I have recently been experimenting more with blending the roles of cinematographer and actor. As I wrote in an earlier piece, I like small cinema cameras because of the sensitivity and mobility they can bring to filming a scene, floating around like a butterfly unobtrusively bringing the viewer right into the essence of the action. But what happens when the cinematographer is also a main character in the piece? Do the preparation and impulses that an actor brings to a scene then bleed over into the cinematography if that same actor is also doing the filming?
In recent work, I have been using first-person point of view (POV) for micro short segments that get embedded in larger narrative pieces. The person telling the story is also filming the story. Of necessity, the acting is going to inform the filming, and to some extent vice-versa. It’s interesting to me to see how, by freeing up the camera from the need to be semi-static or obtrusive, there is a lot more room to play with framing and other cinematic impulses in ways that might normally not be the domain of the actor.
In the 1947 film “The Lady in the Lake” director Robert Montgomery experimented with also being a lead actor in the film, using first-person POV for the unseen character Philip Marlowe, who is only glimpsed briefly in a mirror throughout the entire film. It’s a very interesting device to me, but I can well imagine it would have been a lot more feasible and perhaps more fun if Montgomery had been able to hold the camera himself, as in the case of a smartphone with a lightweight rig, allowing for more nimble and reactive playing with acting impulses while filming.
Experimenting with these techniques has been quite freeing, by unfreezing some precepts around camera placement, blocking, framing and other cinematic elements, and giving more play to impulses that might have been thought to be the more proper domain of actors. In this way, the actor-director-cinematographer has a much more nimble, emotively-driven set of impulses to steer the work of making the filmic shot work. This opens up very cool potential for moving masters and other dynamic camera work.
If you’d like to play around with these ideas in your own work, here are some tips for you:
Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions Ltd. and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.