Module Three: Visual Composition 1- Montage Preproduction

Reading & Writing

As someone who has recently graduated with a BFA in Film, going back to the basics can be boring, but it is important to refresh yourself on things. There are two three phases to a film: pre-production, production, and post- production. Today, we will be taking about the first two stages, pre-production and production. 


It is important to plan out your video ahead of time, to prevent any mishaves from happening that cannot be fixed.  Here is an 11 step pre-production checklist

1 . Start by defining your business objective

By determining your business objective, you can focus on the video’s outcomes.  What do you want your audience to do after they watch it?

2. Define your audience

You have to understand who your customers and prospects are in order to deliver a message for that specific audience. This requires research in order to narrow down your focus. What does your audience care about and how does your produce or service relate to that concern?

3. Share your budget

A budget must be established and shared in order for a production company to understand the scope of your project.

4. Develop your key messages

The ideas, themes, or topics you need to communicate in the video. This means you need to understand the unique value your product or service provides. 

5. Develop a creative brief

To provide enough information for production houses to build off of or to help communicate all key points and context in order to brainstorm with a team.

6. Concept Development 

When people come together to brainstorm ideas. This is where the significant portion of the video is created. 

7. Treatment 

A treatment is an outline of your creative approach. These are usually a page long and includes a summary of the general idea, style and the actions you plan on using. 

8. StoryBoard

A way to visually represent the flow of your video through drawings and illustrations. Storyboards help create a solid plan, hash out details, specific shots, and get rid of any ideas that may not work in the film. You don’t have to be artistic to draw a storyboard you just need to draw an outline of the concept. 

It may be important to include:

  • Technical details
  • Content 
  • Lines
  • Location
  • Time of day

9. Planned distribution 

Knowing where, how, and why people will be watching your video will help determine the structure for your video. 

10. Length of video

The length of your video depends on the willingness of your viewer. The rule of thumb is to keep the length between 60 to 90 seconds. 

11. Approvals

Get approvals from those involved to ensure that you did not leave anything out or included material they would have wanted.


How does a camera work?

According to The Bare Bones camera course for film and video, a lens gathers light reflected off of objects and then directs that light onto a surface, which gathers the pattern formed by the differences in brightness and color. 


The amount of light that travels through the lens and hits the film or CCD chip. The hole in the center of the lens is known as the aperture. If the aperture is big then it lets in a lot of light, but if it is small then it lets in little light. 

Color Temperature

Used as a way to identify different colors of light sources. Color filters are used to convert existing light to the color temperature, which includes tungsten- incandescent, mixed tungsten, and daylight/fluorescent, daylight, and shade. 

Setting Exposure

ISO, International Standards Organization, indicates the speed or sensitivity of the film. The lower the number, the less sensitive and the slower the film, while the higher the number, the more sensitive and the faster the film. 

Light Meters

Measure the amount of light hitting them. Avoid overexposure and underexposure. Overexposure means too much light is coming in and the image is washed out. Underexposure is when not enough light is coming in and the picture is too dark. 


A normal lens includes a horizontal area of about 25 degrees. Other lenses are classified as wide angle, has a larger area than normal, while telephoto, has a smaller area. A wide angle is shorter than a normal lens and a telephoto lens is longer. A zoom lens combines a wide range of focal lengths into a single lens.


The pattern  formed by sharp points of light come together to form a sharp clear image. 

Depth of Field

The area in front of your camera where everything is sharp and in focus. Here are some important things to know about depth of field: 

  • Your depth of field decreases as you increase your focal length
  • Your depth of field increases as you decrease your focal length
  • Your depth of field increases as you close down your aperture
  • Your depth of field increases as your subject as your subject gets farther away from the camera
  • You will always have less depth of field in front of your point of focus than behind it

How you set up a shot, your composition, will determine what the viewer will see. Here are some tips for to establish a good composition:

  • Use a tripod

Having a shaky shot can distract the viewer from your good composition.

  • Rule of thirds

Divide the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically. Place your elements along the lines, preferably at the center of one of the four points. 

  • Balance- Leading Looks

Allow for compositional weight by leaving enough room of the subject, known as lead room or head room. 

  • Balance- Masses

The objects in the frame balance each other our visually by weight by placing two objects within a frame. 

  • Balance – Color

Your eye naturally goes to white or the brightest color in the frame, so make that area the place where you want your viewers to look. 

  • Angles

There are three different types of camera placement, subject and camera are placed at the same height, camera is placed higher than the subject, or camera is placed lower than the subject.

  • Frame within a frame

Use elements in your location to create a full or partial frame within a frame. 

  • Leading Lines

A way to direct your viewer’s eyes to your subject. 

  • Background

Make sure the background stays in the background and does not overpower the subject. 

What type of camera movements can you use? There are three types:

  • Zoom Out 

From close up to wide shot. Used to reveal information.

  • Pan

Moves horizontal.

  • Tilt

Vertical movement. 

What are your options for camera shots? According to the New York Film Academy there are 12 popular camera shots, which include: 

The Aerial Shot

Filmed from the sky to help establish location. 

The Establishing Shot

Located at the beginning of a scene to establish where the action occurs. 

The Close Up

Frames the actor’s from above the shoulders, keeping the actors in full frame. This is commonly used to show an actor’s facial expressions. 

The Extreme Close-Up

To focus on small details in a scene, such as a part of an actor’s face or body. Due to the closeness of the shot it must be used sparingly for dramatization and boldness. 

The Medium Shot

This shot captures the actor from the waist up and is commonly used in dialogue scene due to its ability to capture facial expressions, body language, and the surrounding environment. 

The Dolly Zoom 

The camera moves towards the actor while zooming out or vice versa, causing the foreground to stay the same while the background increases or decreases.

The Over the Shoulder Shot

The camera is placed behind the subject’s shoulder in order to capture the other actor engaged in conversation. 

Low Angle Shot

The camera shoots up at the character or subject to make them appear larger. This gives off the appearance of being heroic, dominant or intimidating. 

The High Angle Shot

The camera films from a higher angle and looks down on the character or subject. This gives off the appearance of being submissive, inferior, or weak. 

Two Shot

A medium shot with two characters in the frame. 

The Wide Shot

This shot captures the entire subject from head to toe as well as the environment. Similar to the establishing shot, but instead captures the relationship between the characters and their surroundings. 

The Master Shot

The master shot captures all of the actors in the scene and all of the actions taking place. This shot is usually intercut with closer shots such as close-ups or medium shots. 


Psycho (1960) 

This scene is from my favorite movie Psycho, where Norman Bates confesses to his soon to be victim, Marion, of his troubles with his mother. Due to Alfred Hitchock’s previous experience in set design, he always paid attention to the small details within a frame. This means when analyzing this shot I must consider the objects in the space. This shot, in particular, is a low angle medium shot. This was done on purpose due to the context of the words Norman. After Marion tells Norman that his mother shouldn’t be talking to him in such a degrading way, the angle changes to a low angle to represent Norman’s inferiority to his mother. The shot also showcases visual balance by mass due to the owl perched on the left and Norman sitting on the right side of the frame.  The owl at a high angle is used to represent Norman’s mother who is ready to attack her prey, Norman. At 2:09, when Norman leans back into his chair, the rule of thirds is demonstrated. Both Norman and the owl are placed on one of the intersecting points.

Birds (1963) 

The movie The Birds is based on Alfred Hitchcock’s fear of birds, a common symbol used in his works. If you have never watched The Birds, it’s about birds who wreak havoc on a small town. If you’re not scared of birds, watch this movie and you will become terrified. This scene, in particular, is the ending scene where the main characters finally escape. The last shot of the movie is an wide shot used to capture the car driving away from the swarm of birds.  This shot is used to show that even though these character’s escape the town still is not safe for those who continue to live there. This shot also showcases the usage of depth of field due to the clarity of the birds in the foreground and the out of focused mountains in the background. Hitchcock uses this shot to instill fear into the viewer due to the swarm of birds. If birds wanted to attack us, they could easily outnumber us and the only way to survive would be to escape. 

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

In this scene of The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice and Hannibal Lector, the two main characters, meet for the first time. This shot from the scene helps establish these characters and the relationship between the two. The camera is set up as an over the shoulder shot to tell the viewers that these two characters are forming a relationship. The camera shot is a medium-close up of Clarice, which tightens the gap between the two characters. This shows that even though they are two different people, established by the glass between them, they have some similar traits which will help them grow closer. The lighting in the shot helps the audience differentiate between whose good and whose evil. Hannibal Lector placed in the darkness, to show that he is the “bad” character, while Clarice is placed in the light to represent her “good” character. The rule of thirds is also implemented because both Clarice and Hannibal are placed on intersecting points created by the four lines.


When I was assigned to make a video montage, as a filmmaker, I got stuck. I am not used to making something simple, so going back to the basics was hard and I struggled thinking of an idea that wasn’t too complex. I always thought it would be interesting to know what goes on in a dog’s mind, so I decided to give it some thought and make up my own scenario. I hope you enjoy:

Here is my pre-production packet:

Here is my shot list:

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