Jeff Nichols on the Only 3 Things Filmmakers Have to Build Their Point of View
A couple of days ago I finally watched Midnight Special and got immediately obsessed with a film that screamed personality, originality and mastery of the cinematic tools to tell a powerful story. Jeff Nichols, just like David Lowery, is a filmmaker that has built his toolkit one film at a time and has thus the confidence of doing seemingly little, to tell a lot.
During a short but very informative presentation, Nichols explained how each film helped him built his point of view and master a new aspect of filmmaking. You should definitely watch the video that has clips from his films with Nichols explanations of what they represent, but I’ve picked the central point to highlight here.
One last point, this goes hand-in-hand with another ‘masterclass’-ish Nichols gave where he explained how he decides where to place his camera (which is the first point of building a point of view).
Nichols is clear on one thing: the reason why he was able to develop his knowledge and master different point of views is because he’s had preserved his creative freedom on all his films, even though each film got bigger, budget wise. That means he writes, directs and has final cut.
A COLLECTION OF SHOTS
Here is what Nichols says:
“The bigger point of view that you’re trying to make as a filmmaker, this idea, this theme, is all supported by this collection of shots, it’s all you really have to work with.
As a filmmaker, you really only have three things to work with:
1- You have camera placements
We don’t always realise this on set a filmmaker has 360° view to chose from. Do I put the camera up-high, down-low, close-up.
2 – Next you have to chose the lens
Wide lens, long lens.
3- And then there’s movements.
There are different types of movements. In this (clip) there’s no movement. There’s dolly, which is a track that keeps the frame locked. There’s steadicam movement, which is a gyroscopic device that hangs off the person that wears it, it moves in a very elegant and smooth way, and there’s handheld movement, which is what you see in Jason Bourne movies.
All these things add up together to mean something, and to mean a point of view, usually it’s a character point of view, but even when you have all these shots that are characters’ point of view, they have to add up to something, they have to mean something.”
Angle, Lens and Movement. Those are the three things you need to decide on, and decide if you want to combine them, to not only tell a logical story, but to tell a story that has a point of view.
If the distinction is hard to fathom, I recommend you read Tony Zhou’s opinion about what is commonly called “dumbstruck filmmaking”, aka a zero-point-of-view filmmaking where the directors plan all the shots by the book, but without using the tools to build a stronger narrative. (Because it means taking risks.)