The Psychology of Movement and Blocking a Film Scene - Raindance

motivated movementThe study of movement psychology found that ‘movement’ is controlled by deeper emotions. This means that ‘attitude and emotion can change movement’ as well as ‘movement can change emotion and attitude.’

This takes us back to Newton’s First Law of Motion: “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.”

In filmmaking terms, this translates into “a character must be MOTIVATED before they will take action.” MOTIVATED being the key word!

(1) There are two kinds of movement between characters: ‘toward or away’ and ‘moving or still.’

1. Toward or Away – when you change the space between characters, you indicate a change in the relationship.

a. If a character walks toward another character, that could indicate anger.

b. If a character walks away from another character, that could indicate fear.

2. Moving or Still – character movement is also a way of expressing opposition and resistance.

a. Moving characters create lots of energy. (Dynamic)

b. Still characters create less energy. (Peaceful)

(2) Basic Blocking and Staging Techniques

To help you begin, I suggest you start thinking of blocking as the choreography of a dance or a ballet – all the elements on the set (actors, extras, vehicles, crew, equipment) should move in perfect harmony with each other.

1. What is Blocking?

a. Blocking is working out the details of the actor’s moves in relation to the camera.

b. Blocking is the dramatic use of the camera to help find the truth in a scene.

c. Where the camera is placed is determined by what is important in the scene.

d. Blocking is like a puzzle – keep working at it until the whole scene falls into place.

e. Reveal a character’s thoughts or emotions through actions. Actions are more revealing of a character than dialogue. Doing, not saying.

2. Whenever you start blocking a scene, you must know these five things:

a. When (and where) were the characters LAST SEEN? (EX: Before Scene 7)

b. What is the LAST shot of the previous scene? (Scene 6)

c. What is the FIRST shot of the scene you are on? (Scene 7)

d. What is the LAST shot of the scene you are on? (Scene 7)

e. What is the FIRST shot of the next scene? (Scene 8)

3. Your blocking plan (or shot plan) is determined by:

a. Whose POV is being expressed at the time? (The writer, the character or the director?)

b. What distance are you from the subject? (The size of shot – are you close or far?)

c. What is your relationship to the subject? (The angle of view – choice of lenses.)

4. The opening position of a character is where the characters start in a scene and is a very important element of blocking:

a. Use your knowledge of the characters to help you imagine their opening positions

b. Different character types tend to move to different places in the room.

– Strong characters could move to the middle of room
– Weak characters could move to the side of room

5. Two ways to stage space

a. Staging across the frame

– Left to right
– Right to left

b. In-depth staging

– Foreground to background
– Background to foreground

6. Two methods for staging groups and individuals

a. Zone coverage – when you stage the coverage of groups in the same location. (Like battle scenes/sports events/crowds.)

b. Man-to-man coverage – when you stage the coverage of individual characters according to their movement in relationship to others

7. Four staging techniques

a. Static camera (The camera doesn’t move)

– Subjects can be still
– Subjects can be moving

b. Moving camera (The camera moves)

– Subjects can be still
– Subjects can be moving

c. Static subjects (The subject doesn’t move)

– Camera can be still
– Camera can be moving

d. Moving subjects (The subject does move)

– Camera can be still
– Camera can be moving

8. Four basic reasons to move the camera

a. Move for emphasis. (The camera moves into an actor.)

b. Move to emphasize a subject in a group. (Pan or dolly.)

c. Transfer attention from one subject to another. (Pan or focus)

d. To connect movement from one space to another. (Pan from the door to a desk or go from room to room.)

9. Subjective and objective camera angles

a. A subjective camera angle is a shot taken close to the 180 line. (You can see the face and eyes more clearly)

b. An objective camera angle is a shot taken perpendicular to the 180 line. (It is wider – more profile to the actor)

10. The dramatic circle of action is determined by the size and shape of the space that the action covers

a. Any space is divided into three parts:

– Foreground
– Middle ground
– Background

b. You can place the camera IN the action. (Action flows around the camera.)

c. You can place the camera OUTSIDE the action. (Keep a distance from the action.)

11. Camera height is used to show the physical relationships (or status) between people.

In real life, there are two kinds of status relationships:

a. Equal to equal. (Good cop and bad guy. Doctor and doctor)

b. Superior to inferior. (Judge and defendant. Teacher and student.)

(3) Director Questions for Blocking

1. Do I understand the writer’s intentions? (Story & themes.)

2. When was the last time the character’s were together? (How many scenes ago?)

3. Reveal a character’s thoughts and emotions through actions as much as possible.

4. What normal activities (business) would the character’s be doing at this time?

5. What is the character’s emotional state at this time in the scene?

6. Where is the focus of interest (main emphasis) at each moment in the scene?

7. What is more important: business or dialogue? (Show or tell)

8. What is the intention of the scene? (Create tension? For laughs?)

9. What kind of coverage do I need?

10. How much time should I allow to shoot this scene?

(4) When you first start directing, blocking a scene can be one of the hardest (and most embarrassing) parts of your job. If you get it wrong here, you could waste valuable shooting time trying to get out of the mess you created!

Like anything else in real life, blocking a scene with actors and crew takes practice and the more times you do it, the more comfortable you will become.


About Peter D. Marshall

Peter D. Marshall is a filmmaker from Vancouver and has worked in the Film and Television Industry for over 38 years – as a Film Director, Television Producer, First Assistant Director and TV Series Creative Consultant.

Peter has directed over 30 episodes of Television Drama such as “John Woo’s Once a Thief”, “Wiseguy”, “21 Jumpstreet”, “Neon Rider”, “The Black Stallion”, “Scene of the Crime”, “Big Wolf on Campus” and “Largo Winch.” As a First Assistant Director, Peter has worked on over 12 Features (including “Dawn of the Dead”, “The Butterfly Effect”, “Happy Gilmore”, “The Fly II”); 16 Television Movies; 8 Television Series; and over 20 Commercials.

He has written, directed or produced over 50 hours of documentary and educational programs and his documentaries and dramas have won, or been nominated for, 14 International film awards. Peter has worked for directors such as John Woo, Phillip Noyce, Ed Zwick, John Badham, Roger Vadim, Dennis Dugan, Anne Wheeler and Zack Snyder.

He has also worked with actors such as Peter O’Toole, Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, John Travolta, Kathy Bates, Michelle Pfiefer, Marcia Gaye Harden, Madeleine Stowe, Mel Gibson, Ashton Kutcher, Goldie Hawn, Judy Davis, Halle Berry and Adam Sandler.

Peter is a directing instructor at the Vancouver Film School and has also taught for the Directors Guild of Canada, Victoria Motion Picture School and Capilano College. He has also developed several filmmaking workshops and seminars that he has presented over the past 15 years – from Canada to Singapore to Dubai.

You can read more about Peter D. Marshall here.