with a bang. Vincent dissected and broke down the complete insiders guide of how he’d won, managed and pulled off the Nike Flyknit commercial he co-directed.
It was astounding to listen to the background to this job, for instance, just how much work goes into trying to win the bid, the intensity of working for a client like that and the amount of work and planning that went into the actual shoot itself. When a workshop presenter is breaking down experience of jobs of this stature and nature, and how his lessons learnt can apply to your own work, you can’t help but learn and come away with a sense of value.
A workshop is only as good as whoever is delivering it. Vincent is probably one of only a couple of people in the industry who could pull this off. It’s not just his insight, experience and knowledge. It’s also his teaching style and sense of humor. He’s engaging because of his insights, his clear vision for what he is doing and his passion for it. As a result, you can’t help but stay focused on what is being taught. He knows everyone in the room is doing something a little different and that not all of us are shooting Nike commercials; how he applies the universal principles consistently is what reinforces the learning here, and keeping us laughing and intrigued throughout helped remind us one of the most important aspects of these workshops so often lost - learning, and having fun while doing so, is critical.
Is It Worth Going?
This workshop isn’t for everyone, but if you are looking to get into motion work from stills or just get a better understanding of the motion work you currently shoot, I’d consider it invaluable. It is basically a one day, action packed trip down the rabbit hole of camera motion and directing technique.
On a personal note, the three most critical things I took away from the workshop were:
- Better understanding of motivating the camera, using the right shot to create (and also release) tension from a shot.
- Coverage is critical, so get the shots to ensure a strong narrative can be crafted in the edit
- Motion is not just about looking for the perfect frame - that’s where motion differs from photography. Its about the movement within the frame as well as how the frame itself moves, and that the style of the camera motion should match what’s going on in the scene. There is an inherent rhythm to the craft, and getting a feel for, and understanding that rhythm is really important.
There is a clear psychology behind the craft of camera motion work, and understanding this to provide you with a more finely honed cinematic vocabulary is one of the cornerstones of what the workshop delivers. The Directing Motion Tour is traveling across the US. A full list of locations and dates can be found here. Let me know what you thought of the workshop if you attended, or drop me a line if you have any questions on it and I'll do my best to answer any queries you may have.