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Hel-lo to the images: Buffy Cinematography

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  • Hel-lo to the images: Buffy Cinematography

    To elaborate on the poll:

    There are three fairly epic continuous steadicam shots (i.e. entire scenes filmed without a single cut) in the series:
    1. "Anne", Act One, second scene
      Shot begins in the library, with Giles and Willow walking down the stairs, and ends in the lounge, with Xander and Cordelia having a fight. Its purpose is to "captur[e] the vibrant cacophony of the first day of school" (from the script).

    2. "Restless", Act Two (Xander's dream), penultimate scene
      Shot begins after the scene with Snyder, with Xander standing in the forecourt of Giles' apartment, and tracks him through the apartment, through the UC Sunnydale dorm and Buffy's and Willow's room, into his basement. Its purpose is to show him being relentlessly pursued by the First Slayer.

    3. "Villains", Teaser, first scene
      Shot begins with a closeup on the ambulance racing towards Buffy's house, follows the paramedics into the garden and ends looking down on Buffy lying bleeding on the ground. Its purpose is to show the "rushed and kinetic [...] energy" (script) of the situation.

    There was supposed to be another one in "Bring on the Night", "meant to convey the heavy activity in the [house] now that it includes three wouldbe Slayers" (script), but it seems that the actress who plays Kennedy messed up, as there is a cut to a profile shot of her and then back to the previous perspective - so, it doesn't make the list.



    More generally, I'd like to discuss the role of cinematography on "Buffy". The series was often described as heavily reliant on dialog (leading to "Hush" as a proof of the opposite concept), and I suppose the camera work is rather tame compared to, say, Star Trek or X-Files for the most part. There are few whacky POV scenes or non-steadicam shots, little use of blurring or distortion lenses, etc. A notable exception is "Bargaining", in which these techniques are combined to let us share in Buffy's confusion and terror following her resurrection.

    An episode that really stands out visually is "The Body", which relies heavily on unusual perspectives and colour filters to set and track the moods of the characters.
    33
    [b]"Anne"[/B], first day of school
    36.36%
    12
    [b]"Restless"[/b], Xander pursued by First Slayer
    45.45%
    15
    [b]"Villains"[/b], paramedics arrive at Summers residence
    18.18%
    6

  • #2
    you forgot the cam over snowy sunnydale in amends with the sun cinema sign.

    again, i think ats kicked btvs' butt in terms of cinematography. btvs cost much more per episode, yet, ats looked like it cost twice as much. the scale of the actual los angeles vs. sunnydale being built on the outside of their warehouse sets was very apparent. the frequent skyline zippy cuts also added a lot of grandeur. but even the sets were often more impressive on ats, imo. the most impressive btvs set was perhaps the library or the master's lair... while ats boasted the hyperion. the use of an actual high school when filming sunnydale high added some grandeur--and it was probably the most impressive-looking building architecturally used for establishing shots... but again, ats had usage of much larger and more city-like buildings in the los angeles area, whereas sunnydale often felt very small california town and suburban residential.

    the size difference between the shows impacts heavily on what we see the characters doing. angel does stunt work that buffy hardly seems capable of, because her town doesn't give many opportunities for her to be jumping across or off of skyscrapers. when people are often listing abilities, the ats characters all seem to have done things much bigger than anything we've seen btvs characters do. the same thing happens when faith goes over to ats vs. her stint on btvs.

    i would say one of my favorite steady cams is zipping up the hyperion's staircase in waiting in the wings while lorne is babysitting connor. there's also the one that zooms up on angel's ear in slouching toward bethlehem. the introduction lobby shot to the 1952 hyperion flashbacks in are you now, or have you ever been? is also a classic... the introduction of the bellhop making the delivery to angel's room is one of my favorite pieces. the hyperion's hallways were always used fantastically--billy is probably the best example.

    "If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."
    "Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh and cruel. But that's why there's us. Champions."

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    • #3
      Originally posted by NileQT87 View Post
      you forgot the cam over snowy sunnydale in amends with the sun cinema sign.
      What makes these three scenes impressive is that both the actors and the cameraman have to do everything right, for the entire duration, to deliver the take. If any one of them messes up at any point, they have to start over. I'd really like to know how long it took for them to get the "Anne" shot right, almost four minutes with non-stop dialog and complex character and camera movements... just wow.

      The one you mention is visually interesting, but doesn't present a challenge of this sort.

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      • #4
        Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought the opening scene (after the Christmas segment) of The Body has the longest steadicam shot - which in itself is impressive but when we think about how SMG had to act all the way through it, it certainly makes it my favourite. I believe that shot starts with her running to Joyce and the heart wrenching "Mom! mom! Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom. MOM!" and ends with her dialling Giles after the 911 call to the paramedics. The Body also has a long steadicam shot with the Doctor coming from autopsying Joyce to Buffy and everyone in the waiting room. I believe Joss says on the commentary he'd been watching a lot ot Paul Thomas Anderson at the time - the king of long steadicam shots (Magnolia has a ginormous 9 and half minute opener)

        Also, over on AtS there's a long (5 minutes in my head but I could be wrong) steadicam shot at the beginning of Conviction where everyone is introduced to the new Wolfram and Hart building - and also has Alexis not being able to show one side of his face the whole way through due to some ailment (I forget which)

        I tend to agree with Nile though, that cinematography was better on AtS. Are You Now... looks just fabulous throughout and the clever use of David's stunt double made that track through the Hyperion over two time periods stunning.
        ciderdrinker
        Where was I?
        Last edited by ciderdrinker; 19-08-08, 04:02 AM.
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        Peter Capaldi is the 12th Doctor

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        • #5
          alexis denisof has bell's palsy, which means that half his face was paralyzed around the beginning of season 5.

          joss has also talked about the angelus, drusilla and spike reunion scene in innocence being done in one continuous shot.

          "If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."
          "Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh and cruel. But that's why there's us. Champions."

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          • #6
            I actually think the cinematography is usually one of the weaknesses of Buffy--not that it's actually bad, but because we see the potential occasionally. When they decide to do their signature episodes of the seasons (usually finales, but also some like Amends, Hush, The Body, Once More, With Feeling and Conversations with Dead People) they do a pretty good to very good job. Most of the rest of the episodes seem pretty pedestrian in contrast.

            If I'm not mistaken, Joss directed the majority of the above-named episodes (especially if you include the finales), so that makes me think that most of the directors may have not had the unique perspective on the show that he did.

            (EDIT: for this poll, I chose Restless)

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            • #7
              I chose Anne. It started the season off to the right start i believe, and it was also a great scene.

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              • #8
                I voted for the Villains shot cause I love the intensity of it but as ciderdrinker pointed it, my favorite is The Body first segment, so vivid and painful!!
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                • #9
                  I chose 'Anne' because out of the ones in the list it's my favourite.

                  But my favourite is the steady cam shot in 'Graduation Day II' where it's all one take from the moment Angel bursts into the hospital with Buffy into his arms right up until the Mayor comes into her room and tries to suffocate her. In fact the moment it's broken is when Angel rushes in and pulls him off her. I'm always amazed by that shot, the acting is terrific and I love the camera work.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ciderdrinker View Post
                    Correct me if I'm wrong but I thought the opening scene (after the Christmas segment) of The Body has the longest steadicam shot - which in itself is impressive but when we think about how SMG had to act all the way through it, it certainly makes it my favourite.
                    It's about 2:30, the one in "Anne" is about 3:30. The reason it's not in the list is that I'm pretty sure it isn't a steadicam but a handheld shot. While it's less technically demanding than some of the others, because of there just being one actress in all of it (okay, Sutherland needed to lie still, which probably isn't as easy as it sounds in a context like that), I agree that it does an amazing job at setting the mood here, especially in conjunction with the previous (christmas scene) and following (detail on the phone) shots. In general, the visuals of the first act of this episode are virtually flawless IMO. They force us to live through it all alongside Buffy to an extent that is rarely achieved on screen.
                    Originally posted by NileQT87 View Post
                    joss has also talked about the angelus, drusilla and spike reunion scene in innocence being done in one continuous shot.
                    I had a look, and there is one fairly long sequence (about half a minute). It looks almost like it's done from a stationary position, just working with rotations and zooms. Interesting.
                    Originally posted by Rexx Raul View Post
                    Most of the rest of the episodes seem pretty pedestrian in contrast.
                    "Pedestrian" is a good word. I'm not entirely sure if I wish they had done more in this respect, though - overuse of a technique can easily border on annoying and obvious. And, as you say, it does make the key episodes stand out...
                    Originally posted by vampmogs View Post
                    But my favourite is the steady cam shot in 'Graduation Day II' where it's all one take from the moment Angel bursts into the hospital with Buffy into his arms right up until the Mayor comes into her room and tries to suffocate her. In fact the moment it's broken is when Angel rushes in and pulls him off her. I'm always amazed by that shot, the acting is terrific and I love the camera work.
                    Oh, you're right, I can't believe I forgot about that one. It's a bit more of a gimmick than the three I listed, but very cool nonetheless.

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                    • #11
                      I chose Anne, it was a great scene but Restless is also very good. It?s also the sense of Xander always going to different places, and other people being "ahead of him" and as Joss said in the commentary: "He always ends up in the basement. Damn it!

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Rexx Raul View Post
                        I actually think the cinematography is usually one of the weaknesses of Buffy--not that it's actually bad, but because we see the potential occasionally. When they decide to do their signature episodes of the seasons (usually finales, but also some like Amends, Hush, The Body, Once More, With Feeling and Conversations with Dead People) they do a pretty good to very good job. Most of the rest of the episodes seem pretty pedestrian in contrast.

                        If I'm not mistaken, Joss directed the majority of the above-named episodes (especially if you include the finales), so that makes me think that most of the directors may have not had the unique perspective on the show that he did.

                        (EDIT: for this poll, I chose Restless)
                        I'm with you.

                        Once More, With Feeling, has these little segments that I just love too much...the supersweepup shot on Buffy as she delivers the final line in Going Through the Motions. The fourth-wall break, the opening scene. The entire Standing In The Way segment. Some of the ep was pretty conventional but there are some fantastic shots and direction here.

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                        • #13
                          i think ats kicked btvs' butt in terms of cinematography.
                          AtS was a written much more as a big epic, larger than life, fantasy story and shot more cinematically, big picture, widescreen, sweeping camera moves and single takes. BtVS was more intimate and personal, more focussed on emotions and realistic psychology, more TV in other words so it was shot and edited like a TV show and stayed in academy ratio for the whole run. The visual interest comes more from faces than fight scenes, from composition and imagery more than fancy camera moves. When Buffy did try something special then it stood out. I think both shows worked pretty well for what they were.

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