Sunday, May 31, 2015

Camera/Shot Break Down: Empire Strikes Back - Betrayal

I think it's really important to study films frame by frame to see how the shots are edited to together to convey a larger sense of story and I assign student to watch their favorite scene (a horribly difficult assignment, I know) and then pause it and thumbnail each cut/shot or make extra thumbnails depending on action and camera movement. Here's a favorite scene of mine from...

Specifically, the betrayal scene.  Here's where we get to see Han Solo and Darth Vader face off, Boba Fett mug for the camera, and Lando even upstage everyone with actual acting...or at least, staging. There is also some great and subtle camera work in the scene which is included.

The scene opens with Lando leading Han, Leia and a worried Chewie through the halls of cloud city to get "a little refreshment".  The four enter shot through a doorway leading into a hall, cloud city inhabitants mill about for texture, Han studies a guard positioned to the left of the shot. The group nears the camera and Lando leads them down a set a stairs and to the left of the frame.  As mentioned in another post, the movement and direction of the characters takes meaning for this film.  The direction of travel as led by Lando implies something bad.  As seen previously in the battle on Hoth, the villians traveled from right of frame to left of frame when they were attacking the rebel base (to gain advantage).  The rebels on the other hand, retreat to the left of the frame (loosing advantage). When one knows this, the walk to refreshment signals danger to our heroes. This is very subtle though but the staging of Lando, who moves closest to the camera and by doing so ends up in profile and is the first to turn his back on the group as he passes the camera as it pans left to capture the action.  There is an awful of exposition here and the action and camera move are very well designed to keep the moment alive with getting stale with all the dialogue.
LANDO: So you see, since we're a small operation, we don't fall into
the...uh...jurisdiction of the Empire.
LEIA: So you're part of the mining guild then?
LANDO: No, not actually. Our operation is small enough not to be
noticed...which is advantageous for everybody since our customers are
anxious to avoid attracting attention to themselves.

The shot/move cuts to a new shot/move as the group continues to walk toward the camera but now the characters move in a left to right pattern.  Lando is positioned on the left side of the group here which allows him to again pass closest to camera where he is seen in profile as the others look at him (and technically the viewers) in 3/4. The exposition continues but again, the camera work and action of the characters keeps it alive. This shot also introduces a circular motif which will become important very soon.
HAN: Aren't you afraid the Empire's going to find out about this
little operation and shut you down?
LANDO: That's always been a danger looming like a shadow over
everything we've built here. But things have developed that will insure security. 

Cut to MCU Chewie whose forward progress is matched with track left to right.  Chewie halts as the others continue forward toward the right of frame, he looks behind him to the left of frame sensing trouble and alerting the audience of an impending doom. He turns and continues toward the right of frame.  He stops in the circular window making him the sole focus of the shot.  We saw Han framed by the same window in the last shot, almost a transfer of power if you will. Chewie, as usual, becomes the eyes of the viewer.
LANDO: I've just made a deal that will-

Cut to OTS off Chewie's shoulder on Han, Leia and Lando who is not on the rightmost side of the frame. He reaches for a button.
LANDO: -keep the Empire out of here forever.

Cut to three shot OTS off Han (and Leia) on Lando.  His head is turned away from the others and he thoughtfully glances out of the corner of his eye at his old friend. this is purely an acting moment.  At this point the we, the viewer, know something isn't right but are not sure what will happen next.

Cut to centered frontal of Darth Vader as the doors slide open. Vader gets full ownership of this moment in terms of contrast, he is the darkest element surrounded by much lighter set.  He is also on the CVA and the vanishing point of the one point perspective shot lays on his head as he rises. And that circular motif commands attention screaming, "Look at me! YOU ARE SO SCREWED!"

Cut to Two Shot MCU Han and Chewie.  Doors slides to right of frame revealing Han who looks to right.

Cut to MS  DARTH VADER standing.  He is staged in the blue circle, high contrast.

Cut to Chewbacca roaring.  His proximity to camera as opposed to Vader's makes us feel more for the heroes. Staging brilliance, a lesser film maker would shoot Vader larger to make him seem more imposing.
Chewie: RAR!

Quick edit to the four as Han directs the camera in a whip pan as he brings his blaster up to fire. Han, Leia, and Chewie react in shock, while Lando has a complacent "ah darn." kind of expression.

Another quick cut to Vader centered again. Han's blaster fires and impacts on Vader's hand in a spectacular flash of sparks. Sound design here is amazing.

Cut to near reverse OTS off Vader to see Han continuing to fire. The Dark Lord catches another laser bolt in his hand. Flash! Sparks!

Cut back to MCU Han on the third as he shoots again.

Cut to Vader at MS, he blocks another blast then another with his right hand.

Back to Han, the Force wrenches his blaster from his grip. 'Fun staging and timing here as his hand is darker than the wall behind him so there is great contrast and his surprised facial expression is on screen just long enough for us to see it but not make it feel cheap.

Cut to a tracking move of the gun flying through the air toward the right of the  screen.  The blue circle not only acts as a contrast element but also suggests a transfer of power from Han (the good) to Vader (the bad)

Cut to up shot on Vader who reaches out and catches the pistol.

Cut to Vader OTS. As the smoke clears, Han's arm drops with the realization that he has lost.
VADER: We would be honored if you would join us.

Cut to OTS off Vader's right as Boba Fett enters subtle pull out to stage Vader and Fett in a two shot.

Cut to the four as stromtroopers pour in from all sides behind them including the left of frame, surrounding them, just as we saw in the Hoth battle.
LANDO: I had no choice. They arrived right before you did.

Cut to MCU Lando, on the left of frame. His position acts to further prevent escape of the heroes but also to cease the attack of the Imperials.
LANDO: I'm sorry.

Reaction shot of a shocked and speechless Leia between Han and Chewie, surrounded by the troopers in distance.  She is waiting to see what Han will do next...hopefully not try to fight his way out and get them all killed in the process.

Cut to MCU Han and his friends. We see the wheels in his turn, weighing the options. He makes a decision, and by taking Leia's hand, we see that he has no intention of allowing Leia to get hurt.
HAN: I'm sorry, too.

Cut to CU Chewie who looks at Lando in desperation.

Cut back to Lando who is trying to read Chewie, and hoping Chewie doesn't try to fight. 

CU Chewie who cries mournfully.

Cut to OTS of Lando as Han and Leia move to enter the dining room with Vader and Fett dividing the space. The four enter and the double doors slide closed shutting out the viewers..
End scene.

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