I loved Tony Scott in the beginning of his career. This is the guy that brought us “Top Gun” and the cult favorite “True Romance” which was written by Quentin Tarantino. But lately, he’s gone a little bonkers. He always had a “frenetic” directing style. Which is kind of like a bullshit term “mis en cine” they use at film schools.
Fact is, TV and movies these days have way too much style over substance. And lately Tony’s movies and TV directing appearances have been too much style… and not even style… but rather frantic camera movements that kind of look like style to mask the absence of any substance.
“The Taking of Pelham 123” is a great example. I actually like the movie. But for Christ’s sake, it can be hard to watch. The action is cutting every 2 seconds in some parts. Not normal action scene cuts like in “Die Hard” but mad, desperate all over the place cuts and zoom ins that are just completely unnecessary.
Motivation for Extreme Camera Movements
Even in the shots where not much is happening, like Travolta is talking, Scott uses handheld. The camera jolts around back and forth here and there. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a subway car driver and Travolta asks “Where are you from?” And they show the driver and as he says “Brooklyn” the camera zooms in. Like Jesus, did we need that?
Tony’s gonna keep working, but this random camera crap won’t. Even in today’s world where Youtube has shortened the attention spans of the young even more, fast cutting for it’s own sake doesn’t work. If you want to have wild fast cuts in your movie, make sure there is a reason for it. Like your main character is having an acid trip and about throw themselves off a cliff.
But if you use excessive zooms, cuts, pans.. and all measure of movement with no motivation, it’s just going to look like you’re trying to look cooler than you are or overcompensate for lack of story.
Take a lesson from Quentin; even in Kill Bill the non action scenes are vividly, gorgeously storyboarded out and elegant. Whole scenes go by with nary a camera movement. And then when it does move it always moves the story forward not side to side in a jerky, throw up inducing motion. Fast cuts are reserved for the fight scenes, and we love him for it.
So learn from Tony Scott; be smart with your camera, but don’t try to outsmart your audience with overly stylized over the top crap. You can’t impress anyone by making them sick.
Learn more about good camerawork at Film School Secrets.