Camera approach & influence
Identification with Vera
To promote this identification throughout the film, I intend to use slow push ins, tracking shots, shots which convey Vera’s emotions – such as upside down shots and static shots – close ups of her reactions, framing her in a closer shot size than Roni, and camera movement so the audience feel as if they experience the journey of the film with Vera.
To do this, I will use a continuous tracking shot – inspired by how these are used by Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity to give the audience a sense of watching the events of the film unfold in real time, and Damien Chazelle in La La Land to create emotional involvement with the character. Thus, I plan to open with a wide shot of Vera from behind, sitting and writing, this slowly pushing in, and tracking around to her face, slowly revealing more about her to the audience as they see her face in close up.
This is similar to how Chazelle directs his tracking shot during the pier sequence in La La Land, as he pans around to his character’s face to make this the moment where the audience’s emotional involvement with the character culminates. However, I intend to do this, not for emotion, but so that the audience are introduced to Vera, and see her as their point of identification, being the first character they see.
I then plan for this shot to continue tracking as Vera leaves the room to come around to a full shot of her whiteboard explaining the concept of the multiverse. This gives the audience an idea of what Vera is working on, but by not breaking the shot viewers can see that Vera and this concept are connected, and not two separate elements within the story. Yet, I also intend to not break the shot to give the sequence a sense of real time, establishing a sense of realism as soon as the film opens that will help ground the science – similar to Cuarón’s use of tracking shots in Gravity (more on this below).
I also intend to use slow push ins in other moments during the film to highlight what Vera is feeling in that moment by encouraging the audience to concentrate on this. This was inspired by J.C. Chandor’s film A Most Violent Year, and how he uses slow push ins throughout the film to create tension, as these push ins are so slow – often lasting a minute or more – the audience can be unaware they are happening, but aware of the tense feeling they create (see fig. 1 & 2).
Because of how this causes exhaustion in Vera, I intend to use a close-up shot of her eyes as she struggles to keep them open in the middle of the film to emphasise her exhaustion, since it is an important part of why she later decides to give up. This was inspired by J.J. Abrams’ work on the TV show Lost, during which episodes frequently opened with close-ups of a characters’ eyes (see fig. 4). I also chose to use this shot in a similar way during the transition unit, influenced by Patty Jenkins’ use of a close-up of eyes in Wonder Woman (see fig. 5).
This is because a characters’ eyes can portray a lot of emotion – such as being shocked (as in Lost) or determined (as in Wonder Woman), and are also where Vera’s exhaustion would be most prominent due to dark circles, and her struggle to keep them open.
Shots conveying power
Nonetheless, I also intend to show Vera’s struggles through shots which convey power, such as an extreme wide shot – inspired by Chazelle (see fig. 6) and also Sofia Coppola (whose work I researched during the directions unit – see fig. 7) – which shows Vera surrounded by her work (papers, books, equipment), to convey how swamped she is by it.
This is because Vera is trapped by the task she has set herself – to find out how Roni got here, or Roni must be a hallucination – which is impossible. To show the contrast between Roni and Vera in this sense, since Roni holds the answers, and Vera is setting out to find them, I intend to frame Roni in a low angle shot, and Vera in a high angle shot when Vera states her intention to work out how Roni got here, and Roni tries to convince her it’s not possible without a lab, or even in this universe. This is because in this moment Vera is vulnerable, about to make herself ill by overworking, and Roni is powerful, having the knowledge which can help Vera.
The idea to use high/low angle shots was inspired by Once Upon A Time – the show I chose to focus on for the directions unit in the first year – as one of the directorial trademarks of the show is to use these to convey power.
Because of this seeming imbalance of power between them, Roni and Vera are opposed as each is trying to convince the other that their goal is the one they need to reach. Due to this, they are both trapped by each other. Thus, I aim for the framing to reflect this, by positioning them in moments when they are trying to convince each other directly opposite one another, and then filming them from a 90 degree angle, so they are directly opposed. This was inspired by Steven Spielberg, as I found this was one of his directorial trademarks during the directions unit (see fig. 8), but also by Carruth’s use of this type of shot in Primer, when the two main characters fall out as they have opposing morals.
However, I also found this can be done by placing the characters as each facing in the opposite direction – seen in an episode of Shonda Rhimes’ show Scandal (directed by Tony Goldwyn) – (see fig. 9). Doing this can allow for a starker opposition, especially since the characters can be closer together, allowing for a tighter, more closed frame which traps them, thus I intend to use this during a moment when Vera really doesn’t believe Roni is real and the opposition between them is at its peak, either when Roni first arrives, or when Vera gives up.
Yet, this opposition begins to disappear as the story of The Universe Is A Goldfish Bowl progresses, and Vera becomes ill. During the first scene where Vera is ill, I wrote the scene as Vera being off screen and the audience focusing on Roni – what she hears, and how she reacts.
For this reason, I intend for the camera to hold on Roni, even when Vera brushes past her and leaves the scene, causing a shift in identification for a moment as I want the audience to question what Roni will do, and if she will help Vera. Letting the camera linger in this way was influenced by Chazelle – as he lets the camera linger in La La Land so details on the pier (street lights, a dancing couple) can be noticed by the audience – but also by documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, whose work I focused on during the documentary unit. She lets the camera linger in her documentaries so that the audience are encouraged to question what they are seeing – such as in The Queen of Versailles when she lets the camera linger on excess, posing the question, do the family featured have too much money? – (see fig. 10).
For example, when Roni first arrives and approaches Vera, I intend to hold the shot on Vera until she escapes back into the lab and leaves the scene, only then revealing Roni, allowing Vera’s reaction to build the audience’s expectations and create tension due to the uncertainty. This was inspired by Spielberg’s trademark of doing this when the characters first see something/someone extraordinary, such as dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, or E.T. in E.T.. This thus signifies to the audience that Vera has seen something which is not typical, making Roni’s appearance, after Vera’s reaction, less jarring, allowing it make more sense for the audience. This also furthers identification with Vera by focusing on her reaction.
Yet, Abrams use of mystery also influenced me to include a moment in the script where Roni tells Vera how she got to this universe, but the audience do not hear her, only seeing Vera’s reaction. This is because I intend to frame this shot as a full shot from behind the goldfish bowl, so that the audience are placed behind the goldfish – almost in its place – since all the sound drains as if viewers are underwater with it in the bowl. I decided to do this due to Abrams’ belief that not hearing or seeing something allows viewers to imagine their own possibilities for what it could be, which I think will make this moment more intriguing than having Roni explaining science, which could alienate some of the audience by being complicated and hard to understand.
Nonetheless, my idea of trying to make the audience believe it was morning from Vera getting ready to go to work, and then revealing it’s actually still the middle of the night was influenced by the opening scene of La La Land, as Chazelle has his characters sing about another day of sun in bright colours – and then reveals using a caption that it is really the winter. I thought this was important to do within an opening scene as a way to interest viewers by challenging their expectations since, as believed by Chazelle, an opening scene needs to get viewers’ attention so they stay to watch the rest of the film, while also establishing what the premise is right from the beginning so the audience know what type of film they are watching.
Opening & closing images
Directing this, I aim to frame this so the camera slowly pushes in from behind Vera, beginning the continuous tracking shot.
However, I intend to frame the closing image in the same way – from behind Vera, Roni and the version of them they meet in another universe, Veronica – because this shows how Vera has changed. Thus the closing image is the opposite of the opening image of Vera, showing her taking a break from work by watching TV with Roni and Veronica, showing how the events of the story have affected Vera due to what she has learnt about herself.
Due to this change, I intend to have the camera track out, instead of in – especially since tracking in can bring viewers into a film, whereas tracking out can take them out of a film, signifying the end by leaving the characters.
List of Illustrations
Figure 8. Opposition in The Colour Purple (1985) [Film still, DVD] In: The Colour Purple. California: Amblin Entertainment.
Figure 12. Marriage Story Transition (2019) [Film still, Netflix] In: Marriage Story. California: Netflix.