Anatomy of a scene – Pollywaffle


Alexa’s on Puberty Blues Series 1 with the longer zooms on.

Puberty Blues – Series 1, Episode 7, Scene 41B 

– Directed by Emma Freeman

I thought it might be fun to start looking at scenes I’ve shot and worked on and try to do a little breakdown of the thinking behind how we staged and created them.

Rarely as filmmakers do we talk about filmmaking and the merits of looking at the coverage and staging in particular.

You always hear, “Oh I loved the photography” or maybe “great editing” or even, “amazing production design”.

I’ve never heard anyone say “awesome coverage” or “stupendous staging”

I thought I’d start with something easy.

This is a scene from the first series of Puberty Blues.  Debbie and Sue are walking up the beach at the end of the day after watching Gary and Danny surf for the day.  It’s really a way to transition into an evening scene to come and also to remind the audience about the roles girls have in this surf culture.  They’re talking about Vicky another girl in their “gang” being literally kicked by the boy she’s going around with because she ate his pie instead of waiting patiently on the beach for him to come in from surfing and eat it.

They’re talking about the fickle nature of the relationships these girls have in servitude for these boys.

You can read the relevant script pages right here.  Go ahead now and read scene 41B.

Puberty Blues Episode 7 Goldenrod Amendments 15.6.12.pdf

And here’s the scene.

Now when we got to this scene we were a little behind on the day.  We were loosing light. Fast. From memory we only had 30-40 mins of daylight left.  And on a beach everything goes super slow.  Director Emma Freeman and I had to come up with a way to shoot this scene super quickly.

As we were on a hill, you’ll also notice the sun being very low, most of the scene plays out in the shade of the hill.  At the very very end they walk up into some lovely warm and low sunlight.

I always like to have the scene play out in full.  It’s about 50 seconds long, so we decided to have the group walk towards us up the hill instead of in the beach car park as originally planned.  I knew I’d have time for two setups at most.

Steadicam doesn’t work in a scenario like this.  Going backwards up a hill of sand would be very difficult for any operator.  And to be honest, we didn’t really do a lot of Steadicam on Puberty Blues anyway.  The house style tended to favour very long lenses.

We typically had the 150-600 MK 2 on for exteriors.  I also often had a 2X doubler.

I knew we’d never have enough time for more than one setup looking down the hill so I had the B camera (my camera) with the Canon 150-600MK2 and doubler start as the closer frame and then set the A camera with the 25-250 Cooke MK3 as the looser frame.  The idea was that if the girls grew too much into my frame then the A camera frame could take over towards the end of the scene.  It would also serve as a wide shot to get into the scene at the beginning.

The great advantage of shooting such a long lens on the B camera is that it takes longer for the shot size to “grow” as the cast walk towards the camera.  So I knew I could hold the shot and it would take them a while to walk close enough to the camera to grow out of the shot.

This shot requires an incredibly skilled focus puller, in this case the legendary Frank Hruby.   The girls are walking up a hill. We couldn’t really see the ground and the wider camera is running at the same time, (not used in the edit though) so it’s hard to put marks down because they are seen. There’s no rehearsal.

So stocktake.  We have one two camera setup.  A very long lens shot (near 1200mm) and a looser but still long shot (was probably 75mm).  The sun was fast disappearing behind us so I had the cameras set on the left side of the track so we wouldn’t cast shadows on them.  This meant they were moving left to right.

The A camera shot wasn’t used in the scene.  You’ll have to imagine it.

So with literally only a few minutes of the shooting day left we raced to the bottom of the hill.  You’ll notice that the sun has actually set in the shot from behind looking up.  You can’t see it anywhere.  But I knew that I could keep shooting this angle after then sun had gone and you probably wouldn’t notice for a while .  The sky would still be hot and we could “cut” them out or silhouette them against the sky.

So basically we mirrored out first setup but this time from behind. We set the cameras on the right side of the track and therefore had the girls travelling right to left so we were still on the same side of the line.

You’ll notice the camera is zooming a in a little on the reverse. We didn’t have time to rehearse so I just rode the zoom as the went up to get the frame I wanted for the top of the hill. You’ll notice the camera isn’t rock solid either. At 1200mm any little bit of wind will move the camera and even operating it ill transfer some vibrations.

Once again in the edit they only used the “B” camera shot in the follow as well.

So it ended up being a two setup scene with 4 potential shots but in the edit they only used the tighter lead and follow size.

Lighting was “As Is” or “Oysters” as we like to say (from Oysters NATURAL)

There’s nothing like the panic at the end of the day when you’re chasing light to focus you in on getting the bare minimum to make the scene.

Can anyone else think of or show some examples of really minimal coverage with really long lenses ?


About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
This entry was posted in Anatomy of a scene, Production and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Anatomy of a scene – Pollywaffle

  1. David Ross says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share your craft. So much can be learned from your experience.

  2. Geoff says:

    Fantastic blog as always

  3. John says:

    Great breakdown! Thanks for sharing this with us

  4. anonymous says:

    I know it’s not magic and the basics can be learned to some degree but a post like this really brings home just how knowledgeable you and other cinematographers have to be. I’m in awe of your ability.

  5. Lloyd Freidus says:

    “Midnight Cowboy”. My memory, from long ago, is that there was at least one scene with a telephoto lens leading the two actors walking to the camera on a crowded NYC street; 5th Avenue, I think. Not long after that film I had done several similar shots for commercials – the crowds compressed in the background is quite a nice graphic.

    Your discussion is very good. A simple scene with simple coverage. A great lesson – ‘less is more’ – that everyone should heed.

  6. Ryan L says:

    First of all, I love these kinds of posts and I’d love to see more of them.

    Secondly, I’d like to address this:

    “The sun was fast disappearing behind us so I had the cameras set on the left side of the track so we wouldn’t cast shadows on them. This meant they were moving left to right.”

    “We set the cameras on the right side of the track and therefore had the girls travelling right to left so we were still on the same side of the line.”

    I hate to correct you, John, and maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but it appears that you did actually cross the line. It isn’t disorienting because of how close you were to being on the line, but the actors shouldn’t change from going left to right, to right to left. Think of a football match (or rugby, etc.) If one team is traveling left to right and they cut to a camera where that same team is traveling right to left, which side of the screen are they trying to score on? They’ve jumped the line to the other side of the stadium and disoriented the viewer.

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