Understanding blocking in filmmaking is a key to unlocking your creativity and prowess as a director.

Blocking is one of the most important aspects of directing a scene. It determines how you want your audience to engage with it and where they should be looking at any given time as well as figuring out sightlines for actors in and out of frame.

This can often cause frustration in film school students or directors who are inexperienced.

From the first shot, you shoot down until when you yell “cut!” blocking is critical throughout.

Many people have heard the term “blocking” but don’t know what it means. So what is blocking?

What Is Blocking In Filmmaking?

Blocking in filmmaking refers to where actors stand on a set and how they move around over the course of filming, or as some would say choreography.

The position of an actor on a set can greatly affect how their performance turns out so getting this right is crucial for film directors.

Blocking a scene is like choreographing a dance. What are the characters actually “doing” in this passage?

How can their motions embody the text and subtext of dialogue, reflect relationships between characters, direct focus on certain parts of scenes for filming?

Blocking conversations during rehearsals will allow actors to craft movements that evoke these effects before they start shooting.

 

 

When it comes to blocking a scene, the possibilities can feel endless. There are so many ways you could move your camera and stage your actors that it is easy to become overwhelmed and paralyzed by all of them.

These tips will help make this task less intimidating for you as well as helping achieve what you want out of a scene:

That’s why today, we’re compiling a guide on all things blocking. First, we’ll take a look at some of the finest examples of blocking in film.

Second, we’ll examine the lessons we can learn from them and how to implement them in our own films.

Blocking In Filmmaking

Let’s look at some classic films that use blocking to great effect. By looking at these examples, we can get a great overview of blocking in filmmaking and what makes it so important.

Famous Movies That Use Excellent Blocking To Tell A Story

Here are a few famous examples of how blocking tells the story between the lines to inspire you to think outside the box.

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is essentially an hour and thirty minutes of men talking in a room, yet it’s one of the highest regarded films in history.

It’s an adaptation of a stage play, yet the film has eclipsed its source material as the definitive version of the story.

Why is that?

Well, besides the wonderful performances, the masterful direction and blocking of Sidney Lumet really bring the story and characters to life. Without it, the film would be a boring slog. Let’s see how Lumet tells a story using its blocking.

The film is about 12 men crammed in a hot jury room as they have to decide on the fate of the boy who allegedly committed murder. Notice how crammed everyone is into the shot.

blocking in filmmaking

The feeling of claustrophobia rams up throughout the film. It intensifies to a level to where the blocking of each scene feels suffocating as you can see here.

blocking in filmmaking

This mirrors the feelings of the character as they’ve all spent the whole day arguing this case and getting into heated debates that create an atmosphere so tense you can cut through it with a knife.

12 Angry Men (1957)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Reginald Rose (Writer) - George Justin (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Sidney Lumet doesn’t only manipulate the placement of the camera but that of the actors themselves to telegraph to us what’s going. Look for example at one of the scenes near the end.

Here, there’s only one juror still convinced that the boy is guilty and is looking for someone who agrees, however…

blocking in filmmaking

Se7en

We’ve mentioned David Fincher a number of times here. He’s a master of the craft and knows a thing or two about how framing and blocking inform how we should feel during a scene.

One of the most important ways he uses this in Se7en is to illustrate the growing relationship between the characters played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.

In the beginning, Freeman sees Pitt as a hotshot cop who has no idea what he’s getting himself into.

Seven (1995)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow (Actors)
  • David Fincher (Director) - Andrew Kevin Walker (Writer) - Arnold Kopelson (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Pitt sees Freeman as a disgruntled old man who looks down on him. This creates a rift in their relationship.

So, for the first act of the film, they hardly share the frame in any scenes.

blocking in filmmaking

However, as the two start to understand each other and show respect, they are framed consistently closer and closer to each other until they become true partners.

However, at the end of the film when Pitt’s character commits the act that shatters their camaraderie forever, we get this shot. Two men who will never see eye to eye again.

blocking in filmmaking

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Alfred Hitchcock famously hated using dialogue to tell his stories. He was a passionate advocate of cinema as a visual medium where framing, blocking, and angles of shots were meant to tell you everything.

There are many famous examples of Hitchcock’s mastery such as the shower scene from Psycho, the escalation of birds in the playground scene from birds, and Jimmy Stewart witnessing the murder of his neighbor in Rear Window.

All these scenes tell you everything you need to know without a single word spoken.

However, our pick is the assassination attempt from the climax of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

The Man Who Knew Too Much
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda De Banzie (Actors)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Director) - Alfred Hitchcock (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Through a combination of three shots, Hitchcock establishes the main players of the scene and the stakes.

First, we have the gun aimed from left to right. It signals menace and upcoming danger, but to who?

Second, we have Doris Day’s character who is the only one aware of what’s going. She’s framed alone to extenuate her helplessness.

Finally, we have the victim unaware of the danger as they look away from it.

So, let’s combine the three shots and see what story they tell. First, we have an assassin pointing a gun at someone they’re going to kill.

Doris Day sees them but can’t do anything about it.

Finally, we see the victim at the center of the frame and know they’re in danger that they are unaware of.

If you watch the scene, you’ll realize that the point of focus starts at the left of the frame and transitions to the middle, and ends at the right side.

This is just masterful direction on the part of Hitchcock that deserves studying.

So, What Can We Learn From These Scenes?

Now let’s take a look at what these scenes and films show us about the bigger picture when it comes to blocking in filmmaking.

Plan In Advance

Staging a scene is an integral part of the filmmaking process and it takes time and planning to pull off.

Constructing shot lists, storyboards, or even just sketches on paper can help you work out your actors’ positions in advance so that when shoot day arrives all you have left are camera angles which will be quick for both yourself as the director.

This will also be helpful to the crew members who don’t want their hands tied up with complex set-ups.

This technique especially helps if this is your first film job without any big Hollywood budgets – having a clear ground plan upfront might save lots of valuable shooting time during those crucial moments where every second counts.

Let Your Actors Inform Your Blocking

Blocking is an essential aspect of filmmaking for a reason. It can be seen as an act of choreography, where every action a character takes must have motivation for what they want or feel.

Begin by communicating with your actors about how each individual feels and why that motivates their actions at all times while on set.

Next, use rehearsal time to work out the movements through space in order to get footage from multiple angles simultaneously and experiment with placement when filming so you don’t miss anything!

The Scene Should Inform Camera Placement

film blocking is an act of composition, where appropriate frames and camera angles are chosen so as to accentuate the emotional themes of a story.

You need to focus on positioning actors as well as the camera in relation to them when taking shots for your film.

For example, if there’s someone crying out “I do not belong here!”, you might use close-ups or wide shots depending on whether they’re pleading directly at another character or shouting into the heavens dramatically.

The process can involve a significant amount of give-and-take and will require adjustments in the cinematography, actors’ body positions, and blocking to frame shots better.

Give Actors Something To Do

The screenwriter’s job is to cover a lot of emotional ground in the scene, so it’s good for their actors to have something to do.

If they stay focused on each other throughout the entire scene, then that can sometimes make scenes feel unrealistic or fake.

One way around this problem would be giving an actor something to do. This bit might include things like a character is fiddling with something, cracking a smoke, or shifting in their place during a scene.

This lends more credibility and makes the scene feel more honest and human-like.

Remain Open To Adjustments

It’s important to have a plan, but be open and flexible with your team. You may find unexpected discoveries along the way that can help you come up with an even more creative idea if things don’t go as planned.

Helpful blocking notes for the next scene could come from many sources such as actors getting their character’s inner life down pat.

Or simply making tiny adjustments in direction like moving them slightly left to right in the shot, which helps create better visual storytelling during scenes.

Blocking In Filmmaking – Wrapping Up

This concludes our guide on blocking in filmmaking. Mastery of blocking is essential for any good director. It’s what turns a mediocre scene into a great one.

Film is a visual language, after all, so telling a story through visuals is very important.

In order to get a good grasp on how to block a scene just keep in mind the things we discussed.

Planning is key. Always compose your scene based on the feelings and actions of your characters.

Cool camera angles are bad if they get in the way of clear and clean visual storytelling,

Make sure your actors are bringing the scenes to life through action, and always be open to trying new things.

That’s pretty much all you’ll need. It’s also always a good idea to take an example from your favorite filmmakers and movies.

If Quentin Tarantino could make a career out of it, why can’t you?

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