Being rather a naive youth, I often used to wonder why it supposedly took filmmakers a whole day to shoot a single minute of useful footage for their movie. I mean, how long can that honestly take, right? Even if you need to have twenty goes at it, that's still only twenty times a minute, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The few times I've visited film sets [Judge Dredd, Lost in Space - all the classics for me], it's been like watching paint dry while being whipped with barbed wire, such is the amount of time needed to achieve the illusions we see on screen.
As part of the From Script to Screen module on my MA Screenwriting course, our first assignment is a 2000 word essay. For this we need to choose a film adapted from either a novel or a play. [I've picked the graphic novel A History of Violence by John Wagner and Vincent Locke, recently adapted into a feature by Canadian autuer David Cronenberg.] Next, we have to produce a shot analysis of a sequence from the film.
That means identifying all the individual shots within the sequence, timing them, write a description of the visible image, stipulating how one shot transitions to the next, discussing the camera framing and movement, and writing about the sounds that accompany the shot. Our tutor warned us this would not be a quick task, if done properly - and he was right.
I decided to study the diner stick-up sequence in A History of Violence, what screenwriting gurus would call the inciting incident and what I'd describe as the end of Act One in the movie. Shouldn't take long, right? After all, the sequence is only three minutes and seven seconds long. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It may be only 187 seconds long, but there are 93 different shots in those 187 seconds. As a consequence, it only took me five hours to identify the shots, their length, image, transition, camera framing and movements, and the accompanying soundscape.
Guess I should be grateful I didn't pick a longer sequence. Right now, I have a new found respect for the work of anyone who has ever worked on any aspect of a film's production. Doesn't matter if what came out at the cinemas was Citizen Kane or Shanghai Surprise, grud knows hundreds of people put a massive amount of time, effort and energy into making it. For those about to film, I salute you.