A Note on Shaky Camera Work

February 21, 2008

Earlier today I got an email from StudioDaily, a pretty fascinating online industry magazine and resource website about filmmaking, visual effects and editing.  In the letter,one of the headlines was this:

Over at Film & Video, Bryant Frazer talks with director George A. Romero about his return to low-budget filmmaking with Diary of the Dead using Panasonic HDX900 and HVX200 camcorders.

So naturally I emailed that quote off to the first friend I thought of when I think of zombie movies, and he responded pretty quickly saying that he didn’t like the new “Blair Witch sort of style that’s coming back.”  That I can completely understand, so I responded with the following passage, which is the basis for this post:

I kind of like the shaky cam style that’s on the rise, it’s more viral and amateurish, and it blurs the lines between amateur films and professional ones, making it so that it doesn’t matter as much anymore to the audience if it’s a “real movie” because they can’t always tell, so it’s not worth bothering about.  If it’s good, it’s good, and it deserves praise, if it’s bad, well, they leave it alone (or flame it, the bastards).  Sometimes it’s hard to see or hard to handle (I got mildly nauseous watching Cloverfield), but I think it’s a cool way to kind of get the super-hype of paying high attention to lighting, costumes, and even set design a little bit out of the way, and letting amateurs get more into the field, simply because the cheapest way to film (handheld and shaky) is often the most real feeling, because it’s not completely stable like a statue, nor is it to the extent that Cloverfield was (though that was pretty wonderfully done).  Basically, it give me even more of a chance to go out and shoot random stuff, put it all together in some sort of cohesive, understandable and entertaining story, and then market it and get attention because it looks real, it could be real, and if it’s good, people will appreciate either the documentary-ness of it or the realistic acting and detail of the thing.  So basically I don’t put anywhere near as much effort into the preparation of the film that Hollywood does, and I can still come out with a viable film to show at festivals and gain a reputation among the biggies of the business.  So that’s why I like it.  As a style, though, you’re right, it’s hard to take sometimes.

Now, that being said, I haven’t seen the trailer for this, but I’m going to look it up and see what I can find, heh.

NOTE: You can see the trailer here.  And I actually was a little disappointed with it when I watched it.



  1. I’m a Romero fan, so I can say that I’m definitely looking forward to it. By looking forward to it I mean “I can’t wait for it to come out on DVD so that I can rent it”. By renting it I mean “I can’t wait to add it to my netflix list”.

    I love a good gory movie, and Romero has always delivered that in my opinion. I’m not sure how I feel about the shaky-camera though.. It certainly gives a more indie-film feel to it. I approve of that. I’m tired of Hollywood vomiting out movies that are so laden with special effects and CGI that you have trouble seeing the plot through the flames.

    Note: I couldn’t get the bloody myspace trailer to work, so I looked it up on youtube.

  2. Great, Clementine, thanks for the comment. I’m sick of Hollywood cranking out overly-produced movies too, as you said, but the recent shift to shaky camerawork is interesting not only because it gives film a realistic indie feel, but because it used to be hardcore against the rules of professional filmmaking. Now, apparently, it’s cool to throw the rules out and start over… which I think is great. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you around here again sometime!

  3. A great movie that has been completely RUINED but the shaky camera work. FELON . Dam that pissed me right off.

    How can the people and directors think that that is great??? It sucks BIG TIME.

    When is this going to stop?

  4. I’m going to assume you’re talking about Cloverfield, and that’s a matter of opinion, which you’re entitled to. I can agree on some parts of the film that it’s a bit much. Also, as a whole, the “shaky camera movement” is (at least in my view) maybe not being used as effectively as it could be. I think it’s one of those pioneering stages where it gets used a lot, and then it gets toned down as people learn where it does and doesn’t work. It happens to everything. The super-slow-mo Matrix shots were used everywhere when that came out, and now it’s not quite as common. With Cloverfield, they were going for a specific feeling with the shaky camera style they employed, and I think they achieved that very well. As far as the film goes as a film, maybe less sporadic camera movement could have made it better, but remember, without that movement, it’d be an entirely different movie, since so much of what made that believable and good was the camera work itself. In the end it comes down to perception and taste, as always.

  5. shaky camera worked in the bournes and thats about it. i saw it try to be used in eagle eye and transporter and it failed EPICLY. fighting/action movies should stop trying so hard to make it work.

  6. With the popularity of large screen TV’s of late, the shaky camera work is all over the tube. It is nauseating, it doesn’t promote realism – I can shake my head and my brain automatically steadies the shot. Hollywood needs to smarten up and write better scripts. You should not have to use stupid gimmicks like shaky camera work to emphasize any point.

  7. I walked out of District 9 today because the shaky camera work made me nauseous. I was too close to the screen, third row, but the combination of shaky camera and prawns was likely to get me out of there anyway. That movie was awful, and I love sci-fi.

    Shaky camera work should be used at specific times to heighten tension. It shouldn’t pervade entire films. It’s simply not enjoyable, and I have a steady stomach for real life aviation/automotive G’s.

    I’m not a horror movie fan. But, those movies use sound to make their point. A horror movie isn’t scary without sound. At the most frightening parts, the film goes from silent to a jarring, loud, dissonant volume. It’s very simple. But, it’s used at the right times. Shaky camera needs the same consideration.

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