Train yourself to visualize shots with The Shining
We’ve come through a lot of material during our exploration of shot scale. Now being familiar with the concept of shot scale won’t turn you into a director if you aren’t able to visualize them in your mind, and even more importantly, relate them to emotions. So how do we do that? The answer lies in the Post Production Script of The Shining. I know I really make a lot of fuss about shot scale, but that is by far the most important concept to acquire, so please bear with me.
Why that script?
Documents describing all shots from a movie in detail are fairly rare. If you haven’t read the script of The Shining (S. Kubrick, 1980) yet, you’ll be amazed to see that Stanley Kubrick — the author of the script and director of the film — described every single shot with great detail before shooting. Any single dialog line has been edited the way it is in the final movie. Unbelievable.
Kubrick’s shot scale
Before we start, here is a short list of abbreviations and acronyms that are used in the script:
- EXT.: Exterior / INT.: Interior
- L.: Left / R.: Right / R-L: Right to left / etc
- b.g.: Background / f.g.: Foreground
- OFF: Off-screen
- P.O.V.: Point of view
Only 5 shot scales are used in the script. They are detailed below.
- Long Shot (LS): the camera is apparently far away from the subject. Kubrick’s Long Shot is a combination of what I presented as Long Shot and Medium Long Shot.
- Medium Long Shot (MLS): characters are showed in full length, but sometimes only as tall as one third of screen height. This is what I called a Full Shot.
- Mid Shot (MS): adult characters’ legs are cut off, from knees up to waist up. Kubrick’s Mid Shot is a combination of what I called Medium Full Shot and Mid Shot.
- Medium Close Shot (MCS): adult characters are framed from the chest up to shoulders up. What I presented as Medium Close Shot and Close Shots (minus the “Choker” Close Shot) have been united in the script as a single Medium Close Shot.
- Close Shots (CS): characters’ face features are tightly framed. This is what I called a Choker Close Shot. Note that there are only two of them in the script.
Ok, but how do I use that?
- 1. Watch the movie. Be warned that this film is a thriller, close to a horror movie. It has been rated R (Restricted) because it contains material that may be disturbing to some viewers, as they say, definitely not suitable for children.
- 2. Read the script, only one scene (or one shot) at a time, and envision the film in your mind. Try to “feel the emotional distance” to characters in each shot. Focus on the distance and nothing else.
- 3. Once you’ve reconstructed a shot in your mind, check the film and assess the difference in terms of apparent distance. Mind you, a number of shots didn’t make it into the movie — the scale was changed on the set. Some scenes were eventually cut off, you’ll find out when you read the script.
This is all there is to it. Watch, read, envision, compare. This exercise is an excellent way to develop your emotional response to shot scale. Want some more? Remember that remarkable resource — the combined continuity on Raiders of the Lost Ark — we have worked with? You can use it in the exact same way. Two for the price of one! How cool is that?
So where is the script?
You can easily find the Post Production Script of The Shining with a little research on the web. For your convenience, here is a direct link (html format) from an amazing collection of scripts you might be interested in.
There you have two great resources to help you hone your skills with little effort. Read-envision-check is an excellent workout. If you do it seriously, you will be able to envision any kind of shots in no time. In next article, I’ll show you how to create photoboards in a snap to help you quickly spot or sift through shots in movies.
- The descriptive power of shot scale
- Shot scale – A variety of subjects (Part 1)
- How to make a photoboard of a film (Part 1)