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Old March 20th, 2008, 12:23 PM   #1
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The "wobbly" camera and "unmotivated zoom" thread

These two techniques seem to be a perennial source of contention among videogs and editors.

See here...

http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=111162

I think it’s time that we acknowledge that the wobbly camera and quick zoom are now part of the repertoir of film and video editing. What was once a “mistake”, like the jump cut, is now an accepted part of the editing language.

So why are there still professionals who will argue that one should avoid the wobble and zoom? Mostly because good wobble and zoom are very hard to do well and many young filmakers will pass off bad footage as artsy and say, “I meant to do that!”

In spoken language the way to test if a certain word has become part of the vocabulary is to check the frequency of use and to see if it has a definable meaning. Do wobble and zoom meet the requirements to be considered part of film language? I think so.

Good or bad, these two techniques are everywhere lately so I think the first criteria is easily satisifed.

As for the meaning, in my mind the wobble can communicate “casual” when done mildly, (see many current TV commercials) all the way up to “very agitated" or "excited” or even "searching" when done to an extreme. (See LOST or Cloverfield)

The zoom is mostly used to bring sudden attention to something as if to say “Look at this!” but is often used as the visual version of the snare hit, ba-dum-bum, after the punchline of a joke.

When used together tastefully these two techniques convey a comfortable informality, mostly because of their origins in amateur videography. I saw them used to great effect in a recent Hillary Clinton ad in which they made her seem less stuffy.

I think it’s time we accept the wobble and zoom as legitimate parts of our editing grammar and, instead of ignoring them, try and find ways to use them properly and do them better.

Mike
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Last edited by Boyd Ostroff; March 17th, 2009 at 12:38 PM. Reason: removed link to another forum
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Old March 20th, 2008, 01:50 PM   #2
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Amen

As long they are used sparingly and only to add meaning, to help better present your content. For me they are OK in a commercial, wobbly images attract my attention better, but only in certain scenes in feature longs - can't stand shaky camera used from beginning to end (Bourne Identity 3).
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Old March 20th, 2008, 10:15 PM   #3
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I believe that The Bourne Supremacy (the second in the Bourne series) had the right combination of shoulder held and tripod shots. The Bourne Ultimatum (the third), which was shot all handheld, was way too much as Ervin said. The first movie I remember seeing zoom used a lot in was Ocean's 11. In one scene it was unexpected to see such a long zoom out being used, but it was very effective. Used at the right moments, the shaky camera effect can be effective, but used throughout a movie, it gets old and annoying.
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Old March 17th, 2009, 07:55 AM   #4
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I just watched the Bourne movies for the first time and I have to agree that the technique was overused in the third.
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Old March 17th, 2009, 09:44 AM   #5
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Just saw Rachel Getting Married, and found it hard to watch because of this technique.
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Old March 17th, 2009, 09:49 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Pulcinella View Post
I think itís time we accept the wobble and zoom as legitimate parts of our editing grammar and, instead of ignoring them, try and find ways to use them properly and do them better.
If we're going to accept them as part of our editing grammar, I reserve the right to not use them, much as I reserve the right to write and speak without certain grammar. The clock wipe was once widely used to show passage of time. I also choose not to use that...
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Old March 17th, 2009, 11:25 AM   #7
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If we're going to accept them as part of our editing grammar, I reserve the right to not use them, much as I reserve the right to write and speak without certain grammar. The clock wipe was once widely used to show passage of time. I also choose not to use that...
Point well made!
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Old March 17th, 2009, 12:07 PM   #8
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I think hopefully that it will just be a fad. Slo-Mo and freeze frames were a big 60's and 70's thing and musical montages ate up 80's films. Once something breaks the mold it begins to create it's own mold which then must be broken by something new...mold.
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Old March 17th, 2009, 01:23 PM   #9
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The audience is used to shaky cameras and zooms because of all the news footage they've seen over the years. So, under certain circumstances, it could be acceptable in a dramatic film.

But think how hard the director tries to get the viewer immersed in the characters and storyline. Even an edit is masked by cutting on the action, so as not to distract the viewer. The viewer should (hopefully) forget that he is watching a movie, and instead be concerned about what will happen to the characters. Anything that reminds the viewer that he's just watching a movie could undo that illusion.

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Old March 20th, 2009, 01:23 AM   #10
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I think the most important aspect to nailing the shaky camera look is the underlying intent of, "I'm trying as hard as I can to keep this subject in frame". When I playback movies where this is done well (fight scenes on the ship at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean 3) you notice the shots are extremely well rehearsed. When "the look" is done right, the consistent factor is that the camera guy knows where he's going with it, and after he gets the subject in frame he'll stay with it.

I've watched folks who clearly don't understand this, and they'll start something as mundane as a sit-down interview with a quick focus adjust/zoom in. That's fine -- could make me feel like the camera wasn't ready but quickly swung into action. But it's not ok for the camera to randomly pull back out again 3 seconds later. Because all that tells me is my camera guy's bored. If the best position is pulled out, then why didn't we go there to begin with?

You can't make synthetic tension that way. For "the look" to work, there needs to be sufficent action in the shot to justify the shaking, and, essentially to sum it all up -- the watcher need to feel like the camera guy is working for their benefit, not just playing with the zoom ring!
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Old March 30th, 2009, 11:07 AM   #11
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GREAT points Allen!
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Old March 30th, 2009, 10:00 PM   #12
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By "Wobbly" you mean Hand held?
It has a time and place but zooming? Outside of ENG/Live, I don't think it has much realistic application for professional work. It's lazy and screams amateur.
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Old March 30th, 2009, 10:37 PM   #13
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I will say, I notice zooms used nicely in traditional movies in, for instance, a helicopter shot revolving around a subject, zooming in tighter.

The pros know how to disguise a zoom. If there's a pan or other motion it becomes much easier to justify a zoom.
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Old March 31st, 2009, 03:45 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Brian Luce View Post
By "Wobbly" you mean Hand held?
It has a time and place but zooming? Outside of ENG/Live, I don't think it has much realistic application for professional work. It's lazy and screams amateur.
Hand held has been around for a long time. Kubrick was a great user of both hand held and the zoom. There are moments in stories that the zoom works better than a track, but it's a matter of knowing those moments and making use of the right tool. Like all techniques it's how it's done and commonly the zoom gets buried inside another camera move.

Good hand held doesn't have to be wobbly, it can be pretty steady. However, the very wobbly also has it's place, although best not used to excess otherwise it begins to lose it's meaning.

The beautiful "Barry Lyndon" has both zooms and very wobbly hand held.

Professionals make use of the amateur techniques. It has been argued that many of the best professional stills photographs have their roots in the amateur snap shot. Also, some of the best stills were snap shots, but taken by people with a natural talent.
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Old April 1st, 2009, 03:21 PM   #15
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There are moments in stories that the zoom works better than a track, but it's a matter of knowing those moments and making use of the right tool. Like all techniques it's how it's done and commonly the zoom gets buried inside another camera move.

.
Personally, I don't see much zooming in productions with any kind of budget. What types of moments do you think specifically call for a zoom? Maybe a smash zoom in a horror movie? Unlike a push in, zooming doesn't mimic what the human eye does naturally and tends to call attention to itself -- which isn't a good thing.
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