Ep. #95 Camera & Film Terminology for Dancers & Choreographers

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #95 Camera & Film Terminology for Dancers & Choreographers
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This episode is NOT an A-Z glossary of camera and film terminology.  It IS a deep dive into  why “film speak” is important for dancers and choreographers… and also why it is a total set up.  Yes, I’ll demystify a few of the basic terms and technicalities, but I also dish out some of my favorite resources for a deeper dive on jargon, and I zoom in on (sorry, couldn’t help it) a few simple cues you can take from the camera to better craft your performance on screen.

Quick Links:

Every Frame a Painting: https://www.youtube.com/c/everyframeapainting

Team DeakinsPodcast: https://teamdeakins.libsyn.com/

Protecting the frame Podcast: https://www.protectingtheframe.com/

100 ideas that changed film: https://www.laurenceking.com/product/100-ideas-that-changed-film-2/

30 second film photography:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25026033-30-second-photography

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place. 

Dana: Well, hello, my friend. And welcome to Words that Move me. I’m Dana. And as always, I am stoked that you are here. This is going to be fun. As we’re speaking, I am monitoring my pitch using a, um, pitch monitoring app. My vocal recovery is slow, but sure. And I am. I’m working to use all the tools available to me to fully recover as quickly and fully as possible. So forgive me if I’m a little bit distracted, I’m fascinated watching this little device record my voice, move up and down. Okay, moving right along. I’m excited about this episode because the subject came up in a words that move me community conversation recently. Um, somebody asked for the best resources for film terminology. They had never worked with film before. Um, and by film, honestly, I, I actually mean video, um, should be more specific with that language since this is the camera and film terminology episode. Um, but I, I started writing a response to this person who asked for some tips, pointers, vocabulary, et cetera, started writing this massive reply of an email, all of the words, all of the definitions. And I had to stop myself. This is a person who has not worked with dance on film before, and I was completely intimidating them, I think with this metric boat load of jargon. So I deleted my massive body of text and instead gave this person my very best advice, which is to have a clear vision in mind and be able to explain it with words or with other images and video references, and then be ready and willing to learn as you go. I encourage you to the same attitude. Throughout this episode be ready and willing to learn as you go heads up. I am not going to read a film or photography glossary to you in this episode. So if that is what you are here for, you can 100% do that faster and have the bonus feature of pictures and video examples. Um, you can have all that quickly by doing that Google search yourself. Actually I think a podcast might not be the most natural place to teach camera terminology because those visual aids are so important. So towards the end of this episode, I’ll give some of my favorite resources. But what I really want to dig into today is why “film speak” in quotes is important and also why it is a trap. I will try to stay focused, see what I did there focus. Um, and I will try to hold off on the puns, but I will not hold off on the pans and tilts. Okay, I must stop. I will stop. 

Let’s do wins. Yay. Here at the top of the episode, um, my win today is that this evening I’m going to see LA’s very own body traffic. I have a few friends on the company, super shout out, Joe Davis, Tiare Keeno. So excited to see you perform. And of course the creative director, Tina Finkelman Berkett. Tina is a long time friend and Ooh, she’s gotta be coming on the podcast here soon in the future that just got real. Tina it’s official. I mean, it’s not official yet, but it will become all right. Anyways, I know that as Broadway is opening back up, theaters, opera houses shows in general are opening back up. Um, I am probably not the only one with a win like this right now. And I hope that if you don’t have a live show on the books on your calendar, maybe this month that you think about doing that, um, if you’re comfortable going out in the world right now or ever I’m saying that also to my future audience, trust me, I am feeling the home life. Oh, wow. I told you I would try to stay focused and look at what’s happened. Okay. Now it’s your turn. Tell me what’s going well in your world. What are you celebrating today? Hit me.  

Okay, great. Congratulations. I’m so thrilled for you. Glad that you’re winning. Keep winning. Now let’s dig into this. We’re going to start by talking about why it is important for a dancer and a choreographer to understand camera and film terminology. I’m just going to put on my obvious Oscar Grouch, obvious Oscar Pants, obvious. What are some other O names? Olivia or O’Ryan? Anyways, this first one might be quite obvious, but understanding what the director and the choreographer are saying is a plus. Speaking the same language so to speak helps you work well and quickly, it definitely speeds up the process when people can explain what they want in a few words, instead of in several phrases. It helps when people can ask for what they want, instead of have to teach what they want. So that’s an obvious one. It helps you work well, and it helps you work fast to understand what people around you are saying, boom. Now this next point might also be obvious, but I’m going to dig into things from a movement perspective for a couple minutes here. These are a few of the ways that a dancer can and probably should take cues from the camera to craft their performance. 

First let’s talk scale, performing for a closeup and performing for a wide shot are very different things. The smallest perceptible movement in a close-up is really small. Like a micro movement is, is it’s small, but you can see it versus the smallest perceptible movement in a wide shot is significantly bigger, big, like sometimes large. So knowing the framing of the shot is extremely helpful when crafting your performance in terms of scale, I will call upon the opening scene of La la land as an example. I am a woman in blue getting out of a rusty kind of reddish colored car towards the beginning and the expression I have on my face, which is of course, you know me, quite cheerful. Um, in that beginning moment, like in the first verse ish versus the expression on my face during the final chorus, when the camera has pulled away, way, way back and up like the face I was making and the scale at which I was moving in those final moments of that opening scene would look actual nuts, like crazy nuts in a closeup. If the camera had been close up on my face and body, in those moments, it would have been a horror film. It would have been a scary movie. So that’s scale. The importance of crafting your physical energy in relationship to the frame period. 

Now I want to talk about, um, a phrase that I made up it’s called oops tolerance to me, ‘Oops Tolerance’ is a performer’s ability to mess up and keep going without anyone else knowing. Note always, always, always, always, always keep going until you hear the word cut, no matter what the camera is doing or what you think the camera’s doing, no matter how bad you think you messed up, keep going. We’ll talk about that more in a second, relating to the camera or specifically the framing of the shot. My oops tolerance goes way up. In other words, I get way more relaxed, way more confident, less stress, less pressure on my physical dancing. When I know we’re shooting a close-up like head and shoulders or even a cowboy shot, which means from the knees up or a mid shot from the waist up. Um, I know that in those cases, if I mess up my foot work, it really doesn’t matter unless I show it on my face. The opposite can also be true. If we’re shooting a closeup on my hands, for example, it’s okay that my expression is super concentrated or that my lips are pursed in, in focus.  Focus again. Um, or that my lips are chapped for that matter. Awareness of the frame helps you focus your attention on the part of you that will be getting most of the attention. Again, this is kind of obvious stuff, but I really don’t think most dancers know what is in the frame when we start moving. And if for no other reason than your oops tolerance, it can absolutely be helpful to know that information. Before I move on, I really do want to underline keep going. You might think your flub has ruined the shot, but you’d be surprised how useful even a really bad take can be. Movie magic is real. I think we mentioned during the, um, in the Heights choreography team podcast episode, I think we talked about this. It was fully raining while we shot some of 96,000, which is the pool scene from In the Heights. Um, it was actually fully nighttime for some of those shots and truth be told I shutter when I hear the words, we’ll fix it in post because I have been the one trying to fix it in post and that ain’t fun. Um, but you really would be surprised to see and hear how much can be fixed after the fact. So always be rolling and always keep going until you hear the word cut. Okay. Sorry. That sort of turned into a special effects conversation. We’re back. 

Another camera related cue that can bring extra awareness to you. Um, your expression and your placement is a high frame rate. Now I am not as cinematographer or an optical expert of any kind, but I would consider anything 60 frames per second or higher to be a technically high frame rate. Um, frame rates by the way, since we’re talking basics today are usually measured in F P S or frames per second. And it means like what it sounds, the number of individual images or frames captured per second. In the edit, the individual images can be stretched or squished to cover any desired amount of time thanks to digital nonlinear editing. Um, so you might imagine that if you wanted to stretch or in other words, slow down one second of capture over, let’s say one minute of video, having more frames, more data, more information is more better. So a higher frame rate, more samples to stretch is more helpful. Okay. I hope you’re still with me here. It is for that reason, having more information, more data to spread out that shooting at a high frame rate is usually an indication that the director intends to slow the footage down. Alternatively, if you plan on speeding up footage or even playing it at normal speed, um, normal for a human’s eyeball is somewhere between 30 and 60 frames per second. That’s totally fine. Some experts actually maintain that It’s not really possible for the human eye to perceive more than 60 frames per second. So, uh, there’s that? Okay. Technically I hope you’re grasping the concept of frame rates and how more samples is more useful. If you plan to play back what you captured over a longer stretch of time than what you captured it in. That was confusing. Okay. Let me explain why this matters for a dancer. If you are shooting at a high frame rate that will be getting slowed down in the final, edit. A facial expression, a line, a transition that you made for a very, very small fraction of a second while cameras were rolling could last a very long time on screen. So it’s crucial that you be aware of facial expressions, body placement, and even performing transition moments versus considering transition moments what gets you between performance moments. That transition could last 30 seconds on camera? If you aren’t performing every single fraction of a second of it, the performance can fall flat in the final edit. I got some hands-on experience with this, myself playing with my husband’s, um, Sony RX 100, which is a little point and shoot kind of pocketable size camera, but it captures 1000 frames per second at full HD, which means 1920 by 1080 pixels. We’ll talk about aspect ratios in a second. You’re down, you’re down. Anyways It can only capture that much data for one second at a time. So in our little exploration, I tried to fit as much dance as possible into one second of movement that wound up, you know, that got stretched into 30 seconds of a movie. We made a 30 second movie out of one second of dance. And holy heck, I learned so much about my face and where I hold tension in my neck and my shoulders and my hands. Um, so if you have access to high frame rate cameras and you want to learn about yourself, I strongly recommend giving that some play. Um, and I recommend going easy on yourself as you review that footage, some hard truths buried in those frames. Okay. Those are a few examples of the movement cues that a dancer can take from camera. But I think that a lot of maybe even most dancers who want to learn camera terminology want to, because they aspire to choreograph and or direct. And yeah, if you plan on choreographing and obviously if you plan on directing, it’s very, very important that you be able to communicate what you want to see and understand what is wanted in the language of film.  I would like to embed a little caveat here. I think that choreographers and directors need to understand each other period, but what I see happening a lot is that because choreographers understand movement so well movement of all things, not just the dancers, but movement of the camera movement of the story. So on and so forth. I think it’s, it’s common that choreographers wind up directing the camera throughout their dance scenes and sometimes even beyond. And for that reason, yeah, it’s, it’s very advantageous for choreographers to understand and speak camera, but I actually don’t think choreographers should wind up directing their scenes unless it’s made clear that that’s what’s happening right from the jump. And unless they receive a director credit like Jerome Robbins in west side story, for example. Yeah. It’s a thing that happens a lot and I don’t feel great about it. I’m fully on board with empowering choreographers to take the ball and run with it on set. But if we are indeed directing the camera, if we are indeed directing the scene, then let us be directors. I would love to live in a world where directors understand dance as much as choreographers understand the camera. I think, kind of a funny thing to think about, actually that seems like a trap and speaking of traps, Ooh, that was a juicy segue. 

Now I want to talk about why and how learning camera and film terminology can be a trap because the first film was made in 1902 at a whopping 12 frames per second, for a little perspective, the camera that I just mentioned, the little point and shoot Sony RX 100 captures a thousand, the iPhone that is probably in your pocket captures 120 at full HD.  So all that to say a lot has happened since since then, since, uh, I think it’s called the Man on the Moon. I think that’s the name of the first film. I know it was 1902. Um, but yeah, a lot has happened since then technologies are evolving so quickly right now that it can feel incredibly intimidating and expensive to try to play catch up and stay caught up in that field. There are simply so many different words and terms probably as many as there are in the entire dance lexicon actually, now that I think about it, but add the complexity that some of them sound like they mean the same thing, but mean different things like depth of field and depth of focus. And some are literally the same word that have different meanings like frame, for example, which means the single individual picture on a film strip or the still section of the many images that make up a video, like in a frame rate, what we already talked about, but frame also refers to the borders and what’s visible within them. Then you’ve got aspect ratio, which is the images width to height ratio, which is usually given in numbers, pixels, but sometimes not. Um, depth of field and depth of focus, which is sometimes called lens to film ratio. So there you have it two totally different terms that explain the same thing that happens a lot. Um, lens to film ratio or lens to film tolerance, or depth of focus explains the distance between the lens itself and the sensor, the sensor’s sensitivity, which is called I-S-O or ISO, which is actually different from exposure, which is the amount of light that reaches the sensor. Some of you are still wondering what is a sensor and where is it sensor? We haven’t even gotten into the names for camera angles, the names for camera movements. Yeah, it’s a lot, I guess what I’m trying to say is the same way you and I have dedicated our time and focus to dance or choreography or whatever it is that you do. Photographers and cinematographers, camera operators have dedicated probably the same amount to what they do this. So although it is tempting to think that you can figure this out with a few YouTube videos or even by the end of the year, if you have some time on set and really ask a lot of good questions. Even then, it’s probably not going to happen. And that’s okay now I don’t mean to be discouraging or to be a Debbie downer. I am here to help you, but I’m also here to tell you that. Man, I made a micro movie every day for over 400 days and I am on set a lot and I still hear words that I’ve never heard of. Shorthand, code words for other words. Um, I’m still figuring this out as well. So go easy on yourself, take it slow and apply what you are learning. Get a camera other than your iPhone, probably, um, get a camera that you’re comfortable with actually using get a camera that you’re comfortable, potentially harming because sometimes use does that, but then go play. That’s how you learn. That’s how you learn. Now you’ve heard the tough stuff. You’ve heard the obvious stuff. Now I’m going to give you a few of my favorite resources when it comes to cinematography and photography and film terminology. Um, step one, marry an optical engineer. And if that doesn’t work out for you the next time that you reach for Instagram or Tik-tok open your camera app, instead, explore every single setting, tap every single number or icon or word on the screen and play with the settings, adjust settings, take pictures, take videos. Notice what changes. And if you don’t know what something means, take for example, what is that tiny F in the top right corner when I’m in portrait mode, that means f-stop Google it, read what it is, read what it means to use it, and then see how it works for the record iPhone’s camera app really works hard to hide a ton of the most fun and exciting settings to play with. So I really do recommend, um, doing this little exploration with a handheld camera, like an actual camera. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Um, in fact, a very wise man once said, the very best camera to use is the one that you have. So use that one or use the one you can afford and then use the one, you know, how to use that means there will be a learning curve. Next I recommend you watch every single episode of Tony Zao’s every frame of painting on YouTube. That is the name of the channel, every frame of painting. Um, there are a series of video essays about cinematography and film, um, less about the terms and the tools and more about their effect. So, so good. Also strongly recommend the Team Deakins podcast, which is Roger Deakins podcast. Roger Deakins, one of my favorite cinematographers ever. So good. Uh, also the podcast Protecting the Frame. That was a handout from my dear friend, DevinJamieson. Thank you for that. Devin. I’ve been loving listening to Protecting the Frame so good. Um, also buy and read 100 Ideas That changed film. That is a book by David Parkinson. Another, another good bang for the buck is 30 Second photography. That’s edited by Brian Dilger I think I’m saying that right. Those are both really comprehensive, yet small and sticky bites that lead to really big learning in an even bigger field of information. It really like the way they have curated and explain some pretty difficult like scientific concepts in a way that I, a dance type can understand it.  Um, yeah. Okay, great. I think, I think that is it until, of course I get DevinJamieson on the podcast to talk even more about the camera. 

Um, all right, let’s wrap it up then. Speaking Camera can be at least a very small part of what separates the pros from the rookies, but as a choreographer or a dancer, you do not have to know the difference between depth of field and depth of focus to have a deeply profound effect on your audience. So don’t let the terminology stop you or get you caught up. Honestly, sometimes I think it’s designed to be intimidating like taxes, maybe just to keep, to keep people out. Um, but stay in it. Keep asking questions, keep playing. And of course, keep it funky. That is it for me today. I will talk to you soon. See that right there that bye was too low, that was at 150 Hertz, trying to get 160 and above. Okay. Enough bye!

Me again, wondering if you ever noticed that one more time. Almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe and leave a rating and review because your words move me too. Number two, I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops and so much more. All right. That’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye. 

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