Killing Your Darlings / by Zachary Robinson

It isn't just in writing where you have to kill your darlings. This is the first in a series where I'm going to talk about some scenes I love that I had to cut.

First, you should watch the shots that were cut. The full version of the scene can be found at www.layerframe.com, and the cut scene is below.

So what makes these shots special? Let's talk about each of them individually.

The first shot is a rack focus, slide and reveal. The goal was to shoot a person doing an activity in NYC that feels very 'New York.' DUMBO Boulders sits right under the Manhattan Bridge and has this wonderful backdrop of the financial district in NYC. It's a pretty magical place that just doesn't feel real in such an urban area.

The shot itself has a couple of great elements. First of all, there's just enough motion to draw your eye to Emily (our talent) in the background while she's out of focus. As we notice her, so does the camera, and the focus shifts. We have a little bit of camera motion in the shot (that's a Edelkrone sliderPlus - it shifts during the slide which is frustrating; it's unlikely I'll rent another). We also have some great dynamic color from a tow truck's light being reflected on the kiosk, and there's this incredible backdrop of the World Trade Center sitting behind a climber topping out. All the elements come together to make an interesting shot. 

So why didn't it make it? Well, the shoot was a pitch for a client, and focused on using their product. So the order of the shots had significance. The final video shows Emily prepping to climb, then climbing. For continuity, this shot would have to come at the end of the video - we can't have her on the wall climbing then the next shot her getting ready to climb. On top of that, those beautiful bars in the foreground that create parallax separate us from Emily. It's distancing the viewer from the action, and almost makes a bit of a voyeuristic moment happen. In the end I cut it because having it as the opening shot didn't make sense and Emily finishing the climb felt like a natural end to the scene. So adding this shot, while pretty, made the scene feel too long. In the end it's my fault for not shooting a wide pan to set the scene that didn't have Emily already climbing.

The second scene is a slow-mo money shot of Emily chalking up.  Both these shots were at 1am in Brooklyn and I was working with some practical lights which you can see in the first scene, and a couple of crappy lights from a cheap kit. I decided to backlight it (all epic shots should be backlit, right?) which helped show off the chalk itself. I got lucky and it had the added benefit of adding a really nice glow to Emily's red hair when she exits the frame. I shot it in slow-mo hoping it would feel epic. 

In the final cut of the video, the 'reveal' shot is Emily hopping up onto the wall while the camera slides left. Then we move into a series of cuts timed to the music that follow her on a route up the wall. All of this smooth, continuous motion matched the story and music well. Unfortunately, inserting a close up of her chalking up stopped this motion - no matter where I put it in the sequence it felt like a break in the scene, not a continuation. In my head I had built the whole sequence around this one shot. But in the end I realized that I was using slow motion just to have slow motion, and it didn't add to the story. You have to kill your darlings.