Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Bad (film) Grammar

I've watched the first three episodes of Stargate Universe (SG-U).

First, it's Battlestar Galactica all over again. Many of the exact same characters just with different actors. Same plot points. Same story arch. Same conflicts. Same shooting style. Slightly more Myst-esque lighting. Some really terrible acting (which Battlestar mostly avoided).

But the makers of SG-U have used terrible film grammar in several scenes.

The grammar of film has to do with the accepted meanings of certain shots. Use the wrong one at the wrong time, and you'll confusing you audience. confuse your audience.

Throughout episode 2, there are moments when the camera goes to an angle or position that, grammatically, says, "I'm someone watching the actors from the shadows" but thus far they have done nothing else to indicate that these were nothing more than "artistically interesting" angles.

Example one:

Someone is hiding in a crevice watching

This camera position tells us that someone is watching this conversation without anyone realizing it. Someone, or something is on board the ship without anyone's knowledge.

Example two:

Someone is hiding in the ventilation shaft

Seen through a grating or some other shaft, a spy is looking down from above. That is the standard interpretation of this angle, framing and camera motion. But the next shot is back to normal with no indication as to why they may have gone into the rafters to get this take.

Example three:

The watching eye

A security/surveillance camera would take a shot like this. But this is not part of a security or surveillance system. Perhaps the editor failed to include the "grimy" filter they put over the roaming camera balls aboard the ship, but I don't think that is the case. This shot is wrong for even that (wrong position and static).

The lesson: Do not break the rules of film grammar just to get a pretty/different shot. Mixing things up is not worth mixing up your audience. It is far too easy to send the wrong message with an improperly used camera angle. So plan and think about your shots. And if you're editing the show, don't use 'em just because they look good.

On the other hand, if you are trying to communicate something subtly with your angles, you need to provide more than just a few glimpses now and again. Subtlety is not the same as cryptic hints. Subtlety allows your audience to slowly connect the pieces and get excited with you. Cryptic hints merely frustrate or confuse, and ultimately detract from your payoff.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Unknown said...

This caught my eye, too. I chalked it up to foreshadowing and figured there is someone/something watching them. Perhaps in the part of the ship they can't access? But most likely they're just thinking they're clever with the creepy shots.

It's a good lesson for me--I often think I'll elevate my hastily-made video announcements every week with creative shots. It just confuses my audience. :(

Luke Holzmann said...

Holli, they may be foreshadowing... but if they are, they're doing a terrible job of it.

Creative shots aren't a problem inherently. In fact, they can be great. You just need to be careful about how you use them and consider what your shot means. But for webcasts and vlogs, the shot is usually static and so creative framing can be a major benefit!

I can't find a link to your video announcements, and I'd love to start following them. Mind sharing a link?