The Director’s Chair Issue #121 – August 7, 2011 (The Art of Scene Transitions)
THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
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August 7, 2011 Scene 12 – Take 8
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2. Two Bonuses for Subscribing to The Director’s Chair
3. NEW: Independent Filmmakers Discussion Forum
4. The Modern Moviemaking Movement
5. FEATURE ARTICLE: The Art of Scene Transitions
6. Write an Article for The Director’s Chair
7. Subscriber Shameless Self-Promotion
8. Links of Interest
9. Blog – Film Directing Tips
10. Filmmaking Workshops
11. Product Promotion and Film Workshops
12. Suggestions and Comments
13. Share this Ezine
14. Reprint this Ezine
15. Copyright Information
Welcome to Issue #121 of The Director’s Chair August 7, 2011
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2) Feature Article – The feature article this month is “The
Art of Scene Transitions” by Jeffrey Michael Bays. Scene
transitions are easy to overlook when directing, especially
when the frantic focus is on the multitude of elements within
each scene. If you pay less attention to how those scenes
join together it may mean a missed opportunity for connecting
with the viewer. (Read full article below.)
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3. Independent Filmmakers Discussion Forum
I have created an Indie Filmmakers Discussion Forum on my
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So far there are three discussion topics:
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NOTE: This discussion forum now replaces the “Filmmakers Help
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4. The Modern Moviemaking Movement (Give This to a Filmmaker)
If you have been following filmmaking trends you know the
world of indie filmmaking is changing fast.
Inexpensive production technology coupled with the decline of
traditional movie distribution has forever transformed the
ways in which movies are marketed, seen and sold.
These days, filmmakers must not only make great movies, but in
order to prosper, modern moviemakers must now master
crowdfunding, internet marketing and social media.
To help you succeed as an independent filmmaker, I
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It’s called “The Modern Moviemaking Movement” and it will
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1. Uncover Successful, Modern Screenwriting Tips
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2. Find Out How To Make the Most of Movie Money
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3. Discover Six Ways to Finance Your Feature Film
by Gordon Firemark
4. The State of The (indie filmmaker) Union
by Tom Malloy
5. Get The Inside Scoop On Crowdfunding
by Carole Dean
6. Plan Your Production For Maximum Success
by Peter D. Marshall
7. Modern Guerrilla Filmmaking
by Gary King
8. Navigate Film Festivals and Do Them Right
by Sheri Candler
9. Sell Your Movie Without the Middle-Man
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10. The Producer of Marketing & Distribution
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So if you want an action guide that will help you survive and
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Also, if you like this 100 page Action Pack, PLEASE GIVE IT
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5. FEATURE ARTICLE: The Art of Scene Transitions
“The Art of Scene Transitions” by Jeffrey Michael Bays
Scene transitions are easy to overlook when directing,
especially when the frantic focus is on the multitude of
elements within each scene. If you pay less attention to how
those scenes join together it may mean a missed opportunity
for connecting with the viewer.
You don’t want all the scene transitions in your film to be
the same. Combinations of various types of transitions
through a film arise from an endless palette of possibilities,
making it a true art form. Here are some top things to
consider when deciding on how to craft scene transitions…
(1) How do I generate contrast between scenes?
Generally, you want the viewer to be briefly disoriented at
the scene change. This allows them to internalize the fact
that the location has changed. Presumably a new event is
going to happen, and the previous event has ended. Choosing
locations that are opposites in aesthetic qualities can help
place a boundary between the two events and can also prompt
the viewer to think about their differences.
Typically shifts from night to day, indoor to outdoor, quiet
to loud, motion to stillness, wide to close, etc. can help the
viewer create a mental map of the story in their heads,
separating and compartmentalizing story events. A sudden
shift can also serve to punctuate a line that was spoken,
bringing it to the viewer’s full attention.
There are times when you may not want the effect of contrast
between two scenes, wishing instead for the locations to be
similar in order to bring out subtle nuisances within the
locales. It all, of course, depends on what the story needs
and the overall emotion you want to convey.
(2) Do I want a smooth transition?
Two scenes can be joined by a hook to keep the pace moving
forward, generating a sense of narrative cohesion. Hooks are
matches of audio and visual elements from one scene to the
next. By ending a scene with a line of dialogue that raises a
question, you can supply an answer as the next scene begins.
Or, two objects with similar shape can be juxtaposed at the
transition, such as the flying bone in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’
(1968) turning into a space station – an effect in which
Stanley Kubrick cleverly links a period of thousands of years
in one simple cut.
Not using a hook to connect two scenes can also increase the
effect of disorientation – something which you might want to
use to your advantage in a given moment.
(3) Should I show a character’s journey between scenes?
It is quite common for plot intensity to rise at the end of a
scene and the main character to react. When characters react
to plot revelations, they move, sometimes travelling through
You have to choose whether to show the character’s reaction,
linger on it, or to simply cut away from it to the next scene.
These moments can be prime opportunities to reveal the
character’s inner emotions and create a bond with the viewer.
A new scene can be inserted showing the character getting into
a car and driving emotionally to the next destination,
reacting to what has just happened. Or, you may choose not to
show this at all. With fifty or more scene changes in one
film, it’s probably best to use this quite selectively only at
In ‘Garden State’ (2004) Zach Braff uses a sidecar motorcycle
to show Andrew moving through his hometown at only three key
moments of emotional expression in the film. His journeys at
all other scene transitions are implied.
(4) When is scenery and music necessary?
After an intense moment, it is quite common for the next scene
to begin with some down time to allow the viewer to pause and
reflect. These rhythmic ebbs and flows are important
especially in longer films where three hours of unrelieved
intensity can lead to viewer fatigue. When the viewer gets
fatigued, they no longer engage with the material.
Scenery and music are both ways in which you can momentarily
depart from the plot and express an overall feeling or mood to
give the viewer some relief. Either wide establishing shots
or close-ups of the setting can help to rejuvenate the viewer
and prepare them to be more fully absorbed into the next story
Music tends to soothe the scene transition and plant the seeds
for the emotional context of the story, but can also be used
to shift a mood or increase tension.
The absence of scenery at the transition propels the tension
and creates a claustrophobic feeling. The absence of music
can have the effect of stopping time and creating a sense of
stark realism. These decisions of whether to use scenery and
music at the scene transitions are dependent on what emotions
your story needs to convey at each transition.
(5) How should I express the passage of time?
All scene transitions are a manipulation of time in some way.
Film can take us from one time to another instantly, and leave
out less interesting events in between. The question to
consider is how to stylize that change in time.
You can use an instant jump cut from one scene to the next or
a sweeping emotional dissolve. Those choices depend on the
mood and pace you want to convey. Dissolves and collages were
once commonplace, but now are saved for special moments.
Frequently, directors use hyper-fast time lapse in order to
speed to the next event. It is common to see the ‘hip-hop
montage’ today, a device credited to Darren Aronofsky in which
fast glimpses of action are compressed together in rapid
succession between scenes.
When a scene shifts from one time to another you can cue the
viewer that time has passed, either through an object that has
changed – such as a melted candle – or a change in scenery –
the sun rises. In some instances you may even want to add
titles to the screen labeling the new time and location. It
is an important choice whether to use these time cues, or to
omit them. Both are valid ways of storytelling by means of
withholding or expressing information.
(6) Fading to Black
Fading or cutting to black between scenes is something which
requires careful consideration, because overuse can be
distracting. First of all, it has the effect of halting any
sense of momentum or pacing which has been in progress. It
also tends to create a sharp boundary, diffusing any sort of
contrast in locations discussed above. Used smartly, it can
create a sense of punctuation of the event that just occurred,
often accenting a gunshot or instant death. Especially when
it is used at the end of a film it has the effect of forcing
the viewer to feel a sense of closure, contemplating the scene
that once was.
Conversely, fading to white tends to represent an overwhelming
state of plot intensity – a character transcends.
This article only scratches the surface of possibilities.
Transitions are where most of the thinking occurs in the
audience and where the characters are the most dramatic.
Deciding what to withhold or express in these moments is a key
choice any director faces.
For a more in-depth analysis of scene transitions see my
companion article: http://www.borgus.com/film or keep an eye
out for my upcoming book on transitions ‘Space Between the
Scenes’ based on my thesis research at La Trobe University.
Jeffrey Michael Bays is an American director, film scholar,
and radio producer most widely known for his award-winning
drama ‘Not From Space’ on XM Satellite Radio. He has recently
completed a Master of Arts in Cinema from La Trobe University,
Melbourne, Australia as well as a Bachelor of Arts from
Webster University, St. Louis, USA.
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1) Northern California based production company, Emerging
Artist Productions, LLC, has launched the development of the
feature film, ‘Dark Harvest’, to be shot in San Francisco Bay
Area and slated as a 2012 release. The announcement was made
by the film’s producer/director Sinohui Hinojosa, co-founder
of Emerging Artist Productions at their Santa Clara based
“The film tells the story of an unlikely hero, the son of a
farmer who discovers an evil presence that threatens his
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Hinojosa, “…harkening back to the “creature-features” that I
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This film will be shot on the latest digital cinema
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With the perpetual appeal of the horror film genre and the
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to bring this intense & character driven script to the screen.
‘Dark Harvest’ is positioned as a limited theatrical release,
on various cable outlets, a DVD and BluRay, plus as digital
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8. Links of Interest
1) Are Indie Filmmakers Slave Drivers?
2) Defining Movies: Steven Spielberg
3) Artists turning social networks into investors
4) Prepping the 3D Audience
5) Filmmaking program in B.C. brings together young
Palestinians, Israelis http://su.pr/8RWh4s
6) Getting to Know African Filmmakers with International
7) 8 Filmmaking Tips From Guillermo Del Toro and Nicholas
Winding Refn http://su.pr/5G9wu7
8) The lowdown on low-budget filmmaking
9) What makes a great movie? A passionate director and
creative control http://su.pr/2WGpD8
10) Filmmaking in Vietnam: Horror roulette
9. Blog – Film Directing Tips
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me decide on the content of this blog.
10. Filmmaking Workshops – Peter D. Marshall
I have worked in the Film and Television Industry for over
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11. Product Promotion And Film Workshops
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