3 Scene Blocking Tips You’ll Learn in Movie Production Courses

Posted on April 1st, 2016 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

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Professionals in the film and TV industry spend every workday bringing creative visions to life. These visions rarely include visible boom mics, lighting cables, or missed pieces of dialogue. That’s because every scene you’ve ever seen has been carefully orchestrated long beforehand to ensure that mistakes are minimized, important story points are filmed clearly, and precious little footage is wasted. In the business, planning out the details of these scenes to optimize them for filming is a process called ‘blocking.’

“Think of blocking as the choreography of a dance or a ballet,” says noted director Peter D. Marshall. “All the elements on the set – actors, extras, vehicles, crew, equipment – should move in perfect harmony with each other.”

Coordinating all the various elements of a scene is a tricky task, made easier with the right film school education. If you think a career in film production might be for you, read on for our beginner’s guide to blocking scenes.

1. Block Scenes with a Shot List

In film school, you will learn the ins and outs of the film production business. You’ll get hands-on practice with screenwriting, post-production techniques, and everything in between. Blocking begins about half-way into this production process, after the script is written, cast is cast, and locations are chosen.

To start blocking a script, you will need to write up a shot list. This is essentially a director’s log of all the shots he or she hopes to include in a particular scene.

“The shot list is like a map,” explains Marshall, “it gives you a path to your destination but you don’t always have to follow it.”

Which characters need to be in-shot when? Are there plot-advancing items that need to be shown at particular times? Laying these out in a checklist-type form will help you give structure and direction to your filming plans.

2. Pay Special Attention to Strategic Lighting & Camera Choices

To block the scenes you’ve planned out in a shot list, you must work out the details of where actors, props, and equipment will be in relation to the camera. Choosing where these elements will go is like fitting puzzle pieces together—it may take some trial and error! Remember to be patient and focus on two important priorities: your lights and your camera.

Block your scenes while paying special care to where the camera will be, and where lighting equipment will need to be. As any good actor knows, playing to the light, instead of with one’s back to it, makes for the cleanest and clearest shots.

You may be working with a cinematographer, or you may have assumed this role along with your own directorial duties. Graduates of top Canadian film schools can choose to pursue directing, producing, or directing photography—a film-set role commonly known as director of photography (DOP). When making tricky blocking decisions, directors often collaborate with DOPs who know how to make the most technically and artistically viable images.

3. Rehearsing and Fine-Tuning

In your movie production courses, you’ll get plenty of practice experiencing the business of filmmaking from multiple points of view. As a screenwriter, you’ll put your heart into scripts. As a director, you’ll see that sometimes what’s written on the page doesn’t come to life word for word. That’s what the rehearsal period is for.

In the final stages of blocking your scenes, you’ll get to fit your actors and crew members into the plans you’ve made. Fitting your camera placement to your actors’ movements may present unforeseen obstacles. That will be the time to make strategic tweaks to the script, set, or your blocking plans. When you find the happy medium, you’ll be ready to roll!

Are you interested in pursuing film school in Toronto?

Visit Trebas to learn more about our training programs or to speak with an advisor.

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