What makes me believe? What makes you believe?

What makes me believe? What makes me feel that punch in my chest, that stab in my gut, that crescendo of cheeriness that ends up with smiling out loud like a demented buffoon?

The acting, obviously? The story, stupid? The script, the setting, the score?

Yes, of course. To all of the above. Because the absence of any of the above and you don’t have a movie or a music video or a commercial.

But what makes you gasp, what makes you sing, what makes you just fall into the scene like you have been teleported into the car alongside your hero…is the way the scene is shot.

IF a scene is shot well then you don’t need five minutes of dialogue to show they are in conflict. You don’t need an expressive actor to show he is an oddball. You don’t need dialogue to explain he faces a decision. To explain he feels alone. To explain that she is fond of her family.

As the saying goes: show, not tell

A good example of this is in the film Drive. In one of the scenes the driver sits in a room which is covered in darkness except for two places – the TV showing a basketball game and a desk with scattered scribbled notes. Showing that these are the only two things important to him without a word being spoken.

Above: The focused light makes it clear that work is the only thing important to the driver in film Drive.
Above: Ending scene from the film Cast Away.
An obvious example is the final scene in Cast Away when Chuck (Tom Hanks) finds himself at both a metaphorical and literal crossroads in his life. Positioning Chuck very small and in the centre of the frame ads to the sense of being alone and lost whilst revealing his four obvious paths.
The strongest beliefs are formed by what you see. And what you see was manipulated by the cinematographer. You may not know exactly why as you drift out of the cinema you feel the way you do, but you can be sure that it’s because of months of storyboarding, experimenting and intricate lighting plans.
This is the science of making us believe.

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