Ward Russell: Directors & Blocking

From American Cinematographer, Elusive Truth by Christopher Probst (July 1998)

"I'm used to working with directors who are very visually oriented, so I was quite happy to discover that Rob has a very strong visual sense. I find that my work gets that much better when I have a director who has an idea of what he wants and understands what my contribution is. Before going onto each set, we had a lot of discussions concerning the lighting. He's very conscious of light and understands how its direction and mood works; when we went into a scene, we were able to talk about the light source, and we almost always agreed on the best angles from which to show the set. Some directors don't even think about the set; all they consider is the actors, the words and how they go together. That method is the most difficult way to work in terms of lighting because once the director has staged the scene, you then have to figure out how to light the given set to the way he's staged the action. It's much easier — and usually more visually interesting — if the director understands the set and the angles that will be the most visual, and then encourages the actors to work within that environment."

- Ward Russell

"The fundamental language I refer to in staging is: where are the triangles in the shot, and where are the three planes of depth the foreground, middleground and background? Then I have to consider the look I want to achieve, the time I have, and the actors' blocking in relation to those [other] factors. I look for where my light source is coming from which I may want to be cross- or backlight and ask, 'How can I say something about the character or scene with simple staging and the right camera move without that becoming the star of the scene?' I've done projects in the past where an image we've created becomes more about how it looks than what's happening on a story or character level. Ultimately, in those cases, you fall short in a narrative sense, because you've aimed for the wrong goal."

- Rob Bowman, Director The X-Files Movie

"[Blocking a scene for the best visual angles] really is the best way of working. Once we get to a set, give it to me for an hour so that I can rough in some source lighting and then bring the actors in and stage the scene. If they don't naturally gravitate toward the light we want, then the director can encourage them to do that. That way, you don't have to fight to create a good look. Every set usually has its own look to start with, so if you utilize what you already have, it's then just a matter of adding a few final touches before you're ready to shoot. I've found that if you're shooting a certain scene and nothing is working right, it's usually because the camera is in the wrong spot. If you get the camera in the right spot in relation to the actors and the set, it all just falls into place."

- Ward Russell

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