Is there any filmmaker whose personality is more apparent when you watch his films than Quentin Tarantino? In his own quirky way, Tarantino has introduced us to some of the most shocking and moving emotional moments on film.
Of course, Quentin Tarantino’s writing style is a huge part of what’s made him so successful, but more than that, it is his shot choices that bring the audience deeper into the narrative.
Here are some of the most powerful ways Tarantino enhances story and character development with just his shot list.
Watch: Mastering Shot Lists - Quentin Tarantino
To see the shots that inspired this article, check out our video on Quentin Tarantino's Shot List.
Staged Wide Shots
Tarantino himself once said, “I want to top expectations. I want to blow you away.”
One of the ways he does that is with expansive wide shots -- not surprising from a man who loves spaghetti westerns so much. His wide shots let you take in every detail of the world he’s built for you.
Whether it’s the Bride battling the Crazy 88’s or Django surveying a burned-out home, Tarantino understands the power of the wide-shot to not only create tension, but to utilize the environment in revealing the desires of his characters.
Extreme Close Ups
Has there been anything more nerve-wracking and exciting than watching the Bride “wiggle her big toe” in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)? This is a movie with insane fight sequences, but the way her toe is framed, you can’t look away.
The same way he goes wide to give you an expansive view, Quentin Tarantino can dive in close to give you detail on what’s important.
In Tarantino’s hands an eye-patched face or a pair of smoke-blowing lips reveal more about the characters than dialog ever could. As Tarantino says, “It’s not only dialogue, it’s also mood, situation and mise en scene”.
A “crash zoom” is a sudden, rapid zoom in on a subject, and you start to see it in Quentin Tarantino’s work from Kill Bill onward. It’s an intense effect, and heightens the drama around any moment.
It’s like an extreme close up on steroids.
Saying that characters in Tarantino films are often in peril is an understatement, and his use of the crash zoom heightens those feelings of dread and disorientation.
Stephen rushing to Calvin Candie’s aid or the Bride waking up from her coma are moments of maximum drama, and Tarantino appropriately employs the technique to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
The trademark Quentin Tarantino shot does an effective job putting the audience in the moment. No one ever said, “Yes, being inside a trunk is the most magical thing you can do,” and yet somehow it still works.
Despite being his most well known visual signature, they aren’t present in all of his movies. But we can forgive Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015), as trunks didn’t exist in the Old West.
Tarantino wants his audience to feel as if they are right there with the characters, and the closeness and confinement of this shot ensures they will be.
When we look up at the Bride at the end of Kill Bill, we understand Sofie Fatale’s fear. When the Bride finds herself on the other side, looking up at Budd in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), we understand just how much the tables have turned.
The Final Reel
Ultimately, films by Quentin Tarantino bring the subconscious to the surface, and the use of these shot devices allows for the emotions of the characters to resonate more deeply with the audience.
It is that care and attention to the viewer that has kept his films exciting and fresh for almost three decades.
Tarantino has a great affinity for the audience, and it’s easy to still see the movie-obsessed video store clerk he was in the 90’s. His movies are filled with the passion of a fan who wants to share something cool with us.
As he once said, “I don’t think the audience is this dumb person lower than me. I am the audience.”Still curious about cool shots? You can learn more about the filming styles of Christopher Nolan and Nicholas Refn at our youtube channel. And if you’re ready to make your own, StudioBinder’s shot list tools can get you filming in no time!
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