Film Friday: Teaching One Perfect Shot

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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Followers of the nebulous, broad-based collective known as “Film Twitter,” as well as social-media-savvy film fans in general, might be aware of the Twitter account known as One Perfect Shot. The concept is simple enough, and will be familiar to anyone who’s used a film textbook: The authors take individual frames they think are particularly iconic, emblematic, or just plain beautifully composed, and tweet them out to their followers.

This account has inspired a mostly-abandoned parody account and I’m sure that if you look hard enough, you can find a more detailed takedown essay, presumably based on the idea that film is more than the sum of its static frames, and that using screen grabs robs movies of a crucial component and maybe turns them into dorm-room posters.

In other words, I’m sure that takedown exists and this is not that takedown.

Though if it were a takedown I would use this frame to encapsulate it:


(Honestly, I would use this one to encapsulate as many situations as I could get away with.)

Anyway, even though this isn't a takedown, I do understand those objections – and while I hesitate to add “better than most,” I will say that editing film books at Macmillan has made me particularly aware of both the delights and challenges of choosing “one perfect shot.”

It is, I admit, one of my favorite parts of my job. Of course, it’s not solely my job – in fact, in most cases, when we pull together the visual program for our books, our superhumanly talented film authors have particular movies, scenes, or even shots in mind to use for examples. But I do sometimes find myself in the position of “getting” those shots (which is to say, taking a screenshot of a particular frame), or occasionally suggesting a particular moment that might be worth highlighting in the book. And it’s a lot of fun! I also write a column for The A.V. Club called Together Again, and whenever possible I try to use frames for my visuals there, so I’m not relying on stills (which are often much higher resolution, but are not actually exact shots from the film in question) to get my point across.

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As much fun as it is to try finding frames from a movie that perfectly encapsulate one of its ideas or visual qualities, though, there are limitations on this method. Most notably: in movies, the camera often, well, moves. Not always, and not always a lot; some directors rely far more on cutting than on camera movements. But in most movies, the camera tracks or pans or pushes in or pulls out, and those movements tell you things about the story, the characters, or the filmmaker. One Perfect Shot captures a certain type of shot very well. But still images by definition can’t tell the whole story with moving pictures. This can make visual aids in teaching film trickier to use, especially when instructors don’t want to screen an entire film (or even haul out the projector or DVD player for such a short segment).

We’re starting to get closer to an age where examples of great or important shots will move like, you know, movies. Our LaunchPad for the newest edition of The Film Experience has actual film clips – short excerpts from actual feature films that better illustrate some of the concepts (particularly involving cinematography and sound) than single or even multiple frames ever could. One Perfect Shot has started to incorporate videos and video essays into its repertoire; I guess that’s still the optimal social platform, because Vine videos are too short (though maybe Instagram videos could work?). There’s also Every Frame a Painting, a video essay series with a lot of instructional value, and less in-depth but still fun compilation videos like this one. Film teachers will have to continue piecing together solutions, at least until we all watch holographic film clips inside of our eyelids. (Holographic eyelid clips are not yet available in the print edition of The Film Experience.) We'd love to hear more from film instructors about how they keep the movement in moving pictures.