With District 9 coming out (the very original interpretation of a Sci-fi) I thought it would be good to let you inside the making of a movie that’s a little out of the ordinary. Cloverfield (2008) was our first mainstream, completely handheld filmed movie to come out, and it’s become somewhat of a cult for any movie lover. Here is a scene that reveals the alien in all its glory, and really emphasises the tone of the film.
It’s the very beginning of chapter 15 - 01:04:14 to 01:06:55. Follow it along as I depict the filming of this all so brilliant sci-fi.
So yes, this film has used a ‘handheld’ camera all the way through. They call it handheld as it has the result of what seems to be a home video camera. It’s designed it give the movie a very action packed and realistic feel. The camera actually used was an extremely expensive one, usually sat on a tripod. This is because clearly the quality of the picture from a feature film camera is of much better condition than a home video camera.
We see an extended shot of the dropped camera on some wreckage. It’s dark, the materials are torn apart and the only sounds we hear are birds flying past and wind. It’s a very isolated shot. We aren’t given any other picture for a good 15 seconds. It makes you feel almost claustrophobic and you gain a real sense of destruction from the image provided to you. It makes you believe what the alien is causing is very serious and confusing as we don’t really understand what the material is that we’re looking at.
We begin to hear the walkie-talkie in the background to give some sort of evidence that there is widespread panic. It mentions that the alien is still alive, but it’s almost hard to focus on what it’s receiving as you’re so confused by the picture. This film was great for putting in subtle clues throughout to give away the story. You’ll need to watch it a good 10 times before you fully understand the story.
The material begins to move, and as it does the camera falls with it to make us believe this is a home video camera filming. A huge Hollywood camera wouldn’t fall so easily, but obviously it’s being encouraged to move by the cinematographer.
We hear the girl panicking and screaming at the boy who seems to be in pain. She’s trying to move him but we don’t quite gain access of this image, which again makes the situation unsettling as we do not know what’s actually going on. The camera begins to move a little more dramatically as she tries to move the boy, and it almost matches the panic given from her. The image is distorted, and the girl really seems in trouble.
Very quietly we hear from the walkie-talkie ‘god help us’ – Something unusual to hear through one which makes the situation that even more scary and realistic. Films like to portray a sense of reality, and with someone stating this over a walkie-talkie makes it seems more believable as they’re reacting like any sane person would.
We can see an image of the boy who’s hurt. His t-shirt is covered in mud and he has scratches all over him. He’s been thrown about and this kind of makeup makes us understand his pain a little more. He couldn’t have a crisp white shirt has it wouldn’t be possible with the situation he’s currently facing.
As the camera is being pulled about we see a quick shot of a dead body – A small but big gesture towards the danger of the situation. As the man is being pulled by the apparent camera man, the camera seems to hang directly in the centre of the screen, on his face. We see the reaction to his pain and relate to that. Whenever an audience are given a close up of an expression, you can’t help but react in the same way. He’s in pain, and the audience feel this by only being able to focus on his face.
As they stop moving the body, the camera drops on the floor. This looks like a fairly casual shot, but actually it’s been framed perfectly – It’s known as the ‘golden mean’. The camera image is in thirds. The third on the left are the people, the other 2 thirds are of the scenery. We see the people in the foreground and are able to focus around their anxiety, and then we see this city which is destroyed.
The scene isn’t at all pleasant. The buildings are on fire, smoke is coming from all over, and the people are worried. The girl holds the boy’s head for protection, and offers the audience their relationship. She is caring over him and is obviously helpless but trying to protect him. We then see two army fighter planes fly fast into the city – Something which would normally not be witnessed. By the audience seeing this it makes it seem that even more terrifying that the army have to be involved. The noises from these planes are so loud that they seem invading and add to the scare factor.
The group of people move from where they have been resting, and we see the wreckage from the helicopter crash. It shows what this group have faced, and is a real indication of yet more destruction caused. They seem to run away from the camera, but as one person realised they run back to retrieve it. As the camera is picked up clumsily we hear a scream from the girl. As the boy who’s filming looks up, the camera follows him. The picture becomes unfocused, and then refocused again. This makes the whole armature filming aspect seem more likely, plus providing that handheld feeling again.
As the alien is revealed, we see the dirt. The dirt was a very good way to make the picture seem real. We’ve seen the damage that’s been caused; of course the glass over the lens of the camera isn’t going to be crystal clear. By having these specs on the camera (which have been edited on afterwards) creates the feeling of carelessness. These people don’t care if the camera is dirty; they’re trying to save their own lives. All these little elements really help set the scene.
The reveal is done very slowly, so the audience can finally gain a good picture of this creature that caused so many problems. The footsteps shake the camera and are very loud. This creates an illusion of the power that this alien has. The screen is completely filled by the alien, showing the greatness of it. Behind is a very cloudy sky as well. We couldn’t have a clear blue sky here because it isn’t a nice setting. Grey is a dull colour, and to have that for the sky makes the whole situation that little more depressing.
As the alien looks down, we notice the boy whose filming is talking to himself as he is panicking. Suddenly the alien leaps down and for a second we have a clear picture of the face. This particular filming is almost POV as it is exactly what the boy would be seeing. Up until now we have just been witnessing what they’ve been seeing. It’s not necessarily been filmed to make you think you’re that person. It’s almost like this camera is you, and you’re in the situation as well!
As the camera gets pulled up and down, in the dark and in light we hear the girl once again screaming to create a sense of urgency and more panic to the situation. We hear smashing, see the body being swung, and his arms and legs appear. It’s all very confusing, and you just want it to stop.
When the image finally does stop it’s dropped next to the boy. For an extended time it tries to either focus on grass, or on the boy’s face. It becomes uncomfortable as you realise what you’re seeing isn’t necessarily you involved, but it’s what this handheld has picked up. The changes on focus make it seem real and quite disturbing. Plus, with the face being centre to the screen there is no one else to watch, so the audience have to sit and watch this camera focusing awkwardly.
We hear the girl yet again screaming and running over. She knocks to camera out of the way, and as it jolts it cuts to a black screen. But before it does that bars appear to show the connection cutting to add that final piece of editing to make all this filming seem like it’s happening from an inexperienced cameraman.
Hopefully that’s enlightened your viewing of Cloverfield a little, and you’ll think about all these different elements that go into a film to make it great! Enjoy District 9.