Memories of Murder (2003) – Ensemble Staging

Hi, my name is Tony,
and this is Every Frame a Painting. There’s a quote that I love
from Alexander Mackendrick. He said :“What a film director really directs
is the audience attention …
… Directing is a matter of emphasis …… You emphasize what is important …… by under-emphasizing
what is less so.”
These days, most directors create emphasis
by cutting from close-up … … to close up … … to close up. But too much coverage is exhausting,
especially for the actors.– And say, oh, so now,
you’re gonne be a mechanic,
so you should master close, close, closer,
over, over, over …
I go hard lining, and say “Look,
I’m not gonna do that.”,
because you already got
everything you need to tell the audience
what they need to know
about what’s happening here.
So today, let’s consider a different option.
Instead of standard coverage, let’s put all the actors
in the same frame, and let them perform together. In other words, let’s talk about
‘ensemble staging’. Ensemble staging is all about
creating emphasis without using a cut The first thing to remember is that
we naturally look at whoever is speaking … and whoever is being spoken to. This is often combined with
a second technique : if someone is more important,
put them closer to the light, or closer to the lens. If you want someone to be less noticeable,
move them further away, maybe out of focus. Of course, attention is relative.
Sometimes, you can get the audience to look at something,
even when it’s out of focus. By having it move. We’re especially aware
when somebody moves their hands … or moves their eyes. You can also guide the audience by putting
something close to the center of the frame. In fact, this is one of the film’s
running jokes. Characters in the middle of the shot … … who keep attacking the suspects. Which brings us to #5 :
the body position of the actors. How are the characters turned
in relation to the lens ? Do we see their whole face …
or 3/4 ? Is it a profile … or another angle
where we don’t see the face at all ? When you have multiple actors in a shot,
it’s important to have some variation. The audience doesn’t need to look at
a character right now : turn him around. Notice how by doing this,
you’re creating contrast. The 3 cops on the right face each other,
while detective Seo looks elsewhere. In fact, for the first half-hour, he’s
constantly placed away from the main group, looking at documents
that everyone else is ignoring. This bring us to #7 : Subtly moving the camera. Here watch out the shot
narrow our focus from 4 characters … … down to 2.
While here, our attention moves from one side of the argument, to the other,
fore-settling on the eventual winner. And last of all, don’t forget that
human beings are social creatures : We look where other people are looking. So with all that, let’s consider why Bong Joon-ho
would stage something as an ensemble. This is my favourite shot
in the entire film. At first we think it’s one story,
an argument between two cops. And Bong seems to do very little.
He just lets our attention move from detective Park …
to detective Seo. But in the center of frame,
something catches our eye, and we realize another character,
detective Cho, is making out with the hostess in the back. So now we have 2 stories :
foreground & background. And Bong plays them against each other,
to contrast the serious … … with the silly. As the scene builds,
he slowly pushes the camera in, which hides the 2 women,
and focus our attention on the main pair. And he lets the actors use their hands
to tell the story, especially when the argument
reaches his breaking point. But suddenly, the chief enters the scene. This is the moment when
the ensemble staging pays off. We have an unexpected third story, and
it interrupts both of the others. With a joke.>From now on, the rest of the scene
is the third story, as the chief outlines his plan
to catch the serial killer. But why do this in one shot ?
I think it underscores the theme. The first story is a petty argument.
The second story is just lust. None of these cops is doing work,
they’re all being selfish. It’s not until the third story that
they think about the victims and the case. The chief literally provides
the moral center of the frame. And if Bong had shot this scene
with coverage, we wouldn’t see the connection
between the first story … … and the second.
And from both stories … … to the third. This is the kind of directing that is
unbelievably rare today, and it shows the value of
playing a scene as an ensemble, rather than cutting
from one face to another.– Because sometimes, I just want to stay
in that particular place, with the actors,
and let the actors settle it,
and not let you help me tell the story
by getting closer to my face.
Just let me do it.
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