Blocking in Philip Bloom’s “2 nights in Mallory Square.”

Flagstaff, AZ, 3 Aug. 2010

This is a continuation of my first blog on “Composition in Philip Bloom’s ‘2 nights in Mallory Square.’”

In this blog, I examine how Philip Bloom approaches blocking in this short film. Here’s the film:

2 nights in Mallory Square from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Anatomy of a scene 2

What is blocking? Blocking has its roots in the theater. In cinema, it represents where, when, and how subjects are placed and move in the composition, whether working with actors or characters in a documentary. How they are placed, when they move, where they move from and where they go is dependent on the story — there should be nothing random, since these movements (the blocking of the performers) need to be motivated, otherwise random movements not grounded in the story will appear weak onscreen.

In other words, the best blocking reveals the inner motives of the characters — what they’re thinking and feeling. We sense their subtext, their underlying moment-to-moment emotional life. It reveals their psychology.

The job of the director is to shape or choreograph these feelings through blocking, while the cinematographer needs to capture them movements with the camera. In a documentary, the director captures what the subjects are doing and make sure what they’re doing is motivated.

Let’s look at a couple of shots from “2 nights in Mallory Square”. In Bloom’s case, he is the director and cinematographer.

In the opening shot we see a close-up of a scraggly man. We see a moment of concentration, the blocking and composition clear in telling us that the man is intent on doing something. In the next moment we see him lift up a sword and swallow the blade.

We also know that he is an exhibitionist. The way he faces the camera and expresses his body — the body language he conveys — reveal the type of man he is (or at least the image of how we wants to be perceived during this performance).

The several shots where we see Philip Bloom’s arms, with his camera placed in a point of view shot reveals not only the palm reader’s intent — to do a friendly reading of Bloom, but it also begins reveals Bloom’s intent as a filmmaker and it is one of the few times (if ever) he’s put himself in a HDSLR personal video.

The blocking reveals Bloom’s gentility and how he’s having fun in making this piece of digital cinema. It seems to reveal his light-heartedness in how he interacts with other human beings. His subtext reveals his filmic style — never heavy-handed, but light as he appears to float his camera throughout the rest of the film.

In a work of fiction, blocking would reveal the underlying tensions between characters. In a documentary, if a scene has more than one character, we could begin to see such tensions, as well. But in a single close-ups, we see how these characters react to the Bloom-camera — and their feelings his subjects express tend to reflect Bloom’s overt friendliness.

Kurt Lancaster, PhD, is the author of DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video, Focal Press. He teaches digital filmmaking at Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication.

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