What Is Scene Blocking In Filmmaking?
Have you ever worked on a stage play? One of the first things you do in rehearsal is figure out where everyone is supposed to stand. Nobody remembers their lines as everyone is holding scripts. They walk from this mark to another mark, trying to make the actions interesting and motivated.
That’s called blocking.
According to Wikipedia, "blocking is the precise staging of actors to facilitate the performance of a play, ballet, film or opera".
In filmmaking, that can be done in the rehearsal stage or set. Getting the actors to the right place is essential to framing and composing your shots. This can be a complicated process, especially when dealing with longer takes. This may take a lot of time to both come up with and to convey to the actors. The crew must know what is going on as well. Hitting marks isn’t just for actors but for the camera and for other crew who may inadvertently be in the shot if they aren’t aware of where the camera is pointing.
As I prepare for a shoot, it is essential for me to plan out every scene. If I am going to do something, I want to make sure that it can be done. I know there will always be things you cannot plan for and then you have your happy accidents, but I want to know what I am getting into before I start to shoot.
On my short film, Help Me First! I blocked out every scene for the entire film. This was done so that I could see if I could fit my cameras into the rooms I wanted to shoot. No sense in trying to shoot in a room with actors if you cannot even fit your crew! ALL OF THIS was before any of the crew stepped on set. I saved a TON of time and aggravation by planning it all out ahead of time.
A lot of directors will try to figure this out prior to walking on the set. This can be a huge time saver and give the cast and crew an air of confidence that they know what the shot is trying to accomplish.
When I first learned I was going to direct The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, I had no clue what I was doing (some say I still don't). As a first-time Director, scene blocking can be one of the most frustrating and terrifying parts of the job. If a director doesn’t understand the concept of blocking and staging, and they also don’t know how to speak the actor’s language, they could end up wasting valuable shooting time. Blocking a scene is simply “working out the details of an actor’s moves in relation to the camera.”
Here are 5 Important Blocking Tips:
- Put together your shot list. Having a shot list will help you during the blocking process by providing you a map of how to set up each scene.
- Communicate with your actors on the types of shots you are looking for. That way they can understand what you want and allows them to focus more on their performance.
- Figure out your camera placement, which is determined primarily by what is important in the scene.
- Blocking is like a puzzle: directors need to keep working on it until the whole scene works.
- In Television and low-budget films, speed is essential. Story block some scenes so that your action takes place in one direction (to avoid turning the camera around for reverses.)
But How do I Figure out Blocking?
What’s the best way to show it? Overheads are the easiest. They can show the beginning and ending points of cast movements and camera placements.
The simplest way is to draw your overheads. I know you can’t draw. That’s ok. These are more like scribbles than finished drawings. Circles and lines – that’s it! I know you can do it.
A circle with a little line signifying the nose will show you the direction each character is facing. Draw a line with an arrow at the end and you have shown the movement. This can be done in seconds and then revised just as fast.
When I was blocking out my short film Help Me First! I drew every single cut in the movie. Every Single One. The regular framing was easy - well, my drawing skills were OK but not stellar. The problems were charting and drawing the camera movements.
Lucky for me, every single shot moved. I do say lucky for me because I learned a lot from restating and reframing. The “shot within a shot”. How to move actors to certain spots and make it look natural. I even learned how to pace from one shot to the next. This gave me confidence when heading into rehearsal.
Not every director is comfortable with their drawing skills, which is alright. There are numerous software packages that can find to do this quickly as well.
All of t happened WAY before any of the crew stepped on set. I saved a ton of time and aggravation by planning it all out ahead of time. Pre-production has always been something I must do before anything I write/direct/produce. I cannot imagine doing without it.
Either way you do it, blocking can help you figure out your shots and let you focus as a creative where it should be focused – on the performance.
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About the Author
Mike Gasaway is an award-winning Director with over 8 years of directing/producing experience, specializing in computer animation. He’s directed more than 20 hours of television and won an Annie Award for Best Children’s Animated Series and was nominated for an Annie Award for Best Directing in an...