Blocking was originally a theater term that refers to the positioning and movement of the actors in the stage. In cinema, camera and lights are added to the equation.

Blocking is an essential part of rehearsal because doing it in advance will speed up principal photography as the actors and camera operators will know how they will move on the set.

From Wikipedia

“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.”

Blocking a motion picture involves deciding where and how actors will move and which line of dialogue they will deliver where. Some of these may be suggested in the script, but the director has freedom to alter and augment the original text. The more “trained” actors are during blocking, the faster principal photography will be.

Sketch the Scene

One way to block actors and camera is to use drawings and diagrams to quickly show what you have in mind. Hand-drawn pictures are fine, although many computer programs make the job easier. Floor plans and storyboards are often combined because together they help the crew visualize everything needed.

Floor plans are a good way to see the overhead layout of a scene with actors and camera positions. Floor plans are quite convenient when shooting a scene with an elaborate setup with many actors and movements.

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 where the actors and camera should go is only the first step of blocking. It is also a good idea to talk about body language – posture. A director must pay close attention to how actors use their bodies and what is signified by their postures and gestures. Though characterization should define posture (see picture below), the director has to approve what actors come up with and change accordingly.

The Tourist Angelina Jolie Johnny Depp

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.