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Establishing the Geography of Your Story in Your Digital Video Film

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Creating a geographic space between locations and characters in your digital video film is crucial for establishing what happens and how the audience is supposed to relate.

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    Sim World

    When you are constructing a digital video film you are essentially presenting a new world, which has its own landscape, characters, and rules. This should be the first primary concern for the director, mostly because it is up to him or her to accurately create this dynamic before the events of the story can take place. This can be referred to as creating a geography for the story space, which means that you are constructing the realities of the film.

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    Experience and Characters

    The primary job of the filmmaker is to control the experience the audience has when they view the film. You wan them to share the emotions you are intending, engage the story as if it was really happening, and decide for themselves at certain times. To do this you have to establish a number of things early on in the story. This means understanding whom the characters are, what motivates them, and what the status of the relationships between them are. For example, if two people have a very intimate friendship, but this is mis-communicated to the audience as a romantic or sexual relationship then they are immediately off base and the rest of the film will not work.

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    Physical Geography

    You also need to pay special attention to laying out the physical geography of the story space. This means identifying each location, what practical and emotional connection the characters have to those places, and how those places geographically relate to each other and the rest of the world. If a certain building that was a home for several generations within a family, and it is located in a quickly developing suburban area, these are important details and need to be made clear to the audience.

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    In The Beginning

    These things are important to consider when preparing shot lists and shooting schedules that will record these early scenes. Make sure to do more establishing shots and exteriors to show the buildings and locations in relation to the things around them. It is also important to show characters interacting with each other in a standard fashion that is not part of any of the conflicts or developments that come later in the story. For example, if two characters are romantically linked at the beginning of the story it is important to have several shots that portray casual elements of affection, and not the types of affection that may seem excessively spontaneous or unusual. If the affection seems out of place people may immediately assume that this is part of the story and not a pre-stated fact about the characters. Do close up shots of things like hands holding or basic dialogue scenes that are based around standard romantic relationship elements.

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    Think About Changes

    You need to also be aware of how this geography changes or is affected later in the story, and try to use the establishing scenes with a slightly different pattern of shots. If it is talking about a changing neighborhood you may want to start with many shots in the central house, while later you expand outward to indicate that the original inhabitants feel alien in the changing surrounding. Know that the status of the characters and the environment is going to change and so your pattern of shots, angles, and camera movements should also change.

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    The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you do not immediately communicate what or who a place or person is the first time they enter the film then you will not be able to re-communicate those things to the audience later on. Without a concrete connection right from the beginning the audience is gone forever.