Cinematography 101- Blocking

By Jahnavi Patwardhan. Posted on May 02, 2015

Blocking, as a concept originated in theater, to map the exact positions of the actors and their movements on stage. The term was adapted to cinema with the addition of lights and camera. Before shooting a scene, during the rehearsal, blocking plays a very important part as the camera operators and the actors get an idea of how the scene will proceed during the actual take.  The term was derived from the practice of 19th century theatre directors such as Sir W. S. Gilbert who worked out the staging of a scene on a miniature stage using blocks to represent each of the actors.

While a film is being shot, blocking a scene involves the actor saying their dialogues and marking their position, stance & movement while doing so. It might also involve the camera movement with reference to the actor. Sometimes the script has blocking instructions written into it but it is eventually the director's call.

When you start making a film, remember that every film shoot is divided into 5 parts:

  1. Block – determining where the actors will be on the set and the first camera position
  2. Light – time for the DOP to light the set and position the camera for the first shot
  3. Rehearse – camera rehearsal of the first set-up with the actors and crew
  4. Adjustments – making lighting and other adjustments
  5. Shoot – shooting the first scene

Adhering to these 5 steps help make the process of shooting the scene easier.

There are multiple combinations you can use to block a scene. The four basic set-ups are;

  • The actor is static and the camera is static.
  • The actor is static and the camera is moving.
  • The actor is moving and the camera is static.
  • The actor is moving and the camera is moving.

Here are some tips on blocking that might prove helpful in a shoot.

  1. Try to maintain a shot list. The shot list is like a map: it shows you the path to achieve what you want but you don't necessarily have to follow it.
  2. Ask the actors for their opinion on how they want to move or face the camera. This will give you another perspective on how to go about it.
  3. Sketch the scene. Get a visual idea how everything would look while being shot.
  4. Body language is very important to define a character or the mood. Make sure the actors represent it correctly and it is shot properly. Jon Lisi shares some interesting insights on body language in films. 

If you’re using mostly still or single-motion camera shots, it may not be necessary to block the scene. But for complicated shots that use several sequences of motion without cutting, to get things to look smooth and have a certain flow, you should try blocking it out.

FilmSkills.com has put together a very helpful tutorial on blocking a scene for a shoot. Watch it and learn.


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