Saturday, April 11, 2015

How Akira Kurosawa Used Geometry to Visually Create Tension
Aesthetics was not only my favorite subject in college, but it proved to be supremely and uniquely helpful to me as not only a teller of visual stories, but as a consumer of visual stories. I feel like I say this constantly, but understanding the language of film and becoming morevisually literate can not only transform the meanings behind key scenes in your films, but deliver them with a bigger, stronger punch. Like they always say, in film, it's better to show than to tell.
Take the section of the scene where Moriyama corners Shirai -- ask yourself, does he really get cornered? Take a look at the frame below:
A lot of words come to mind during this part of the scene: constriction, trapped, claustrophobic, imprisoned, etc. However, it's not like Moriyama has Shirai pinned up against a wall, though it certainly feels like that's what's going on. The approach taken by Kurosawa and his cinematographer Yuzuru Aizawa for this shot creates feelings of oppression and confinement, because the frame is split by the piece of wood in the center of the frame. This creates a "frame within a frame", a popular technique used by many, many cinematographers.
This frame (within a frame) is used to visually (instead of spatially) decrease the amount of room Shirai appears to have while Moriyama approaches him -- giving the illusion that he's being cornered, that he's being trapped, that there's nowhere left for him to go. Now, if you want to understand how effective this technique is, imagine if Moriyama literally cornered Shirai. Sure, we'd understand that Moriyama's onto Shirai, but the subtlety that creates the tension in this scene would be completely lost.
The brilliance of this composition is this: In the physical world, the world in which Moriyama lives, no space is lost -- literally. However, in the emotional world, the world in which Shirai lives, space is dwindling. Moriyama is unaware (though suspicious) of any wrong-doing, while Shirai is fully aware, which is why the composition reflects the world inside his head, because that's where the tension is coming from -- Shirai's fear that he's going to get caught.
Keep an eye out for the longer version of this video essay, because Tony says he's prepping by watching all 30 Kurosawa films. I think we can all agree that we simply cannot wait.    

Friday, April 10, 2015


  1. Clear Direction
  2. Don't Always Stick to the Script
  3. Study Other Styles to Learn Yours
  4. Take Your Time and Be Efficient
  5. Find a Clear Way to Communicate Your Goal
  6. Friends Can Make Your Life Easier
  7. Viewfinders Are Super Helpful On Set
  8. Spend Your Time Wisely
  9. Avoid Fights On Set
  10. Stay Hydrated
  11. Don't Worry About Gear
  12. Respect and Take Care of Your Team
  13. Actors Need Motivations, Not Just Marks
  14. Respect Your Actor's Process
  15. Get It Done and Move On
One of the main issues I've seen working on sets with amateur directors is one that the video seems to address over and over again: take care of your team. Be the big brother. Be the mama bear. This means making sure they're happy, fed, and getting along. You could be the most creative, groundbreaking, super duper Oscar-worthy director in the history of the universe, but if you don't know how to be a leader and rally your team to work together and be creative and be excited about the work they're doing on-set, it'll show in your film -- and it's not pretty. (I promise.) Tension shows up on-screen, believe it or not, so it's imperative to not only express your creative vision for your project, but to express your respect and appreciation to your cast and crew. (Get lovey dovey -- it's good for you.)