In filmmaking every film shoot has the following activities happening:
As someone with little to no experience in filmmaking, figuring out how to go about the process of film blocking can be really frustrating.
In this blog post, we’re going to explore the filmmaking techniques that directors employ to plan and execute their film blocking.
What is Blocking in Film?
Film blocking is a visual element that you as a filmmaker need to enhance your story/ film. Its main goal is is to make your audience understand the tension and deeper meaning of each frame.
We can simply define film blocking as where actors stand on a set and how they move around over the course of filming. It is not only about that but also about directing the eyes of your audiences to where you want them to look and what you want them to feel.
For the first time, you’ll hear “action!” till the last time you hear “it’s a wrap!”, film blocking is really critical in your filmmaking process.
Factors to Guide your Film-Blocking Decisions
Blocking your film means you’re able to answer the following questions:
What kind of relationship exists between your characters?
How can your character’s motions embody the text and the subtext of dialogue?
Which parts of your frame should you direct the focus of your audience?
Here are important elements that will help you answer these questions:
This is basically the physical distance between your characters in a given frame. As a filmmaker, you can use this to communicate the kind of relationship that exists between your characters. By placing your characters near or far from each other, you get to say a lot without even using words.
As a director, you’ll work with actors to determine the way they stand and move in scenes. To help create character dynamics in your scenes, the best way to go about this is by blocking your subjects with the aid of lines (imaginary/ real) present within your scenes.
Now that you already know how much distance you need between your characters you’ll need something to direct the eyes of your audience. The best way to do this is by using simple shapes that the human mind can register real first like a circle, triangle, square, or rectangle.
Tips to Better Blocking in Film
How can the best films make a conversation between two people in a dull room quite interesting you may ask? Well, this can be done by putting in place these best practices:
1. Plan in Advance
Staging a scene in film is an integral part of the filmmaking process – Take time and plan for it. The way to go about this is by creating shot lists, storyboards, or even something as simple as a sketch.
This will come in handy as all you have to do during the actual shoot is to have your camera in place. This will save you a lot of valuable shooting time.
2. Have your actors inform your blocking decisions
In filmmaking, every action a character takes must have motivation for what they want or feel. Communicating with your actors about how they feel and what motivates their actions acts as the first step towards blocking your film.
The best practice in this situation is to use rehearsals to understand your actors’ actions and feelings, in return you can use this information when placing your camera during the actual shoot.
3. Your scene should inform your camera placement
The best way to look at this is to consider film blocking as an act of composition where the kind of camera shots/ angles is in use as a test to enhance your story.
Getting the right camera placement is a trial-and-error affair that requires adjustments to it.
4. Get your actors to do something
When you have an actor doing something like holding a pen in a scene, it tends to get that unrealistic/ fake feeling out of the way.
This unrealistic feeling usually comes when you have your actors just focusing on delivering the lines of dialogue.
Things to Consider when Blocking Actors
Once you’re able to determine what your characters are doing in your scene, and how their movement/ motion help to improve the dialogue, the next step you can take is to block them.
To assist in the whole process here are some things you can consider:
1. Perform Dry Runs on Set
The first thing that you need to do is to let actors do what comes to them naturally. The main reason for this is that whatever is written in the script may not work the same way as the actual shooting location. The best way to go about this is to have your actors do a dry run and stop them along the way to make adjustments.
2. Factor in the Rules of Composition when doing Camera Placement
The rule of thumb is that before you make your final decision on your blocking, you need to know how the rules of composition like the 180 – degree rule are going to affect how your scene plays out in the long run.
3. Mark important Spots in your Film
Once your actors’ physical placements satisfy you after blocking, mark those positions. This is usually essential for those pulling focus or even getting the right frame when for instance you have several takes.
Examples of Films that use excellent Blocking to tell a story.
As someone who is starting out in the filmmaking realm and is looking to be a director, it is really important to take a closer look at other films to understand how to do it.
Here are a few examples of films that illustrate how blocking can elevate your film to the next level and inspire you to think outside the box.
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather “Don” Vito Corleone is the head of the Corleone mafia family in New York. He is at the event of his daughter’s wedding. Michael, Vito’s youngest son and a decorated WW II Marine is also present at the wedding. Michael seems to be uninterested in being a part of the family business. Vito is a powerful man and is kind to all those who give him respect but is ruthless against those who do not. But when a powerful and treacherous rival wants to sell drugs and needs Don’s influence for the same, Vito refuses to do it. What follows is a clash between Vito’s fading old values and the new ways which may cause Michael to do the thing he was most reluctant in doing and wage a mob war against all the other mafia families which could tear the Corleone family apart.
A film about two homicide detectives’ desperate hunt for a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. The movie takes us from the tortured remains of one victim to the next as the sociopathic “John Doe” sermonizes to Detectives Somerset and Mills — one sin at a time. The sin of Gluttony comes first and the murderer’s terrible capacity is graphically demonstrated in the dark and subdued tones characteristic of film noir. The seasoned and cultured but jaded Somerset researches the Seven Deadly Sins in an effort to understand the killer’s modus operandi while the bright but green and impulsive Detective Mills (Pitt) scoffs at his efforts to get inside the mind of a killer.
Citizen Kane (1941)
After his death, the life of Charles Foster Kane – newspaper magnate and all-around larger-than-life American – is told from the perspective of those who knew him. A newspaper reporter is interviewing those in Kane’s life hoping to learn the meaning of Kane’s last word, Rosebud. Kane was sent to a boarding school at a young age after his mother struck it rich thanks to a mining claim that was signed over to her in lieu of rent. He came into his vast fortune at the age of 25 and promptly bought a newspaper. His idea of news was to make it as much as report it and along with his good friend, Jedediah Leland, had a rollicking good time. Unsuccessful in his bid for political office, his relationships with those around him begin to deteriorate and he dies, old and alone, whispering the word Rosebud.
To get a full breakdown of film blocking on the films above you can check this article here!
Blocking in film is basically like a dance choreography where all elements on set like; actors, camera & lights must move in perfect harmony with each other for you to have a clear continuity in your actor’s actions and motions.
If you liked this post on film blocking please be sure to check my other articles on filmmaking!