Slow motion camera scenes can be a potent addition to content. Whether you want to create films, television, or documentaries, they’re a valuable weapon in any filmmaker’s arsenal. It’s also quite possible to make use of slow motion in commercials, corporate videos, and a vast array of visual content in general.
We’ll examine different uses of slow motion in film. We’ll also talk about how slow motion relates to elements such as story structure. Click on the links to the scenes we discuss if you haven’t watched them!
Why Slow Motion Camera?
A filmmaker or content creator may use slow motion camera for a variety of reasons. Let’s try to explore some of them.
Aesthetics and Background
A slow motion scene may allow an audience to look deeply into a particular scene. Since there’s more time to look at what’s going on, an audience will be able to see the different details and watch more deeply, so to speak.
There are certain things that slow motion camera will achieve. For one, we’ll be able to admire the work of the below-the-line artists who’ve worked in the film. Costume design, sets, props, you name it. If we have the time to look into the scene, we’ll discover all these things that would’ve been lost otherwise.
Another added effect of slow motion is that aesthetics and background often illuminate character. As we know, it’s character that drives films, and as such, slow motion may be a powerful way to show, even exploit, character to the limit. Take a great filmmaker who’s known to use slow motion: Martin Scorsese. In ‘Casino’, he introduces Ginger with the use of slow motion camera (interspersed with normal speed), showing her personality and way of life.
Slow Motion Camera and Story Structure
This is a good time to remember certain things about story structure. Three act structure is often used in most visual content. It certainly is a hallmark of film. Using this traditional structure, a film is divided into three acts. Act 1 finishes with a turning point which propels the action into Act 2. This act is usually the longest one, and it’s often divided in two: the middle of the act is also the middle of the film and it’s usually called the midpoint. Act 2 ends with yet another turning point, which sends the film into Act 3, where the film ends in a climax and resolution.
Another reason why slow motion camera scenes and sequences can be so powerful is because of story structure. There may be uses of slow motion camera which also point out story moments and serve as guideposts to finish one story section and begin another. Slow motion camera often serves to highlight each of these sections of a film and its script.
Irony and Counterpoint
Slow motion can be used to strengthen a number of story elements, as we’ve just seen. It’s also important to understand that it can also be used in a rather opposite fashion, that is, in an ironic way.
This is apparent in the work of certain filmmakers. Wes Anderson, for one, is known to make use of slow motion in several of his films. Such use, however, is a little bit more tongue-in-cheek, so to speak, than other works by other filmmakers. The reason is that the slow motion serves as a definite comic counterpoint to what’s going on in the scene.
Slow Motion Camera in Film: Specific Examples
There are a number of films that make use of slow motion cameras. They’re usually very potent and often unforgettable. Let’s take a look at some of them specifically.
The Matrix (1999)
‘The Matrix’ made great use of potent slow motion. Remember the scenes where Neo is dodging bullets? These are an interesting example of the use of slow motion, with a twist. To be more precise, in the case of The Matrix, they’re an example of ‘bullet time’.
Neo throws himself back when he’s fired at, and suddenly we’re experiencing ‘bullet time’, that is, we’re following the trajectory of the bullets themselves. These scenes serve the needs of the story: by emphasizing Neo dodging the bullets, we see that he’s come to understand the matrix and is indeed ‘the one’.
‘Goodfellas’ makes great use of slow motion camera scenes. Perhaps the most memorable is what some film buffs refer to as the ‘Layla scene’. This is the moment in the film when Jimmy (Robert de Niro) begins killing the different people involved in the ‘Lufthansa heist’.
Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) narrates the scene. He basically talks about the unraveling of the Lufthansa heist. Meanwhile, slow motion camera shots follow the events: the different people involved in the heist start to turn up dead in different places (a car, a dumpster, a meat truck). Henry theorizes that it was most probably Jimmy doing the killing.
This use of slow motion camera is unforgettable for a number of reasons. In a way, this sequence serves to point out that the party is over, so to speak. Soon, we’re full speed ahead towards the downwards movement and ending of the film.
The Untouchables (1987)
Another phenomenally potent slow motion camera scene can be found in ‘The Untouchables’. This particular scene is all the more striking because it’s an homage to the famous Odessa step scene in ‘Battleship Potemkin’ by Sergei Eisenstein.
Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and George Stone (Andy Garcia) have a gunfight with some of Capone’s men. The action takes place in a train station in Chicago. A baby falls down the stairs as the action unfurls and is only narrowly saved.
The scene serves a number of purposes. For one, it’s an exhilarating experience for the audience, that’s for sure. More importantly, it serves to delve into the themes of the film itself. In a certain way, this scene is representative of the whole story. A battle between criminals and police, inevitably occurring around and indeed over the lives of civilians, even children. Nobody seems to be spared from the chaos of the Prohibition wars.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
A potent use of slow motion camera can also be found in ‘The Usual Suspects’. It’s also a notable example of the use of slow motion mixed in with other speeds.
The scene shows a succession of things. For one, it’s an unforgettable way to end the film. Not to give out any spoilers, for those who haven’t yet watched this film, but the slow motion camera really sets things up nicely for the final twist and reveal.
It’s also quite important to mention that this scene and sequence is a good example of how to mix things up. Note that the filmmaker uses slow motion interspersed with normal speed to achieve a dazzling effect. In a way we’re made to feel Agent Kujan’s (Chaz Palminteri) terror as he realizes the truth.
It’s impossible to talk about slow motion camera scenes without mentioning Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’. This particular scene is part of cinema history. Slow motion camera in this scene creates a cinematic moment of great power.
The platoon is ambushed while on patrol. There are many wounded. Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), takes some other soldiers, including Chris (Charlie Sheen) to fend off flanking enemy troops. Eventually, Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) attacks Elias. The soldiers are finally evacuated via helicopter and see how a mortally wounded Elias is chased by the enemy in slow motion.
Using Slow Motion Camera: Troubleshooting
It’s important to note that things can go wrong with the use of slow motion camera. We need to understand that slow motion is a very powerful tool that must be used wisely.
Too Much Marzipan!
Unless we’re striving for an ironic effect, slow motion camera may prove to be too melodramatic in certain scenes. This is a major risk when applying the technique.
Sometimes we may very well want a melodramatic effect to happen and that’s perfectly fine. This is the case of ironic moments in films. It may also be fine if we’re creating content such as soap operas or ‘telenovelas’, which can thrive with the use of melodramatic tools and effects.
Melodrama usually happens because we have weak motivation. This weak motivation in our characters, in turn, renders their aspirations and tragedies incongruent or even trivial. The use of slow motion camera in these cases only adds fuel to the fire. We need to be aware of weak scripts. It’s problematic to use slow motion camera to cover for existing flaws in a script. This will simply not work. On the contrary, it’ll most likely just create more story problems. As the Hollywood adage goes, slow motion camera may prove to be ‘too much marzipan’ for these situations.
Theme and Relevance
Finally, it’s useful to remember that, in general, slow motion should be thematically relevant. A film, and indeed most forms of dramatic writing, live or die by their premises. The premise, as taught by Lajos Egri, is really the foundation block of the whole dramatic edifice in a script. A film such as ‘Scarface’ by Stone/De Palma, may have a premise such as: ‘Greed destroys everything, including one’s own life’ or something like that. The idea is that every moment of the story should serve the premise. This is the best rule of thumb to cut out excess and flab from a script.
Now then, in the case of adding slow motion camera, we need to ask ourselves, does this serve the story? This basically means, does this serve the premise? If it doesn’t, then its use is too weak and it should be left out.
Creating Slow Motion Camera
When considering the use of slow motion camera, think Bunny Studio! Our talented pros can help you create slow motion camera moments for film, television, documentaries, commercials, short films, you name it. Go to the Bunny Studio website, click on ‘Chat With Us’ and let’s get the ball rolling!