The Camera: Movement (Basic elements of production)

Whether the show is being recorded on film, digitally, or on tape, the camera movements and the terminology are basically the same. The principal difference is the style of shooting: short, individual takes for film, longer and sometimes continuous action sequences for video. Instant digital recording and editing has brought the two approaches closer by combining elements of both. Professor Kingdon advises that production has evolved from the videotape-in-the-studio and film-in-the-field approach. “With the development of HDTV and digital camera formats, which rival the quality of 16 mm film,” he states, “more and more shows—and independent films—are being shot on video instead of film.
This raises the question of what is the difference between having your show shot on film or video. All film has the ‘film look,’ which is hard to categorize, but is recognizable as pleasingly soft yet containing attractive highlights. Video, comparatively, tends to have greater resolution, but looks very transparent. But as video improves and cameras allow shooting at 24 frames a second, like film, aesthetic distinctions begin to disappear.”

The writer should consider the film or video camera as a moving and adjustable proscenium through which the writer and director can direct the audience’s attention. Four major areas of audience attention can be changed via the camera:
(1) the distance between the audience and the subject, (2) the amount of the subject the audience sees, (3) the audience position in relation to the subject, and (4) the angle at which the viewer sees the subject. The writer must understand and be prepared to designate any and all of the following six specific movements to direct the audience’s attention:

  1. Dolly-in and dolly-out. The camera is mounted on a “dolly,” a movable platform that permits smooth forward or backward movement. This movement to or away from the subject permits a change of orientation to the subject while retaining a continuity of action.
  2. Zoom-in and zoom-out. Used to accomplish more easily the same purpose as the dolly from mid- and long distances, the zoom can narrow the angle of view and compress depth, making people or objects appear closer. Some writers and directors believe that psychologically the dolly is more effective, moving the audience closer to or further from the subject, whereas the zoom gives the feeling of moving the subject closer to or further from the audience. In other words, as Tom Kingdon puts it, “the dolly gives the audience the sensation of actually moving through space, especially when the camera itself is moving past foreground objects, while the zoom simply alters the size of the frame without adding that special dimension of movement through space.”
  3. Tilt up and tilt down. This means pointing the camera up or down, thus changing the view from the same position to a higher or lower part of the subject.
  4. Pan right and pan left. The camera moves right or left on its axis. This movement is used to follow a character or a particular action, or to direct the audience’s attention to a particular subject.
  5. Follow right and follow left. This is also called the travel shot or truck shot. The camera is set at a right angle to the subject and either follows alongside a moving subject or, if the subject is stationary, such as an advertising display, follows down the line of the subject. The audience, through the camera lens pointed sharply to the right or left, sees the items in the display. This shot is not used as frequently as the preceding ones. The follow left or follow right can also be a panning shot, where the camera itself does not move. In the truck shot the camera itself moves right or left on a dolly or on a wheeled pedestal, a lateral-movement version of dolly-in and dolly-out. The truck shot is sometimes referred to as a crab shot, with the terminology “crab right” or “crab left.”
  6. Boom shot. Originally familiar equipment in Hollywood filmmaking, the camera boom has also become a standard part of television production practice. A crane, usually attached to a moving dolly, enables the camera to boom up or down from its basic position, at various angles—usually high up—to the subject. This is known also as a crane shot.