How do you effectively use different camera angles to build tension in your scene? By learning from the masters! We studied the three-way stand off scene in Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. The New Young Peers were tasked with using the same camera technique – a sequence of various medium to extreme close-ups and point-of-view shots – to build drama.
The final climax
Sergio Leone shows us worried poker faces with scheming eyes flinching, close-ups of hands, either suspiciously calm or nervously twitching towards bullet belts and revolvers – all with the aim of building up to the final climax. The shoot-out between the three cowboys is shown as a long shot at the end of a disorienting sequence of close-ups. And it reveals who is still standing.
The young people’s task was to translate Leone’s tension building technique to a more comedic scenario: The story of two friends who rival for a bar of chocolate. Too polite to just grab and eat the sweet, we observe a stand-off moment not unsimilar to Sergio Leone’s masterfully crafted scene. Just with one distinct difference. The scene’s climax does not build to a chocolate-based shoot out, but ends with a ‘stranger’ stealing the bar and munching it in front of the baffled pair.
It was a lot of fun shooting these films in the college hallways and canteen. Students and staff were wondering what we were up to and why were staging a Sergio Leone-type chocolate stand-off. All filmmaking groups followed the same rough brief, but the final films were nicely varied
Just two examples: One group told the scene in Leone tribute: close-ups of the chocolate, hungry mouths licking their lips and eyes checking for the right moment to pounce, only for the camera to move to a medium long shot of the cheeky chocolate thief grabbing the bar and walking off. The film ends with a close-up on one friend’s baffled face, eyes twitching and all.
Another group used a variety of angles. A long shot revealed the film’s location – chocolate bar in the foreground, the two friends in the background. The climax was built through various close-ups of hungry faces staring. Then moved to a medium shot of a hand reaching across their heads to grab the sweet. The film ends with a medium long shot of a girl gleefully munching in front of the two exasperated friends.
Sergio Leone would be proud!