Movie Directors And Their Filmmaking Trademark Techniques
“Cinema is a mirror by which we often see ourselves."
- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Filmmaker)
Filmmaking is the process by which a film is made. Simply put, it is the art and the craft of visual storytelling. Films have a greater impact than far imagined. Films have the power to evoke emotions- it has the power to change hearts and minds. It mirrors cultures, teaches us history, and lets us experience multiple aspects of life through characters and stories, and the person who designs the creative vision of a film is called a film director. They direct the making of the film- everything from pre-production to post-production, through their creative storytelling process and vision. Through modern cinema, the world has witnessed the work of the greatest filmmakers and the most influential filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, and more. These filmmakers have created a benchmark of their own in the industry. But what is it that makes them stand out from the others? They pursue a unique artistic perception, they seek to express something different and intimate yet very universal and deep. Out of all the aspects like storytelling, editing, and writing, their filmmaking style or the ‘Visual Style’ is one of the most compelling factors that makes them stand out from others, and all of the great filmmakers have their unique style. It’s like how they like to shoot their movie and what particular aspects they lean into more than the rest.
So let’s delve into the signature directorial shots of some of the greatest filmmakers.
If you’re watching a movie that has straight lines and symmetrical framing or any geometrical pattern, a distinct color palette, or pastel colors in the frame, chances are you’re watching a Wes Anderson film. Every frame in his film is an Art. He has the most distinctive style and amusing visual style in cinema and his work is highly recognizable. When it comes to framing, Wes is obsessed with symmetrical frames and straight lines. He uses straight lines to drive the viewer’s attention towards the subject; he draws focus to a subject by placing it either in the middle or either side of the symmetrical frame center. He uses a particular color palette throughout his movie, in fact, everything from the production design- every cutlery piece, the wallpaper to every piece of clothing of the characters to the hair color matches the particular color palette. The Grand Budapest Hotel is pastry pink and for The Darjeeling Ltd, it is sunset orange. Frequent use of overhead shots, whip pans or pan shots, and snap-zooms are some of the compositional techniques Wes uses in his films. He is just not a filmmaker; He’s an aesthetic.
Watch this film essay to better understand his symmetry composition technique.
Source- Kogonada | Vimeo
‘Violence is one of the most fun things to watch.’
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most recognizable filmmakers in modern cinema. The writer-director is known for his unpredictable, violent films. He first gained widespread fame with his movie 'Pulp Fiction’ and if you’re familiar with his work, you probably know ‘The Trunk Shot’ is the filmmaker's signature shot. But what is a ‘Trunk Shot’? The Trunk shot is a low-angle shot used in the cinema when one or more characters need to retrieve something or someone from the trunk of a car, truck; with the characters looking downwards, towering over the shot. He also uses reverse trunk shots with characters being watched from outside the trunk. This trademark shot is seen in most of his films right from his early work- Reservoir Dogs (1992) to his most successful films like Kill Bill: Vol. 1& 2, Inglourious Basterds (2009), and Django Unchained (2012). Along with foot fetish and associating food with power in his movies, long takes and tracking shots, Mirror shots, well- written monologues, graphic violence, dark comedy, and also his love for music- upbeat music during death/torture scenes play essential roles in his films are some of the aspects of his filmmaking style.
Watch the Trunk Shot sequence from some of his movies.
Source- Sinara | Youtube
Kubrick’s most famous trademark is the use of Symmetry composition i.e., one-point perspective and the infamous ‘The Kubrick Stare’. Most of his movies contain a scene making use of this technique. He uses the exact center of the frame as a one-point perspective with everything else in the shot leading to that singular point. This technique leads the audience into action. Whereas the ‘The Kubrick Stare’ shows the power of the gaze and this technique is used to signify that the character is about to flip out. This is a shot with the character tilting his head down and eyes up beneath his eyebrows while smiling wildly. The main intent behind this technique is to draw in the audience in the scene. Other than these two trademark techniques, long-tracking shots down hallways, rapidly changing camera-angles, and using bold colors are some of the trademark techniques Stanley used as a director.
Watch this video on ‘The Kubrick Stare’
Source- Jorge Ruiz | Vimeo
Watch this video on ‘One-point perspective’
Source- Kogonada | Vimeo
If you see too many extreme close-ups of the characters on your screen, chances are you’re watching a Steven Spielberg film. Steven Spielberg is the highest-grossing famous filmmaker of all time with a 30+ feature film career. In his movies, he guides emotions with the character’s face, and this technique in his films is often called ‘The Spielberg Face’. This is where the director shows the character’s extreme close-up face and then cuts it to another scene. This technique adds an extra layer of emotions for the audience to feel it. Most of the time, this character is amazed, and their face is full of surprise. This technique is used in all of his films. Along with the emphasis on childhood, struggles to survive, reflection shots, long shots are the elements you will see in most of his movies.
Here’s a compilation video of ‘The Spielberg Face’
Source- Premium Beat
The man behind “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese is one of the most influential filmmakers in history. When it comes to his filmmaking techniques and trademarks- slow motion, long tracking shots immediately cross your mind. He likes to follow his characters' movements in a one-long continuous tracking shot. He used long takes during one of his earliest films, Mean Streets. You will see a lot of montages in his movies, supported by voice-over narration. He often uses slow-motion, freeze frames, or overhead shots techniques in his films. Tracking shots often require precise camerawork and these shots serve a purpose.
Watch this iconic tracking shot from the movie ‘Goodfellas’ (1990)
Source- Barthesian | Youtube
So these were some of the greatest filmmaker’s signature techniques. If you know more about other techniques of these filmmakers, share it with us in the comments section below!