Project 3. The feel of a frame

Meaning is about more than simple information. Aside from what you show, the way you show it will alter how it is interpreted. The frame can alter the feel and thereby the meaning of a shot. There are no hard and fast rules about how this will work, it depends on the context – what is happening in the scene, whose eyes we are looking through, and what shots came before. In this project you will explore some of the ways framing can influence meaning by filming a short subjective sequence. Frame sizes You are probably familiar with the terms used to describe different shots, e.g. close-up, medium, wide, etc. These terms are of course relative. A close-up of a beetle will be a far closer shot in absolute terms than a close-up of the Earth from space. A good guide to understanding these relative sizes is to think of the wide shot as a reference against which the other sizes are measured.

Frame Sizes.jpg

The frame you choose can alter how you feel about the image it contains. Tight frames feel more intense and claustrophobic, wider frames may feel more open and objective. A character in the centre of a very wide frame will seem small and insignificant; in a tighter frame they may appear to be dominant in their surroundings. Again this is about the information you provide. If the viewer is forced to look closely at one small item it will take on an intense significance. A character seen full screen is important and significant; the same character seen small, surrounded by other significant space, is inevitably less significant.

Storyboards are illustrations representing the shots within your film. Typically each sketch represents the framing and composition of a single shot. Notes describing action, dialogue, camera movement and technical information may also accompany each storyboard cell. You will find some storyboard templates on the website. For now you only need to sketch out what you wish to put in each shot and accompany this with a description that clarifies what you have drawn. If you are skilled at drawing the pictures will probably suffice; if not, basic sketches and notes will do the job just as well. The process of sketching out storyboards, even if you are not a great illustrator, is very useful for focusing your mind on how the shots will work.

• Find some examples of powerful, emotive frames. These can be paintings, photographs or shots from films and upload three or four different examples to your blog.
• For each image provide notes about what feeling you get from it and how the framing has contributed to this.

Probably one of the most notorious images of war photo-journalism, this picture “Saigon Execution” ( Feb 1st, 1968 ) by Eddie Adams (1) for the Associated Press of the fatal shooting of a Viet Cong captive by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan of the Army of the Republic of VietNam, still remains to me one of the most emotive and powerful images I have seen. I first stumbled across this picture in my childhood and the image provoked profound thoughts of anger, disgust, awareness of justice/ injustice and multiple internal moral questions. It lead me to study the conflict in further detail and to challenge my own thoughts of war, political positioning and activism. At the time of this incident, footage was also taken by an NBC cameraman which shows the shocking scene in its entirety.
Framing of this photograph would have been instant, but the image has compiled all that is necessary to portray the action, including enough of the street background to show that this brutal execution was carried out in broad daylight in an urban surround.
I think it is necessary here to note Eddie Adams’ own words on the fall-out of the image itself:
” I won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for a photograph of one man shooting another. Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?’…. This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. … I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, “I’m sorry. There are tears in my eyes.”
( TIME magazine 24/06/2001 )

Susan Backlinie as Chrissie Watkins in the opening sequence of “Jaws” ( dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975 )(2). 

Although probably not the easiest of frames to set up, requiring under water apparatus, powerful overhead lighting, multiple crew personnel, etc, creates an iconic frame of startling atmosphere and tension with such a simplistic fashion.
The movie’s most intense driving force is the build up of tension and suspense without needing to show the antagonist at all. In fact where the movie does lose its power and credibility is when the monster is finally seen ( previously untested physical special effects that frankly weaken the movie’s strength ). With an infamous music score and excellent story telling, Jaws is a marvel of cinema, successfully using powerful images like this one to tell its very simple tale.
Here, as the monster approaches the figure on the surface, the audience is gripped with a gamut of emotions, ranging from titillation to trepidation to terror and to disgust. The flickering moon light silhouetting her body frame as she treads water, enjoying the summer sea temperature, soon to be dragged down to her agonising death. Still powerful even now in a time of CGI monsters and animated frames.

Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet” ( dir. David Lynch, 1986 ). How to frame the face of  psychopathic behaviour without really trying… Probably winning the first prize for most demented villain in cinema. This disturbing image of the antagonist taking a gas mask full of amyl nitrate ( although originally scripted to be helium ), whilst staring intensely into the camera is a fine example of subjective POV . Frank cooks himself up into an intense stupor of rage, sexual aggression and violence before embarking on a terrifying attack on the movie’s protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont ( Kyle MacLachlan ).
The frame tells all that is needed to tell, spreading dread across the screen, focusing on Frank’s sinister eyes and brow, his intent extremely laid bare. There are other characters in the car but it is YOU ( Jeffrey ) that is the intent of his psychosis. (3)

Donald Sutherland in “Don’t Look Now” ( dir. Nicolas Roeg, 1973 ). I struggle looking at this image, being a father of two young daughters. But I first saw the masterpiece way before then, back in my late teens, and the images and frames in this marvel of cinematography permanently etched its way into my psyche. It really is a fine example of how beautiful horrific scenes can be in cinema, extremely artistic and very powerful. Don’t Look Now is astonishing, truly disturbing as a film and yet intriguing, poignant and suspenseful.
This frame perfectly fires home the anguish of the death of his beloved daughter, in which the whole film remains suspended on.
I love this film, and particularly this frame, how simple the accident was, how heart breaking and emotive the action is. I can barely describe it more. Terrifying. To this day, I still refuse to buy my daughters any red raincoats.

(1) Saigon Execution photograph by Eddie Adams (Feb 1st, 1968) – Eulogy in Time Magazine, 2001 – accessed 22nd April 2016,9171,139659,00.html#ixzz2Tnso3aM5
(2) Cinemablography – Making of the Jaws opening scene by Anthony Watkins, December 2014.  – accessed 22nd April 2016
(3) David Lynch fansite,  – accessed 22nd April 2016
(4) Film School Rejects – Dissecting the Incredible Opening Scene of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now by Landon Palmer February 2015  – accessed 22nd April 2016


5 thoughts on “Project 3. The feel of a frame

  1. Hi Peter. I found your insights into the images you chose intriguing. The Saigon Execution is an image I know well and agree that once you have seen this picture, it is not possible to get it out of your mind. What I was not aware of was what how the photographer had felt towards the general. It changes my perception of the photo and the general, having that bit of information.

    I have bought “Don’t Look Now” on the basis of my tutor recommending it as prep for Part 2 of the course. I must admit that I am VERY apprehensive about watching it. Images remain in my head, so I have tried to avoid movies that are ‘disturbing’ – I strongly suspect this is one of them. It is interesting to read your view of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I have to concur absolutely, the subsequent details of the photographer and the general does change perception. I suppose, I focused too intently on how young the captive looked, not knowing fully about his crimes, the back story, the backlash after publication etc. However any depiction of violence is abhorrent to me, however I do try to challenge myself to understand.
      After reading your comments I have asked myself why I tend to select powerful even disturbing images and I feel the need to write a piece on this subject in my Research section shortly. I enjoy all sorts of imagery and how they stimulate or inspire, but I am fascinated in all aspects of imagery and being disturbed is only one emotion.
      Don’t Look Now is a fine example. Its creepy and distressing, but it IS a marvel of cinema excellence. Nicolas Roeg is a true auteur and has an artistry about his films that is both unique and inspiring. I think a lot of modern day horror film makers could embrace his mastery, move on from kitsch and staged set pieces, and allow that creeping dread that Don’t Look Now is a fine example of, to seep back into the modern trend.


  2. Wow these are hard hitting images and very well written up, even without seeing those pictures now they are still visible in my mind especially the first one. Amazing how a still frame can affect one so much and the quote from the first photographer so moving and emotional.

    Really well written and you certainly chose my strong and powerful frames.


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