BASICS 6: SEQUENCING

Dec 29, 2011   //   by adelia   //   Tutorials  //  No Comments

This final ‘basics’ tutorial looks at sequencing which, can be defined as:

‘The modification of space and time’

Sounds grand doesn’t it! To explain montage properly we will start with a history lesson.
When the moving picture was first invented it must have been a massive shock to see it for the first time. So much so that an urban myth has been created around the film below.  Folklore states that 1896 audiences found it so realistic that they ran to back of the cinema trying to get away from the train that was thundering towards them!  Nice story, but unfortunately not thought to be true:

 

However, you will notice that this riveting scene is all shot from one angle – there is no editing, so no change in shot size or angle.

As cinema developed from short films showcasing this technological marvel into a medium for narrative storytelling, film directors realised that the way shots were edited together; changed the story they were telling. The director who is most famous for using creative editing to develop his narrative is Sergei Eisenstein. His most famous film is ‘The Battleship Potemkin” and its most famous sequence is known as ‘The Odessa Steps’. In the sequence Eisenstein wants to increase the drama of a massacre of civilians.

From 5.30″, in the clip below, a mother holds a pram at the top of the steps – when she is shot the pram starts a unending journey downwards – heightening the drama. Its descent is so renowned it has been endlessly copied, paid homage to, and even parodied! What marks the sequence out is the use of editing to drag out the pain, agony and injustice of the scene. The camera could have been set up at the bottom of the steps and recorded the minute or so it would have taken the tzar’s men to march down shooting everyone in their path. But instead Eisenstein constantly changes shot – getting in tight on the anguished faces of the people as the soldiers relentlessly bear down on them – the finished sequence eventually taking 7.30″. The rhythmic nature of the cuts pushes the scene on – the action happens apparently in real time – but try counting just how many steps! The modification of space and time!

 

Eisenstien used montage to slow down his sequence for dramatic effect but most often we use editing to get rid of the boring bits! If you played a modern piece of cinema to one of Eisenstien’s audiences back in 1925 they would be dazzled by the speed of the cuts and by the what is left out in the modern shorthand of cinema. As an art form, contemporary cinema is highly evolved, using complex conventions that have sprung up over decades.

However, we all read the language of montage seamlessly so for us to recreate it is not so difficult!

Basic video journalism training asks VJ’s to look at every scene as a sequence and despite the brief nature of news shooting they should look for at least five shots for every set up:

  • Wide
  • Mid
  • Close-up
  • Over the shoulder
  • Creative (i.e. low angle, reverse angle or a moving shot (pan,tilt etc.))

This is pretty much the bare minimum you should be looking for – the more you get the more options you will have in the edit suite. Now we shoot on hard disk or flash card there is no film or tape to run out!

Sequencing helps you tell a visual narrative. Think about what you want your audience to look at and film it for them. In advertising, the cutting can get frenetic to get all the information across in less than a minute. To finish I’ll leave you with one of our adverts, the client needed a fairly complex narrative communicated in just forty seconds – did we succeed?

 

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