Challenging Cinematic Techniques


When you’re watching a movie on the big screen, it’s inevitable that you form an opinion about it. Was it cheesy? Was it fun? Was it action-packed? You know your own taste pretty well, so it’s easy to walk away from a theater with a clear idea of whether you enjoyed the film. What may not be as easy is identifying specifically what about the movie you loved so much. Or perhaps what made you feel a certain emotion as you watched. There are often nuances to performances and filming techniques throughout a movie that we, as an audience, may respond to without actually knowing the specifics. Here are a few recent movies that utilize specific techniques to evoke certain emotional responses from the audience:

1) Call Me By Your Name

One of the newer and more challenging cinematic techniques that you’ll find throughout both film and television is the use of the long shot. As the name suggests, a long shot is where a sequence occurs in a film without quick cuts- there’s one camera and the actors perform the scene in one take, with no cuts. Most films have various cuts throughout scenes, to get different angles on the characters. There is an enormous amount skill in both the actor and filmmaker who is able to capture a longshot. The actor needs to stay in character for a longer period than is typically required in film. Not only that, but a single camera needs to follow and capture the action of the whole scene- action that would typically be captured by several cameras at once.

There are several examples of this technique in use. From the action packed long shots used in Breaking Bad to a lighter but also challenging long shot in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the challenge of this technique is appreciated by viewers of all genres. It also creates a more personal or dramatized experience of a scene, since the viewer is experiencing the scene from one POV, as though they themselves are there to witness the action.

Call Me By Your Name, a recent Oscar-Winning Film, uses the technique masterfully in a few instances throughout the film. The film is about a summer romance between two young men in Italy in the 1980’s. The first use of this shot is the pivotal scene where the protagonist, Eliot, tells Oliver his feelings. The use of the shot makes the scene feel dramatized, personal and even private. You can almost tangibly feel Eliot’s struggle to get the words out.

The next and probably the most remarkable use of the technique in the film is actually at the very end. At the end of the film, Eliot finds out that Oliver is getting married and the film ends with a four minute long shot of Eliot sitting in front of the fireplace alone, crying. Again, without the cuts this scene feels incredibly personal. The audience simply sits and watches the different waves of emotion crossover Eliot’s face as the credits roll.

2) Baby Driver

A film that didn’t get nearly as much credit as it should, Baby Driver was not only action-packed, but also utterly unique in the way it was shot and edited. The film is mainly about a young man who has gotten himself tangled up in crime: he is a great driver and acts as the getaway driver for different clients doing various crimes and robberies. Part of his character is that he’s very antisocial and he uses music as a way to express himself. So he has his headphones in almost always throughout the film, even when he’s driving- the right music improves his performance. Essentially, he creates a soundtrack for his own life.

To match this character, the film itself is shot as almost like a dance. Every single beat of the movie goes along with the music underlying the action. So it’s almost as though the film was shot for the soundtrack, rather than the soundtrack chosen to match the film. Which was actually the case: they had a choreographer on set and they had the soundtrack chosen in advance so they could choreograph the action like they would a dance. The scene below is an excellent example of this. This is the pivotal chase scene at the ending of the film. Notice how every jump, gunshot, step, head turn and change in pacing matches perfectly with the song being played underneath the action. This was true of every single part of this film and the work that the both the editor’s and choreographer did to accomplish this technique is unreal.

3) Dunkirk

Another Oscar Winning Film, Dunkirk, was praised this year for its groundbreaking cinematic technique. What makes this film unique is the specific camera used. Almost the entirety of this film is shot using IMAX cameras, which capture images that are just as wide, but taller, than what other cameras are able to capture. The picture quality filmmakers can capture using these cameras is unparalleled. According to Gear Patrol, this is the highest picture quality you can experience in the theater. Partly because of the resolution and also because it, “creates a visceral experience that makes you feel like you were there.” According to Nolan himself, this camera is able to create an experience that is like, “virtual reality without the goggles.”

Now, why doesn’t every filmmaker use this camera? Well, it’s an incredibly bulky and loud camera so that makes it difficult to film in tight spaces and seemingly impossible for aerial shots. That is, until now. The team on this film worked tirelessly to find ways to strap this camera onto the plane for aerial shots and even to create rigs so that in ground shots it could appear more like a lightweight handheld camera.

They even went as far as to use real Spitfires from the 1960’s for their aerial shots, which made shooting in the cockpit even more challenging, but resulted in them obtaining gorgeous action shots that couldn’t possibly be achieved through a computer.

While it ultimately may be difficult to spot these little nuances if you’re not a professional film critic, the feeling that they evoke in an audience will sit with them long after they leave the theater. These techniques may be easy to miss, but they’re even harder to forget.