Blocking was originally a theatre term that refers to the positioning and movement of the actors in the stage. An essential part of rehearsal, blocking is necessary for a smooth performance.
The term derives from the practice of 19th century theatre directors such as Sir W. S. Gilbert who worked out the staging of a scene on a miniature stage using blocks to represent each of the actors.
In cinema, camera and lights are added to the equation. Blocking a motion picture involves the precise synchrony and movement of the actors in relation to camera and lights. The director is the one responsible for blocking. He must guide the cast to accommodate his vision for the arrangement or composition of the frame. The more “trained” actors are during blocking, the faster principal photography will be.
Sketch the Scene
One efficient way to block actors and camera is to use drawings. Hand-drawn pictures are fine, although computers make the job easier. Floor plans and storyboards are often combined for a faster process but also to help the crew visualize everything needed for the shoot to happen.
Floor plans are used to design the layout of a scene with actors and camera positions. Floor plans are quite convenient when shooting a scene with an elaborate setup. Too many actors and ambitious camera movements (dollies, cranes) constitute a good definition of “elaborate setup.”
Storyboards are also common. They are a collection of frames that tells the story visually. The frames illustrate the more important shots in the movie. Storyboards are quite convenient when the directors is explaining exactly what type of composition he desires.
Attention to Body Language
Deciding on the positions of the subject and camera are only the first and second steps of blocking. The third is body language - posture. A director must pay close attention to how actors use their bodies and what is signified by their postures and gestures. Quite regularly, professional directors instruct actors on how to move their hands and legs and eyes. It is attention to detail that separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls.
In the frame above, you can see two actors with contrasting postures. Angelina Jolie, impeccable, holds herself straight, with air of nobility. Her back does not touch the chair. Her hands are held in front of her bosom – we can tell this is not comfortable.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Johnny Depp, slouched in his chair, legs crossed, supporting his arms. He looks tired and uncouth. But not Angelina. She's refined, elegant, sophisticated... A lot information is conveyed by posture. Keep that in mind.
- Tips to a Future Film Director
- Blocking: What is it and how do it efficiently?
- Coverage: Dos and Don'ts
- Everything to know about Shooting Script
- Mise-en-Scene: the director's craft