6 Awesome Shots from 6 Unforgettable Films

“Terminator 2”

(James Cameron, 1991; DP Adam Greenberg)

Shot from James Cameron's Terminator 2
“Hasta la vista, baby!”

No kidding. Bold use of two color temperatures (cold and hot).

Crucial point: Cameron didn’t just rack focus to the gun — he also tilted down to exclude the eyes, to make the audience focus on the gun. Humans tend to keep looking at eyes even when they are out of focus, and filmmaking genius James Cameron is clearly aware of this.

Filmmaking tipsTip: for truly effective rack focus shots in which focus is shifted from an actor’s eyes to an object, some tilting is required to put the eyes out of frame, or the audience will just keep looking at the eyes and the intended focus-shifting effect will fail.

“Schindler’s List”

(Steven Spielberg, 1993; DP Janusz Kaminski)

Shot from Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List

Perhaps my favorite shot ever — but must I really choose?

Truly exceptional lighting by Janusz Kaminski in his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg.

The camera tracks right while maintaining framing on Schindler with a longish lens — my eyes estimate the focal length at around 100-135mm.

Filmmaking tipsTip: The backlight hits Schindler from a low angle (it was placed low down and it points upwards). This was of course done deliberately by cinematographic genius Janusz Kaminski. If he had pointed the backlight downwards on Schindler — as most other DPs would have done — his cheek would have been flooded with light, spoiling the effect.

Instead, the hot backlight is made all the more effective by the fact that it is bright, but occupies a limited area. Sometimes less really is more!

“The Abyss”

(James Cameron, 1989; DP Mikael Solomon)

Shot from James Cameron's The Abyss

Lindsey sees the undersea aliens for the first time.

An unusual and every effective color scheme in this shot: pink, yellow and dark blue. Very marine.

The sharp edges of the helmet make her turning all the more dramatic (due to total internal reflection).

With “The Abyss,” James Cameron set out to make the marine equivalent of “2001” A Space Odyssey,” and he delivered.

“Hannibal”

(Ridley Scott, 2001; DP John Mathieson)

Shot from Ridley Scott's Hannibal
“The power on that battery is low, Clarice. I would’ve changed it, but I didn’t want to wake you.”

The framing in this shot is so pleasing I can’t get my eyes off it.

The ceiling fan is a classic Ridley Scott touch.

The color scheme is also noteworthy: Clarice’s red hair is a good match for the otherwise cold hue of the shot, providing good chromatic contrast.

Beautiful bokeh at the beginning of the tilt shot.

“Romeo and Juliet”

(Franco Zeffirelli, 1968; DP Pasqualino De Santis)

Shot from Zeffirelli's Rome and Juliet

“I gave thee mine before thou didst request it.”

It doesn’t get better than this: the most mesmerizing Juliet in the history of cinema addresses you directly, directed with characteristic sensitivity by Franco Zeffirelli.

It is normally very dangerous to let actors look into the camera directly, because it tends to break the voyeuristic cinematic illusion, but in this shot director Franco Zeffirelli really pulled it off. In that shot we are Romeo, and Juliet is gazing into our eyes. I can say no more!

“Minority Report”

(Steven Spielberg, 2002; DP Janusz Kaminski)

Shot from Steven Spielberg's Minority Report

A most instructive example of Spielberg’s mastery with uncut shots.

Dr Hineman walks towards the camera as she speaks, and ends up in a close-up just as she says “But sometimes, they do disagree.”

Impeccable camera-actor choreography, and with razor-sharp timing.

She then walks out of shot to reveal John Anderton’s reaction behind her, perfectly framed in between two branches of a plant.

The delivery of the most important line in the film, with varied compositions and a powerful reaction — all in one uncut shot.

For me this is the gold standard of film direction!

***

I hope you enjoyed this cinematic eye candy as much as I did 🙂

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10 thoughts on “6 Awesome Shots from 6 Unforgettable Films

  1. Great shots! Spielberg really knows how to use uncut shots; for me one of the best long sequence shots is in the beginning of Orson Welles Touch of Evil. Thanks for such an inspiring post.

  2. Pls do more of these. I work in documentary/factual, and am trying develop my understanding of dramatic camera techniques. Thanks.

    • Hi Ben,

      Thanks for checking out my work.

      If you are extra serious about learning dramatic camera techniques, you may wish to consider watching Steven Spielberg’s films without sound. He has the most high-impact, sublimely advanced camerawork skills in the history of cinema.

      Watching films with no sound is a great way to learn camerawork and film editing techniques – one learns much more.

      I still do it sometimes. You might be amazed at how much more you notice with the sound off. This is only for the very committed, though 🙂

  3. Great post Ed, very inspiring, thank you.

    (Am personally not a fan of `Hannibal’ but the bokeh is indeed gorgeous!)

    Keep up the great work

  4. Hi Joe,

    Thanks, glad you found it inspiring 🙂

  5. Please keep updating these pearls of wisdom. It helped me to look really deeper into scenes…thank you so much!

  6. Many thanks for this inspiring selection. I always learn something new from your presentation. Thanks very much.

  7. In the clip from Romeo and Juliet, I do not feel that her eyes are directly looking into the camera but just to the right of the lense a bit, I made a similar shot and it has this effect.

    Great clips! Always looking forward to your observations!

  8. Raj and Emmanuel: thank you!

    Louis: interesting observation. The camera’s visual axis is either collinear with Juliet’s eyeline or very close to being collinear — very hard to tell, and Zeffirelli did this deliberately! Either way, that shot gets to us 🙂

    While we’re on the topic, there are also several shots in “Catch Me if You Can” in which the actors look into the camera directly, and it then cuts to the reverse shot of the character being addressed (Abagnale).

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