I just wish to share something that I have spoken to our students quite extensively about and I came across the best example of its use: hand-held camera shake.
Often times, at the level of student filmmaker, hand-held camera use is predominant in productions, usually out of sheer laziness and the need to film quickly before a deadline that is the next day.
I certainly understand its use in these productions but that does not mean I excuse it and will turn a blind eye when grading these projects.
As I have explained, I am not advocating the complete elimination of all hand-held camera moves but I have stated such movement adds its own emotion and meaning to a shot or a scene. So, I challenge if a student is going to fail to lock down the camera and, instead, use the shakiness of hand-held, then he/she should be able to explain its purpose and impact in that scene.
Subsequent conversations have not convinced all of our students but I have a good video example that should add more clarity.
The example is the love scene from Atonement.
I have to give all credit for “finding” this scene to Vincent Laforet. I had the pleasure of attending his Directing Motion Tour two weeks ago and he spoke directly about this same concept of when to use hand-held versus other camera movement or locking it down.
[By the way, it really was an impressive workshop and I would have recommended it on this blog but I saw the next to last stop on the tour and it was over before you would have had a chance to attend; however, I would recommend following Vincent on his own blog and through his own work. He is a talented filmmaker with many great ideas.]
The reason this scene is such a great illustration is because it begins very still and progresses into a hand-held movement. The two characters are very stiff as their upper class lives form a wall between their emotions and so, therefore, the camera is stiff too. However, as their feelings begin to melt away the obstacles of their class status and their prudish expectations, the camera begins to move more freely. At this point, however, it is still a fluid movement.
Then, when they are completely overcome with passion, and begin to kiss, the camera movement goes to completely hand-held, with a lot of shake and out of focus shots.
The use of the camera is done in a deliberate way for the audience to feel the same restraints and, then, freedom through which the characters are journeying.
Take a look: