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The Director's Chair Issue #5 – August 20, 2000 (On Set: Blocking a Scene)

Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors

August 20, 2000          Scene 1 – Take 5

Published once a month.

Publisher: Peter D. Marshall
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1.  Introduction
2.  Action-Cut-Print!
3.  Back Issues of The Director’s Chair
4.  Quote of the Month
5.  Feature Article – Blocking a Scene
6.  Directing Tip –  Screen Direction in an Fight Sequence
7.  Film Links of Interest – Online Directories and Databases
8.  Out Takes – Things You Would Never Know Without the Movies!
9.  Suggestions & Comments
10.  Copyright Information
11.  Subscribe & Unsubscribe Information


Welcome to Issue # 5 of The Director’s Chair (August 20, 2000)

a) The Feature Article this month is on Blocking a Scene.

b) Calling all Volunteers! If you would like to contribute
articles, tips, links of interest,industry news, interviews,
special event dates or other resources to The Director’s Chair,
please contact me at: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com


Peter D. Marshall

2. ACTION-CUT-PRINT! –  The Web Site for Film and TV Directors

If you are a Film or TV Director; a working professional who
wants to Direct; a film student who would like to learn more
about Directing; or a “student of film” who just wants to know
more about the Art of Directing from the pros, Action-Cut-Print!
is for you!

Take a moment now to visit  http://www.actioncutprint.com where
you will find over 900 Online Resources for Directors; where you
will learn Directing tips and techniques from the pros; where you
can share your production knowledge with others; and where you
will discover the very best strategies and techniques for
creating, promoting and marketing your own Film and TV Web Site.


To read back issues of The Director’s Chair, visit:


“I’ve made it a point never to watch anyone’s student film. I
usually tell people, ‘I’ll hire you–as long as I don’t have to
watch your student film!’ Most student films feature two
things–a not particularly attractive girl running towards the
camera, and a suicide. If it’s a comedy, it features a not
particularly attractive girl and a dog. I should know. I made
one, and so did my son. But these kids are stealing jobs from me,
so they must be doing something right.”

Chuck Workman
Chairman of the Director’s Guild of America’s Academic liaison
subcommittee (As quoted in Billy Frolick’s “What I Really Want To
Do Is Direct”)

5. FEATURE ARTICLE –  Blocking a Scene

Blocking a Scene
by Peter D. Marshall

When I was a Second AD (many, many years ago) I learned a
valuable lesson from a dolly grip on how a film set works. Very
simply, every film shoot is divided into four parts:

1) Block – determining where the actors will be on the set and
the first camera position
2) Light – time for the DOP to light the set and position the
camera for the first shot
3) Rehearse – camera rehearsal of the first set-up with the
actors and crew
4) Shoot – shooting the first scene (then repeat the process)

Blocking is the first, and most crucial, aspect of this 4-part
sequence. When you first start directing, blocking a scene can be
one of the hardest – and most embarrassing – parts of your job.
Get it wrong here, and you will waste valuable shooting time
trying to get out of the mess you created!

a) Director Prep – Before you step onto any film set, you need to
first do your homework on Script and Character Analysis. In the
last two issues, we talked about Understanding the Script (what
the story is about; the themes; the story points) and Character
Development and Analysis (the development and objectives of the

To review Script Structure, Script Analysis, and Scene Analysis,
visit:  http://www.actioncutprint.com/ezine-3.html  To review
Character Development and Analysis, visit:

b) Blocking a Dramatic Scene – The first thing I do when the
actors arrive for a blocking is to get them in a group and read
the scene: no moving, no “acting” – just reading the scene
through. This makes sure everyone is on the “same page”.
(Sometimes actors do not have revisions and this is a good time
to find that out.) Also, by reading together, the actors start to
feed off each other – and you get to watch the process.

After the actors read the scene, I ask them to show me what they
want to do. I just step back and let them go for it. If it is a
set no one has been in before, I take a few moments to discuss
the physical lay out of the room – the door an actor will come
through; a window they can walk up to; which desk they can sit at

The actors then begin their first walk through – they read the
scene and walk around the set to get a feel of what they want to
do and where they want to be. During this initial blocking, I try
not to make any suggestions to the actors – it is important that
they show me what they have in mind. Remember, this is the first
time the actors have been together on the set and they need their
time to explore. As you watch the actors, you get a feel for what
they want to do, where they want to go and how they are relating
to each other.

On the next blocking, you begin to make your changes. Maybe you
want an actor to sit in a chair by the window instead of on the
couch; you ask an actor if it would be okay to pace beside an
actor and not infront of him so you can save a set-up; you make a
suggestion to an actor to move across the room instead of
standing by the door etc.

Once you have discussed the scene, and everyone agrees with the
suggestions, the actors do it again. This time, you begin to
figure out your camera placement based on their movement and what
you first had in mind. As the actors go through the scene, you
walk around them looking at all your camera positions. Usually
the DOP is with you to discuss camera set-ups and positions. This
is also a time where you can stop-and-start the actors – move
them around to get a better background. During this blocking, a
camera assistant will place marks on the floor whenever the
actors stop.

When everyone is satisfied, the actors leave and you discuss the
first set-up in more detail with the DOP and the camera operator.
When the DOP begins to light, you go over all your set-ups with
the First AD and the Script Supervisor.

c) Blocking Tips – having a shot list will help you during the
blocking process. The shot list is like a map: it gives you a
path to your destination – but you don’t always have to follow it
– let the actors show you what they want to do first – then, when
you make a suggestion, it is based on something you have already
– in Television, speed is essential, so try and block some scenes
so that your action takes place in one direction (to avoid
turning the camera around for reverses)

6.  DIRECTING TIP – Screen Direction in an Fight Sequence

Which way an actor looks, or which side of the camera he exits or
enters, is called Screen Direction (the “180 degree rule”).
Maintaining proper screen direction is one of the jobs of the
Script Supervisor and is very important to the uninterrupted flow
of your story. But should the screen direction rule always be

During fight scenes, “crossing the axis” adds a dramatic sense of
confusion to the action – where punches and gunshots come from
odd angles and characters enter and exit unexpectedly. And when
you add slow-motion, dutch tilts, hand-held cameras and
jump-cutting techniques, you can create a ballet-like scene that
is stylistic and dynamic.

7. FILM LINKS OF INTEREST – Online Directories and Databases

1) Eagle i Home – http://www.eaglei.com/

2) FilmShark – http://www.filmshark.com/

3) Global Film and Media Access – http://www.gfma.com/global/owa/global_menu

4) Mandy’s International Film and Television Production Directory – http://www.mandy.com/

5) OnLine Production Services Inc. – http://www.bcfilm.com/index.htm

8.  OUT TAKES – Things You Would Never Know Without the Movies!

1.  It’s easy for anyone to land a plane providing there is
someone in the control tower to talk you down.

2.  If a large pane of glass is visible, someone will be thrown
through it before long.

3.  All telephone numbers in America begin with the digits 555.

4.  All beds have special L-shaped cover sheets which reach up to
the armpit level on a woman but only to the waist level on the
man lying beside her.

5.  The ventilation system of any building is the perfect hiding
place. Nobody will ever think of looking for you in there and you
can travel to any other part of the building you want without

6.  If you need to reload your gun, you will always have more
ammunition- even if you haven’t been carrying any before now.

7.  You’re very likely to survive any battle in any war unless
you make the mistake of showing someone a picture of your
sweetheart back home.

8.  The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris.

9.  A man will show no pain while taking the most ferocious
beating but will wince when a woman tries to clean his wounds.

10.  When paying for a taxi, don’t look at your wallet as you
take out a bill, just grab one at random and hand it over.  It
will always be the exact fare.

11.  Kitchens don’t have light switches. When entering a kitchen
at night, you should open the fridge door and use that light

12.  A single match will be sufficient to light up a room the
size of RFK Stadium.

13.  You can always find a chainsaw when you need one.

14.  It is not necessary to say hello or goodbye when beginning
or ending phone conversations.

15.  All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with
large red readouts so you know exactly when they’re going to go

16.  If you decide to start dancing in the street, everyone you
bump into will know all the steps.

17.  It does not matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight
involving martial arts – your enemies will wait patiently to
attack you one by one by dancing around in a threatening manner
until you have knocked out their predecessors.

18.  Police Departments give their officers personality tests to
make sure they are deliberately assigned a partner who is their
total opposite.

19.  When they are alone, all foreigners prefer to speak English
to each other.

20.  Medieval peasants had perfect teeth.


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Copyright 2000, Peter D. Marshall/Celtic Fire Productions Ltd.

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