It can be difficult to push your audience to identify with the characters while only using camera movement. But it is possible. Today, we’ll review the dolly shot and learn how you can use them creatively to bring the audience into your characters’ world.
Dolly shots in film
Before setting up your dolly tracking shot
It's important that you understand the fundamentals of tracking shots using a dolly. Before getting in too deep, let's get to the basics.
DOLLY SHOT DEFINITION
What is a dolly shot?
A dolly shot is a specific kind of tracking shot where we follow a subject on an apparatus called a dolly. Dolly shots can be combined with other camera movements to accentuate the theme, or message, of the scene.
Dolly shot examples:
Watch: The Best Dolly and Tracking Shots in Film
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So, let's dive into dolly shots!
The dolly is usually on wheels or a track in order to give us a steady, and smooth, shot. This camera movement allows you to move in and out of scenes at will.
dolly shot examples
What are some standard dolly shot examples?
The dolly can be used a multitude of different ways we’ll cover later in the article, but let’s dive in on some of the standard moves. Traditionally, the dolly takes us in or out of a scene. We can push in on a face, like this clip from Interstellar where Anne Hathaway explains love.
Other times you can move out of a scene to reveal the scope of where you left the characters or subject of the narrative.
This dolly shot from the Kanye West “Power” music video is a great example. We pull back from a seated Kayne. The camera dollies backward, allowing us to get the breadth of Kanye’s “power” in this scene.
What about television?
One show that exploited the pristine quality of a moving camera was Mad Men.
Many of the episodes ended on a dolly shot. These shots literally pull us out of the world. Like our time spent with these people is done for now, and we’re invited back next week.
These shots helps us understand the pace of the people in the scene and build emotion about where they’re going.
But what if you want to follow with the characters instead of leaving them behind?
After Nedry falls down the hill, we use the dolly shot to follow him to the tree. We literally track him while he ties up his rope. This is an excellent cinematography pun.
shot listing the dolly shot
How to shot list your dolly shots
So you have the perfect scene for an elegant dolly shot. Now what? You need to put it in a shot list so your DP can anticipate and prep. These shots take lots of planning. You’ll have to scout for where to lay tracks, and clear the terrain so you get the smoothest shot possible.
And specific camera movements matter too. Are you moving forward, backward. Circular? Zooming? What lens do you need? Do you need a crane on the dolly?
You want capture all these important details in your shot list. With StudioBinder, these details are already listed as options, so you only need to check them. This allows you to create creative combinations that make your movie come to life.
We also made collaborating and finalizing the shot list fast and efficient. You can share your thoughts, storyboards, and plans with our e-mail client. Just click the name of the person you want to get the shot list and it’ll show up in their inbox seconds later.
This gives you more time to think about the intangibles. For example, what if you want to make your standard dolly shot into a tracking shot?
TRACKING SHOT DEFINITION
What is a tracking shot?
A tracking shot is the act of moving the camera, either on a dolly, steadicam, handheld, or crane across terrain.
Just one key tracking shot example:
This famous tracking shot from Touch of Evil uses a many different camera moves and techniques to keep the audience on the edge of their seat.
So what happens when you want to do a tracking shot and use a dolly?
The camera movement here transitions to many different camera angles.
Got a walk and talk? Consider using the dolly tracking shot
The easiest way to pick out a dolly tracking shot is to identify the smoothness of the camera as it moves while it follows a character, or group of characters. Check out this dolly tracking shot on the famous Philadelphia Art Museum run from Rocky II.
There are lots of different camera movements worked into this montage. But we move with Rocky as he crosses the streets of Philadelphia. This shot emphasizes how far Rocky has run, and how determined he is to get there.
This shot in Full Metal Jacket helps us understand all eyes are on Lee Ermey. The men don’t matter. They’re privates. But this guy is a Sergeant. He’s in the middle and deserves respect.
These shots are often combined with other camera moves to create a unique look that’s right for the scene. One of those shots is the zoom.
What are zoom shots?
ZOOM SHOT DEFINITION
What is a zoom shot?
A zoom shot is the technique of changing the focal length of a lens (and hence the angle of view) during a shot.
It’s fair to say the easiest way to define a zoom is to see one.
But how does that become the dolly zoom shot?
DOLLY ZOOM SHOT DEFINITION
What is a dolly zoom shot (zolly)?
The dolly zoom shot is a combination of the dolly and zoom. It was originally called the "Vertigo shot," after the Hitchcock film of the same name.
Notice how Hitchcock uses it to show Jimmy Stewart’s fear of heights in the scene. It’s an extrapolation of what he’s feeling inside. Hitchcock mixes the dolly zoom shot with a point of view shot to give us an intimate portrayal of the horror.
He’s afraid to climb the stairs, and it costs Kim Novak her life.
Arguably, the most famous dolly zoom shot is from Jaws. It’s combined with that great Spielberg face to show Chief Brody’s abject horror as he realizes his kids are in the water with a Great White Shark.
There are lots of dolly zoom shots used in films over the years and for different purposes.
But there’s one filmmaker that stands out above all for his use of the dolly shot. In fact, it’s very easy to define dolly shots in his work because it’s one of his characteristics of being an auteur. So, who is it?
Example of dolly shots in film
The Spike Lee dolly shot example
Spike Lee burst onto the scene with She’s Gotta Have It, but became part of the mainstream when Do The Right Thing came out in 1989. Lee employed a completely unique take on the shot to allow us to travel with his characters.
This is an important question. Now that we understand the film producer job description, how do we get started?
As you can see in this montage from Spike Lee's work, the effect is used in a variety of ways. Matt Zoller Seitz and Richard Cruz point out in their Indiewire article on Lee’s shot, that it’s disruptive. It reminds the audience they’re in a movie and he’s giving them a point of view. He’s letting us know he believes the story on screen. And we should too.
The shot completely solidifies the themes and emotions stirring within the story.
dolly shots in film
The close-up shots
So now that you’re an expert on what’s a dolly shot, there’s plenty more for you to check out! Think you know everything about the close up? Think again! We spent time dissecting lots of different examples of the camera angle, from Spielberg to Steve McQueen. We can’t wait to hear about your favorites and to see what you create next!