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Justin M. Stoddard

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Staging the Scene
January 6, 2010 — 3:04 pm

As I have a specific film project in mind to kick off this summer, I’ve been contemplating differing ways to use the video camera to stage a scene. This has proven to be an interesting mental exercise as for three weeks (or so), I’ll be a one-man show. Meaning, I’ll be the actor, director, cinematographer, sound-guy and producer of this little project. Hell, I don’t even know if it will work; but there’s something both liberating and a bit scary about undertaking each of the roles listed above.


I mean, I have to figure out all this stuff by myself.

Which brings me to a dilemma. Yesterday, while watching the show Man Vs. Wild with the girls, I realized exactly what I did not like about the show (not the genre of show, which I love, but that specific program).

The whole thing is staged.

Unlike some other shows of the same sort, Bear Grylls is never in any real danger. He has a full camera crew stalking him at all times. This is illustrated by the oh, so cleaver ways the editing team makes sure you realize this from show to show (the camera man’s shadow, Bear talking off screen, etc…). This is done (post-edit) so you have a hint that even though there’s all this drama, there’s no real danger. So yeah, when he’s scaling that canyon wall, there’s a guy with a camera right next to him shooting the footage. Which leads me to ask, no matter how dangerous Bear makes his plight out to be, (with dramatic music effects and that heightened, slightly stressed out voice of his) I’m always thinking to myself…”Dude! There’s a guy(s) right next to you filming the whole thing, doing the same things you are..with a camera rig in their hands! How freaking hard can that be?”.

I don’t know if this is fair or not. But, really, it all just points back to my dislike of “staged scenes”. Even in photography, I try to avoid this. I’d rather catch something in its natural state rather than position something to make it look appealing. I’ve seen plenty of breath-taking photographs that, in the end, I’ve devalued simply because they were “staged”. I don’t know what this says about me. I don’t know if this is a simple preference or something much deeper. But, it does present a problem.

There are a couple of scenes I want to film during this upcoming journey of mine that, unfortunately, will require some amount of staging. These will be poignant, slightly emotional vignettes. The only way I can capture these scenes if to set up the camera and “stage the scene”. Something that is meant to be an impromptu moment will actually be planned out. Those heart-felt words or actions will have been thought over for months ahead of time.

That seems like cheating to me. But, pursuing other solo documentaries, I see that this technique is done all the time.

I wonder how they come to terms with it.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (2)

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  1. One word. “Survivorman”.

    Smaller camera’s that are never out of arms reach so he’s ready to share things as they happen. He does stage shots, but he always has to come back to get his cameras.

    Comment by Greg "Kaz" — January 7, 2010 @ 6:32 am

  2. Nature and staging don’t have to be mutually exclusive. For instance:

    Enjoying one particular aesthetic approach doesn’t preclude enjoyment of others.

    Comment by Eric D. Dixon — January 10, 2010 @ 6:41 pm

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