The Art of Framing Tiny Furniture, Directed by Lena Dunham
Everybody knows Lena Dunham from her hit show ‘Girls’ on HBO and/or her multi-million dollars deal to write her future first book, but Dunham’s career really started with Tiny Furniture, her second feature film shot for less than $50,000 on a 7D in 2010, and that became one of the first indie feature shot with a DSLR to gather real buzz, prizes, and massive end result. (deal with HBO, anyone?)
I watched the movie a few months ago and immediately decided that the next Art of Framing would be about it. Tiny Furniture is a simple movie, shot with one camera and a minimalistic crew, so that’s not the movie you would expect on AoF, but Dunham and her cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes, were extremely smart in the way they planned the shot list and they framed the shots so that they could make the maximum out of a DSLR and a tripod.Let’s take a couple of steps back here: even though it can feel as if DSRL has always been a) around b) built to be used as video cameras, it is good to remember that the affirmations above are false and that these life-saving devices are also tricky to handle. When the 7D came out, none of the super cool complementary equipment existed to shoot with them. The always excellent Filmmaker Magazine wrote about the workflow Dunham and Pipes opted for and the challenges that came with shooting with a 7D and here is what their focus puller, Joe Anderson, said:
“Choosing to shoot on the Canon 7D was a bold move on [director] Lena [Dunham’s] and [d.p.] Jody [Lee Lipes’s] part, at the time of production there were few (if any) rental houses in New York supporting the new hybrid-SLR cameras as movie cameras. Subsequently we had to make due with far fewer accessories than a traditional movie production would use. Existing tools like matte boxes, follow focus wheels and multiple monitors had not yet been updated to work smoothly with these new cameras.”
With that in mind, watching Tiny Furniture is a great lesson of creativity within constraints.
If I counted well, Tiny Furniture is composed of 70 scenes (we probably can debate that number). Out of these 70 scenes, 19 consisted of a single take, and 13 of two shots, which means that almost half of the movie is built on: dialogs and composition within the frame.
Another particularity of Tiny Furniture, which I found refreshing, was that it is almost entirely shot camera on tripod. Dunham compensates an absence of camera movement with rich settings and, again, smart composition within the frame. (I can’t say it enough)
One of the reasons why I waited so long before publishing this article is that I wanted to go into a long analysis of how Tiny Furniture was shot, dissecting each scenes, their timing etc. but then (life happened and) I remembered that I am not a scholar and I should probably let someone who has a Ph.D in films study and gets paid to write books about it do it better than I will ever can.
For this Art of Framing I have thus decided to make a selection of scenes I thought interesting and would give an idea of the different ways the film tells its story in a simple and efficient way.
Ultimately -and obviously- I’d recommend you to watch it, if only to see how the long takes were composed:
Opening Scene – 8 Shots – Aura Goes Home
Second Scene – 7 Shots – Aura Arrives Home
Third Scene – 1 Shot – Aura and her Sister Talk
3 Shots Scene – Aura’s Interview
Montage showing Time Passing – 8 Static Shots
2 Consecutive 1 Take Scenes
Hope you enjoyed and it would make you curious to watch the film or see it in a different way.
What do you think of Tiny Furniture’s Cinematography?