Three L’s: Lens, Light and Location… Advice For Filmmakers from Christopher McQuarrie

There are so many facets to direction, but Chris McQuarrie is bang on here… Lens, Light and Location.

It’s just part of this killer interview he did with Chris Lockhart which is worth the watch. But this part REALLY resonated with so many lessons I have learned the hard way.

Lens, Light and Location.

Of course we are assuming a great script, enough money and time to shoot, great actors, costumes, support teams… but even without those things, Lens, Light and Location is a very strong guiding set of principles that will elevate a zero budget movie. Want a good example? Watch Tangerine, shot on an iPhone.  

Mastering these principles are the foundation of filmmaking, and being able to think FAST within these disciplines is what makes a director better at their job.

In some ways this is all ‘narrative film geometry’ that allows the script, cast and all the other elements be brilliant. It answers so many things for audiences too, so they can continue to unpack the delicious mystery that is unfolding in front of them.

Effectively, the principles of lens (which also includes the choice of where to place the lens and also move it if needed), light and location, draws the focus of the viewer so the director can better manage their experience of the story. These three things being ‘right’ will allow what is ‘happening’ to work even more effectively.

Getting good at it also saves time and money because we can learn to get it right faster, with less experimentation and with more confident coverage.

The cheats and hacks forged and hard won in the crucible of experience, will also save valuable resources and routinely get a director out of budget and schedule challenges.

Backlight alone is perhaps the single easiest way to elevate ANY shot (that’s the light part).

I would add, getting distance between the cast and the background, and shooting on a slightly longer lens, to help define the actors is a simple trick (that’s the lens part).

Avoiding drab locations in favour of interesting ones, and always with an ear for sound (that’s the location part).

Of course I could go on… Camera position, camera movement, the placement of shadows, the framing, the colours, the evocation of the location…

And we haven’t even got to the actors here, which is where ALL our attention should be placed.

You can watch the whole interview with Christopher Lockhart below… It’s worth it. And as Chris said, great question Pea Woodruff.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones
Filmmaker, Author and Firewalk Instructor
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What am I doing now?
Directing splinter unit on Mission: Impossible 8
Exec producing The Enfield Poltergeist

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One Response to Three L’s: Lens, Light and Location… Advice For Filmmakers from Christopher McQuarrie

  1. Pea Woodruff November 18, 2020 at 3:53 pm #

    This is awesome. He’s just brilliant!

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