The Camera as Storyteller: Considerations for the Director

decisions for directors

photo by: Katie Tower

No one on the set, from the DP to the set dresser, can begin to work until the director makes two decisions: first, where the camera will be placed, and second, how the actors will move in front of the camera.

The writer uses words and sentences to convey thoughts and ideas. The camera is the director’s storytelling device and shots are the basic element of the director’s visual vocabulary.  In placing the camera, the director or DP will ask, “Is the camera in the right place to tell the story properly? Are we seeing what we want to see?”

All other camera decisions, including size and composition of the frame, derive from this basic judgment. To determine where the camera is placed, ask yourself, “From whose point of view is the scene experienced? Who is doing the seeing here?” Is it a main character’s point of view, or that of an unknown bystander or the omniscient storyteller? The point of view can shift from objective to subjective within a scene, but you should always know from whose vantage point the scene is unfolding.

The director decides how to present the action to the audience. She uses the camera to direct the audience’s eye to what she feels is dramatically or visually important. These are some of the important decisions that have to be made:

  • Where to put the camera (the motivation for the shot)?
  • What to put in front of the camera (How to choreograph the action)?
  • How much of the action and/or information is contained in each shot?
  • How much of the world to reveal in each shot (size of shot: wide to telephoto)?
  • Should that action be broken up into several shots or one unbroken take?
  • Is it a static or moving shot?
  • Whose point of view is the shot from?
  • How will the shot cut to the next one?
  • What is the rhythm and pacing of action from shot to shot?

Excerpted from Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video, fourth edition, by Peter Rea and David Irving. © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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1 Comment
   Robert Shaver said on September 20, 2011 at 6:52 am

I had the biggest epiphany about all this when I read “The Lean Forward Moment” by Norman Hollyn. I think others may have talked about “beats” in a scene, but this book smacked me between the eyes and made it clear what I need to know in each scene (the lean forward moment) and what I have to do to punctuate it (make some change to highlight it).

YMMV but for me, this book brought it all into focus … in the writing, in the pre-production, in the shoot and in post.

Oh, and check out to get some of it in a fun video format.



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