What is blocking in a scene?
Blocking is the first step of shooting a scene. When blocking, a director figures out each actor’s marks, which refer to the places where they will hold static positions before moving somewhere else. Then, the director chooses a first position for the camera. The actors and camera crew rehearse the scene, check for major problems (like trip hazards or lighting issues), and ensure that the camera can easily follow the action. Based on this rehearsal, the director will make adjustments to the blocking. Only then does the first take happen.
Since this is a first take, it probably won’t be good. The actors will miss a beat or botch a line. Additionally, a few issues with the blocking might come up. The camera angle might work for one character but not the other. A prop that frames an early part of the shot gets in the way in the later part. Or, the marks and movement just don’t feel quite natural.
Take after take after take, these issues get solved. In a lot of ways, blocking feels like a puzzle rather than a work of art. Only by trying many possible solutions can the director find the right one.
What are the elements of blocking?
High-quality blocking has several elements including:
- Many marks, many crosses: People don’t usually stand still, and film characters do it even less. Actors should move between many different marks. When at their marks, they also should be doing something; eating, cooking, brushing their teeth, playing, or fidgeting are all good options.
- Dynamic camera: The audience can be moved around at will. This is a massive advantage of film over other media. Take advantage of the space you’re shooting in!
- Smart framing: Most scenes in your film will be medium shots. When combined with complicated blocking, these medium shots can disrupt the audience’s sense of space. Unless you’re an auteur and want to show off ten-minute uninterrupted takes, it’s a good idea to block for wide or establishing shots. This will help re-situate the audience.
How do you nail blocking?
The same way you get to the Oscars. There is no shortcut to experience here. Professional directors spend their entire careers learning blocking and sometimes still need ten takes to get it right. It’s a patience game.
That said, you can take some of the stress off by prepping in advance. Using our free storyboard template and our free guide to storyboarding, you can create highly-detailed storyboards complete with shot lists. These will reduce the blocking work you need to do on filming day, giving you enough time to adjust and adjust until it’s perfect.