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What Abrams Did Amazingly Well in TROS - Video

Discussion in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' started by Jayson, Jun 9, 2020.

  1. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    Andrew Saladino, whom I've quickly come to admire, is a freelance editor (and occasional writer), who also started a film society dedicated to analyzing film form (did I mention that I've come to quickly admire this guy?) did a short video review on the camera blocking work of TROS, and I LOVE it.

    Before I dig in, here you go.


    Now, time to dig in.
    Firstly, I'm excited because no one has broken this down and discussed it the way that it should, and it really should be pointed out because, as I outlined in a thread I posted back in 2016 right after TFA came out, Abrams is a fantastic at designing and curating this kind of quality camera work. I say designing and curating because, like most directors at his level, he's rarely the guy single-handedly thinking the idea, working out the logistics, telling people on set what to do, and weilding the camera.
    That's more a low budget film approach, or indie film approach. Once you hit big box office films, the directors aren't commonly wielding cameras regularly. They're always with the camera, but rarely are they operator, and they also aren't usually the sole voice in decisions. They have the design ideas, often, but it's their Director of Photography (DP) who takes it from there and whom they feedback with.

    So while this is absolutely an Abrams effect, let's be very clear, as Andrew points out, Dan Mindel has a lot to do with this as well. That said, don't for a moment think that the aesthetic is Mindel's, because if Mindel works with another director, like any decent DP today, Mindel would cater to that director's visual aesthetic (ye olde days were quite different and DP's basically told the Director's to piss off - which Lucas ran up against a LOT in the OT).

    Back on tangent, again, I've openly stated this before, but the primary reason that I'm a HUGE Abrams fanboy is his visual aesthetic work with the camera and camera language.
    It's just so Maclunkey good. Yes, lots of people DO call Abrams "Diet Spielberg", but I think that's actually not quite right.

    The reason I don't think that' quite right is that it negates Abrams' own merit and mind.
    He's not just doing things because he's imitating Spielberg. No, he's doing things because it's the way he sees and understands film language.
    And man...his film language is really smooth and graceful in a scene, and always has been.

    I know Andrew talks about Abrams' shaky cam days, but honestly, that was on purpose. He wasn't incapable of his work. It was an artistic purpose.
    For example, Andrew highlights some footage from Mission Impossible III as the shaky cam stuff.
    Yes, it was heavily shaky. But that was also the vibe of the story - unhinged.
    And Abrams did something rare with that shaky cam that you don't really see.

    It's something I've talked about multiple time in the past, and even brought up in my post from 2015 (linked above). He uses the camera as an extension of the character language.
    Meaning, the camera moves as a character, not as an object that is incapable of being affected by the character and incapable of moving as part of the character.

    Case in point, I'll use the same movie. Let's take this scene.
    I would say to watch this with the sound off so that it's easier to pay attention to the CAMERA.


    Now, note that the camera actually moves and shakes in direction of the character's own movements.
    I don't mean that it follows the characters; obviously it does that.
    But it also, for example, jigs up and down or side to side when characters nod their head up and down, or shake it in denial side to side.
    The emotional attitude of the characters is expressed in the shaky movement of the camera in small nuances.

    The most notable and brilliant of these nuanced maneuvers is at about 1 minutes and 5 seconds when Tom Cruise screams and slams his body. The whole camera shakes as if we're shaking a camera for the Falcon taking a hit from incoming fire, but it's dialogue.
    Even with the sound off, it just booms energy and adds considerable weight and power to Cruise's delivery.

    So I don't really agree that Abrams went through a shaky cam "phase" exactly.
    For example, look at his first (and still currently only) personal story and film, Super 8 (god I love this film!).
    Let's take this scene.

    Not only does it lack shaky cam, it's also using almost the same camera language we see in TFA and TROS with slight variations.

    It feels like Abrams. It reads like Abrams.
    It doesn't read like Spielberg.
    This is Spielberg.


    And this is Abrams.


    They are very different styles.

    The notable difference is that Spielberg does a LOT of "oners".
    That's shots that capture the scene in one shot that moves everywhere, and he does it by constantly reframing the scene as the oner moves, finding ways to find a frame within the frame, and if there isn't one (like in the example above) he does it by moving the camera around into a position that causes a reframing.

    Yes, Abrams does this as well, as Andrew points out, but that's more like just having a good lesson learned by studying the masters, because what Abrams does that Spielberg doesn't is chop the idea of the Spielberg oner up into abbreviated moments as you see in the Star Trek Into Darkness example.

    Abrams is basically making a oner, but rather than just following the character continually around, he gives the impression of doing that by streaming the shots together like handing off a baton in a slick and nicely smooth flow of one camera shots movement into the other, but chooses to do multiple shots chained together to get a faster paced variation of the idea of a oner.

    And yes, he did a lot of oners in TROS, and I believe that's because it really suited the ensemble style.
    You saw it in TFA quite a bit as well, but with how many characters he's juggling on the screen at once in TROS constantly, it makes sense to rely on a oner to deliver the most amount information in a constantly moving way that isn't chopped up a bunch since we're already throwing a ton of information at the audience rapidly.

    This brings me to my final thought.
    The only thing I actually disagree with Andrew on is the bit about the script.
    YES, it is fast and we're shoving lots of information into each scene, and moving at breakneck speeds, but the Andrew talks about it is as if to suggest that Abrams wasn't aware of this.

    The very subject matter of Andrew's video, the abundant use and increase in the oner kind of states the opposite of that idea.
    For example, take the snake's cave scene that he talks about having both a smooth ride of nice oners and too many plot points.

    If you use a oner instead of doing a pseudo-oner that's a series of cut shots that make it fast, then what you've done is SLOWED the camera motion DOWN.

    The scene can still feel fast, sure, but not because of the camera motion.
    Look again at the snake scene.

    TURN YOUR SOUND OFF.


    Now, TURN YOUR SOUND BACK ON and watch it again.

    You'll notice that the sense of the scene will be that it's faster with the sound on than with it off.
    That's because the reliance on longer shots and slower pans with fewer cuts that hand the motion off between shots causes the sense of time to slow down compared to if you do the same kind of thing, but slice it up and cut out the edges so you only get the essential center part of each composition.

    When you have this much stuff going on, it's actually pretty smart to do this and slow things down on the camera.

    As to that idea about the script being too much stuff in it.
    Yes. There's lots in there. Yes. It moves through a ton of stuff quickly in the film.
    Yes. It's a challenge to keep up and feel comfortable for most people watching the film.

    I don't think this is BAD.

    I've said it before, but Star War A New Hope was slammed for the same thing in 1977.

    "There’s no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. An hour into it, children say that they’re ready to see it again; that’s because it’s an assemblage of spare parts — it has no emotional grip." - Pauline Kael, The New Yorker​

    Hmm. That sounds rather familiar to things I've been hearing lately.

    And THAT is why I don't think it's bad.

    When Star Wars first came out it challenged the speed of story telling.

    Here's Logan's Run which came out just a year before and was heralded as a sci-fi blockbuster at the time (winning awards for special effects).

    Again...TURN THE SOUND OFF.


    And here's ANH.


    Aside from special effects, there's a big difference between these two in pacing.
    Logan's Run is far more slow.

    ANH is now slow in pace to us by comparison to things like The Matrix or any of the Marvel movies, let alone the new Star Wars, obviously, but here's the thing...it has been a LOOOONG time since I've heard a large mass consensus about a film be that the pacing was just too fast.

    Really. The last time I recall that being a thing was 2 years before I was born, and something I grew up reading remarks about: ANH.
    There really hasn't been a film that fundamentally challenged the audience's pacing capability.

    Edgar Wright's films use fast-paced intercuts, but the pacing has time to breathe in spite of there being fast-paced cuts.
    Almost every film employs breathing space. It's rare for a big block buster to just cram every moment full of narrative movement with hardly any down time between sequences.

    Folks talk about Chewie's death and finding out that he's alive all being way too fast, but honestly, Luke's mourning over Ben's death was ridiculously short-lived and given practically zero time to breathe and sink in by the standards of the day.

    Which is why the criticism for those who didn't like that aspect was exactly to point out that the pacing was way too fast and tiring.

    So for that reason, I actually applaud the pacing of TROS.
    And it's funny to me because they both have this blistering pacing issue for the same reason - they were both attempting to cram a ton of narrative information into a very tight box of time that wasn't anywhere close to the amount of time they really would have preferred to have. Lucas wanted a lot more time in the film, and the pacing wasn't that snappy at first, but by the end of it, to squeeze everything in, it created this effect of jumbled scenes at breakneck speed for quite a few people.

    So I very much appreciate it in TROS, and I think it will age well as in about a decade (if that) we won't think it's all that fast at all.

    Here's to Abrams. One hell of a technician with the camera!

    And also, though I didn't go into it, here's to Maryann Brandon, because - though chosen in design by Abrams through him coming up with something, or picking one she came up with - a lot of the pacing was skillfully crafted by her hands. And she's a bad arse!

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
    #1 Jayson, Jun 9, 2020
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2020
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  2. NinjaRen

    NinjaRen Supreme Leader

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    I recently watch this video, and I actually have to disagree with it. Yes, it's a great tool of filming, but JJ is using it way too often. This makes it repetive and you can pretty much call every upcoming cut. At least I can as an editor.
     
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  3. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    In that regard it's a matter of taste I think brcause I like it quite a lot.

    That said, it can make some folks feel wooshy when used a lot.

    But not this guy! :p

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
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  4. RockyRoadHux

    RockyRoadHux Ginger General

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    Moderation is the key, same with the lense flares, it's good as long as you don't overdo it.
     
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  5. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    Hehe. I love those as well!
    I'm not scoring well by your guys' book. lol.

    I love stylized cinema.

    Especially when it's doing it for a very smart reason. :)

    Of course, moderation's not my thing. I don't go to a roller coaster and look for the one that kind of has a bit of everthing, I narrow in on the one that does the trick I like the most. I like a heavy hand on vinegar, salt, or zest.

    "NEVER STOP DOING NUMBER 7!"
    Ahh Brooks. You non-moderate b####rd.

    But I don't think that's actually the point here.
    When I look at TROS, I see a right b###h to film because you have this massive ton of narrative information to shove in here, and it's going to be rapidly flipping through that narrative, so you don't want to cut a lot since you know action is going to have a lot of the high cut rates already, but you don't want vanilla blocking because that's not very dynamic, which means you want a shot approach that gives you the highest dynamic flexibility, while also lowering your cut frequency to take it easy on the eye a bit while at the same time minimizes shot setup on set because there's already very complex and lengthy set up shots to accomplish, and everything's behind before you get started.

    The 3 composition oner is an easy win here for bang for buck.

    The alternative is the classic master and OTS toggle like the OT does ad nauseam (...seriously...constantly...and the PT doubles down and goes full ham on the silver screen format), but that would be really awkward in the overall flow of things because the big shots are fluid, and the action sequences are fluid, so not having some consistent fluidity in the dialogue shots and going traditional would be puzzlingly jarring if I visually run that through my mind.

    But again. Taste.
    I like heavy salt. My wife doesn't. ;)

    Now...if we're just talking about what I call "The Abrams Swoosh" - the fact that he is almost constantly swinging the camera in horizontal and diagonal semi-circular movements - then...well...yes. Lol.
    That's just Abrams. It's littered in nearly everything he does, and likely won't change all that much. Even if it's not a 3 comp oner, even if it's a one comp shot, the opening to the scene is going to swoosh into the composition, and when the scene shifts, it's going to likely do it with a swoosh of the camera when cut.
    Abrams doesn't favor hard edges much. lol

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
    #5 Jayson, Jun 9, 2020
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2020
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  6. NinjaRen

    NinjaRen Supreme Leader

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    This kinda implies that the sound design makes this scene bad, this is problematic. I've learned that sound is more important than imagery. I can even prove it: What would you rather watch? A movie with low image quality or the same movie with low audio quality? I guarantee you will always choose the first option.

    Just a thought which came to my mind.
     
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  7. Andrew Waples

    Andrew Waples Jedi General

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    Also, no one watches a movie like that. So of course the audio and the visual go hand in hand. It's like those who critique the throne room scene in TLJ and think it's bad because they slowed it down.
     
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  8. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    No.
    Sound design was amazing.

    The reason for this is to focus the attention on the camera.
    We did this in school all the time.
    It's handy because the audio changes your attention.

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
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  9. NinjaRen

    NinjaRen Supreme Leader

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    You kinda missed the point. Yes, they go hand in hand, but I understood @Jayson's post as "the imagery makes the scene better than the sound". But this wasn't actually the point Jayson was trying to say.

    Audio or sound design is always perfect if you don't notice it at all. Just like a cut. A well made cut is a cut you don't notice.
     
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  10. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    Sure, but my point is to make the camera and cuts obvious. Not talk about the shot as a whole.

    I don't care about the sound design. This isn't a foley or editing discussion.

    It is a bit about editing...a bit, but the focus is the way the camera is used in movement; not how the shot is used for editing.

    I know your editing experience causes you to have a way of thinking, but here, this is more stripped down. We're talking principle photography and cinematography as close as we can with what we have.

    The best way to pay attention to the camera work for non-editors of the world is to turn off the sound, because regular folk don't have the mental training to not just get sucked in to paying attention to the dialogue, and then the scene just as a whole scene they're watching and stop watching the camera.

    For you, do whatever. You're an editor. You're used to having everything going and being able to pay attention to one technical subset without distraction.

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
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  11. RockyRoadHux

    RockyRoadHux Ginger General

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    Everything in moderation that's what I wrote, I didn't say that I hate them.
     
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  12. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    No, yeah, I meant that I love things to be heavy handed beyond moderation, and you don't seem to favor that. :p

    I like heavily stylized cinematography (using the term very broadly and in ways that a cinematographer would slap my wrist for).

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
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  13. RockyRoadHux

    RockyRoadHux Ginger General

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    unless we're talking about peanut butter on apple pie, than you're right, yes.
     
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  14. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    I'm American, man. lol
    If someone were to say peanut butter on apple pie shouldn't be taken in extreme, we would say, "Hold my beer".
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    lol

    Cheers,
    Jayson
    --- Double Post Merged, Jun 10, 2020, Original Post Date: Jun 10, 2020 ---
    On a more serious note, I consider Abrams to be an ongoing evolution of film language dialogue that, in my book, kicked off with Hitchcock.
    I'm not saying Abrams went and overtly linked himself to Hitchcock.
    This is just my mental line for things.

    Moderate = Hitchcock's use of multi-composition oners (see his nearly 6 minute sequence in Vertigo as an example).
    Heavy = Spielberg's multi-composition oners.
    PLAID = Abram's multi-composition oners.

    I love all three, but my cake of choice is Abrams of the three.
    He moves at my pace and with an eye that I think in a lot, so I live the life I never did (as a cinematographer) vicariously through Abrams. I fell in love with him the first time I saw his work. It was just like the first time I heard Nirvana.

    I was just all...
    "NEVER STOP DOING NUMBER 7!!!" - Gene Wilder

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
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  15. Messi

    Messi Force Attuned

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    I really enjoy this way of shooting by Abrams, at least with the SW movies. Moving the camera from one actor to another give me a feeling of a better interaction between the actors, looks more like a play and the flow is natural.
    Is this now a trademark of the sequel trilogy.
     
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  16. Flyboy

    Flyboy Force Attuned

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    Peanut butter on apple pie?
    [​IMG]

    JJ has always been competent director. I'm not a massive Spielberg fan but his place in the history of film is undeniable so I don't think being given the monicker, "diet Spielberg" is all that much of a slight. I would love to be the diet version of someone who is widely regarded as one of the best to ever do it. I very much appreciate how JJ's approach to cuts, I personally prefer things to play out in as few cuts as possible, just in general... and in action filmmaking that rarely happens. I also appreciate it, specifically in this film because (in my opinion) TROS is already rushed as is, frantic cutting back and forth would make it even more so. Not really a fan of the whip pans though.
     
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  17. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    Exactly!

    TLJ plays by a different style, more big still shots mixed with standard cuts and solid use of framing the shot nicely.

    But, sort of. I mean, 2/3rds of the sequel is Abrams and TFA uses the style as well, just less so than TROS because TFA was simpler and focused on that whiplash high octane muscle car race feel. TFA is more like Star Trek 2009.

    The most notable shift in TFA is that objects, like ships, are shot like subjects (characters) and action is shot similar to dialogue, which gives a different and connected feel to it.

    TROS does this as well, but it backs off a bit and lets some objects be objects...it's a tad more Mission Impossible 3 than TFA...just a bit.

    But yeah, the ST is definitely defined as different than either of the other trilogies by having a ton of subjective camera treatment whereas Lucas prefers a more distanced fly-on-the-wall documentary style objective camera.

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
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  18. RockyRoadHux

    RockyRoadHux Ginger General

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    ugh.

    okay, I'll take that back, that thing you posted looks like dog food.
     
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  19. Jayson

    Jayson Force Sensitive

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    Hey, I didn't say we'll make a quality take on it. lol
    *looks at American football*

    Picture1.png

    [​IMG]

    *Ducks for making fun of American football*

    Cheers,
    Jayson
     
    #19 Jayson, Jun 11, 2020
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2020
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  20. Ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi

    Ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi Rebel General

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    There are only 2 things Rise of Skywalker did fantastically well:

    1) they honestly made me believe Carrie Fisher was alive, well, and acting alongside everyone else. (But I credit ILM and not so much JJ Abrams)
    2) they made me pity Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, despite the fact he murdered Han, and attempted to kill Luke and Leia. That takes skill.
     
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