Why camera movements are important to film

Movies are filled with them, most of the time just following our characters around sets, locations etc. These movements may seem to have no meaning behind them at first, but the camera itself can speak, figuratively, of course. They can show emotion, or even bring up the tension, which is what I’m going to talk about in this article.

In the opening scene of the recent, critically acclaimed “La La Land”, you can really see what I mean. What the camera’s filming is sprouting from colorful things, and the camera itself is “dancing” to the music, by swinging around in a rapid tempo, showing everything in a joyful manner: the movements match what’s showing on screen. The camera itself exudes joy. It feels as if it’s just floating around, capturing the joy of everyone around. But also the fact that they make the scene look like it was done in one take helps with this. The quick turn of the camera hides cuts, but these are handled very well. An example where the hidden edits, weren’t really hidden is the first person film called “Hardcore Henry”.

“La La Land” 2016 – Damien Chazell – opening sequence

But I’ve also said that camera movements can create tension. This can be done by slowly creeping up on the main character, or from a well-chosen camera perspective. You can create the feeling the main character is being watched, by having a camera standing a couple of meters away from him or her and having the camera follow them. As an example of the previously named things I’ve chosen “It Follows”. An independent horror film about a young girl who’s followed by a supernatural being, which she alone can see. But she can’t know who it is, because the thing can be anyone in her surroundings. It can change its appearance, and it can only walk. Not run, not sprint, but only walk at a slow pace.
In “It Follows”, the cinematographer has chosen to let the camera move at a slow pace as well, fitting in perfectly with one of the weaknesses of the antagonist of the film. The slow movements of the camera slowly build up the tension. But also by using wide shots, we know that the antagonist is always watching. As if it’s always lurking behind a corner, always to be ready to strike.
That cinematographer has also gone on to film this years “Split” directed by M. Night Shyamalan, in which he has also done this.

“It Follows” 2014 – David Robert Mitchell

The slow creeping pace of a camera doesn’t always have to generate tension. When it’s used in a close-up, it’s purpose is to put you inside the head of the person it’s filming. It’ll try to make you focus on the thoughts of the character, so you can, if the actors good, see the emotion radiating off their faces.

As you can see from reading these examples there are plenty of ways a camera can help express emotion or even do it themselves. There are still ways, but these were the ones I could come up with.

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