Or rather, a very small part of one of them.
This is probably my favorite paper I’ve written in college. Ot details how I would like to shoot my favorite chapter in any of the six Codex Alera books, my favorite series. Now , as it was written a year ago, I already disagree with some of it and find some parts to be wrong and others to be poorly written. But regardless, I still enjoy it loads and hope others will too. Feel free to ignore the references to figures and other sources, those were required for the class. And fair warning, it’s long.
I chose the cinematography role in the fantasy genre for my scene. The scene will be the entirety of Chapter 51 of Captain’s Fury, book four of the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. I plan on shooting Chapter 51 beginning with an extended tracking shot. As that shot ends, the middle portion of the scene will be mostly filmed with pans and medium shots. The end of the chapter will the change once more to emphasize larger shots as well as contrasting close ups in the most dramatic part of the scene. The goal of shooting the scene in this particular way is to heighten tension from multiple perspectives, make the viewers feel as if they are a part of the scene, illustrate the scope and importance of the events occurring, and use emphasis to tie what I believe to be an integral scene into the rest of the book and overall themes throughout.
The book and series as a whole revolve around a young man named Tavi. By chapter 51 of book four, he has captained a legion for two years fighting off invaders. He recently has lost his captaincy due to a traitor senator, Arnos, arresting him after he attempted peace negotiations with the invaders. Tavi has spent most of the book estranged from his legion and rescuing the ambassador to the invader’s nation so they can strike peace. He has also only recently found out that he is the heir to the throne and is more powerful than he could’ve possibly imagined. Chapter 51 begins as he is returning from the invader’s camp to his own legion with his friend and spy, Ehren.
Night is falling and bodies are strewn on the ground as Tavi and Ehren head to the ruins where the legion is camped. They are having two very different conversations with each other as they ride forward, Ehren holding a torch. Tavi is surveying the battlefield and noting the massacre that happened when the legion tried to hold against the invaders. Ehren is far more worried about getting shot by a nervous archer on watch for the legion, as they are coming from the direction of the enemy. They go back and forth for a while, neither acknowledging the other’s statements, as the night grows ever darker. This continues until Tavi finally quips to Ehren that they’re far more likely to be shot in the back by a dissenting member of the invading army and Ehren drily thanks him for his contribution.
Tavi draws up fifty feet from the wall of the ruins and shouts to the legionnaires posted there. They tell him to stop or they’ll shoot, but almost instantly afterwards, a centurion, Schultz, recognizes their beloved captain, whose true identity they do not know. He is immediately ready to welcome Tavi back, but Tavi scolds him that he might not be who he says he is and tells him to retrieve someone to perform a truthfinding on him. Schultz perceptively realizes that Tavi does not want this kept quiet and brings Tavi and Ehren in under guard. The two ride in a small opening in the wall under the watch of a half-dozen archers and settle in a circle of firelight with a several hundred legionnaires watching. Schultz returns to Tavi and Ehren with a cup of hot tea for each of them. Tavi drinks and surveys the camp and realizes the legion is short on water, and in more trouble than he thought. He also notes that the men are afraid, and decides to combat it by making light banter with Schultz as they wait on the truthfinder to arrive. Schultz once again catches on and the two work to lighten the tension amongst the men with a couple of jokes and a crude comment here or there.
Crassus, the acting captain in Tavi’s absence and man who will perform the truthfinding then arrives. He is angry with Schultz for pulling him out of a meeting for reasons he has not yet been told. He then sees, Tavi and Ehren, forces down an exclamation, and asks if their identities have been verified. Schultz quickly answers no and that Crassus would need to perform it as the others who possibly could were busy tending to the wounded. Crassus approaches to trade grips with Tavi to perform the truthfinding as the archers train their bows on Tavi as a precaution. Crassus then asks Tavi for his name. Tavi freezes, knowing the consequences of the truth, knowing it will make him a target for the rest of his life, knowing his life will never be the same. He tells Crassus and the several hundred legionnaires that for most of his life he has been known as Tavi, that they know him as Captain Scipio, but, raising his voice, his true identity is Gaius Octavian: Princeps, grandson of the First Lord of Alera, and heir to the throne. As he announces who he is, then entire sky is illuminated from directly behind Tavi and washes light over the weary legionnaires, Tavi and Ehren, Crassus, and none other than Arnos, the senator who betrayed him. Crassus, listening for the truth, goes pure white as all the blood drains from his face and, after a moment, falls to one knee. Then his knights follow suit. Then a century, then the entire legion drops to one knee, leaving only Arnos remaining standing. Tavi announces that he is there to bring the treasonous Arnos to account. As Tavi begins listing his crimes, the ground begins to shake and the ruins begin to crumble. He accuses Arnos of treason of many kinds and finally ends by challenging him to single combat as he thunders; “I call you to the juris macto! And may the crows feast on the unjust!”
I felt the scene naturally divides into three parts: the ride to the ruins with Ehren, the arrival and conversation with Schultz, and the truthfinding and subsequent challenge. The chapter is obviously very dramatic, but these events’ importance in the book and series truly cannot be overstated. It represents not only a major turning point and plot development, but also one of the largest themes throughout the series, that of true identity. So even though the summary may read a bit overdramatic, I want to take the scene very seriously and achieve my goals of making the viewer feel present during the events, properly illustrating the scope and importance of what is happening, and building tension throughout the scene to escalate to the thunderous finale of the announcement and challenge.
I would like to begin with the obvious starting point of Tavi and Ehren’s ride to the fortified ruins. This part is critical to get right because it will set the tone and expectations for the viewer for the rest of the scene. I believe I may have my best opportunity here to make the viewer feel as if they are part of the events at hand. I would like to do a tracking shot of the two of them from behind with Tavi on the left and Ehren on the right. I am setting Tavi on the left because I have frankly always imagined it that way but also because of the points from class that set up the more powerful or in control character on the left, and in this portion, Tavi fulfills both of those criteria. Oxford Reference’s A Dictionary of Film Studies states that an unmoving camera can give the viewer a sense of being on the outside looking in and that is the last thing I want for this scene. I want to follow the two of them at roughly the same speed they are moving for the duration of their conversation and not end the single shot until they reach the wall and Tavi calls out. This should not be too difficult as it is not a very long conversation.
As much as possible, I would like Ehren’s torch to provide most of the light for this scene. I feel as if Ehren’s fears over being shot in the dark are much more relatable to the common viewer than Tavi’s concerns over the recent battle that’s remains they are riding over. If the viewer experiences the low light as it becomes nighttime just as Ehren is, it will likely create more tension and a higher sense of danger as they follow along behind the two riders. For distance, I would like a medium shot, as I feel the conversation should be held at decently low tones of voice, and anything too close or too far away would seem strange and out of place in this scene.
When Tavi gets fifty feet away from the wall of the ruins and after he calls out will be the end of the tracking shot from behind. When the return shout and threat of shooting I would still like to be around Tavi and Ehren’s point of view, but right up next to them for now. The yeller, who will turn out to be Schultz, will only appear as a darkened figure at first, just how Tavi and Ehren could see him. After Tavi makes out who he is and Schultz demands that they come closer to the wall so he can make out their faces, I would like to drastically change perspective. Now that the legion has been introduced, Tavi and Ehren are no longer the people feeling the most tension in the scene, and I want the viewer to be with whichever group is indeed the tensest. So when Schultz demands they come forward, I want the camera shot to switch from being right with Tavi and Ehren to being up on the wall near Schultz. The viewer is no longer an anonymous third member of Tavi and Ehren’s modest party, but is now a legionnaire, and will remain so for most of the rest of the scene. And similar to the legionnaires, the viewer has not yet seen Tavi or Ehren’s faces during this scene. Up on the wall with Schultz, after a bit of realistic waiting for the two to slowly ride forward, the viewer will finally be granted the ability to see the beloved captain as he rides forward into the light.
I would equate this, although in the opposite direction on the good/evil scale and to a lesser degree of dramatics, to how the first Hobbit movie avoids showing Smaug’s face and specifically eyes in any of the flashbacks and then finally, at the end of the movie, he raises one eyelid in an almost relieving motion after being restricted from seeing it for so long. The viewer should feel some of the same relief that Schultz is feeling when they simultaneously see the captain’s face. Schultz will leave to fetch the truthfinder after directing Tavi to the opening in the wall. After he leaves, the viewer will join the guard bringing in Tavi and Ehren, and lose sight of them for a bit on the walk to the opening on the opposite side of the wall than the two riders. As Schultz returns, the viewer will be placed among the legionnaires around the two conversing, now Tavi and Schultz, with a medium shot that once again places Tavi on the left. Tavi and Schultz will work to lower the tension among the legionnaires and the viewer, but it will come back with a vengeance upon Crassus’s arrival.
As Crassus arrives, the murmuring and any remaining quiet laughter will cease. He is in no mood for any of that, and will announced with a sharp cut only after hearing him begin to dress down Schultz for pulling him out of a meeting. The shot will cut to him about halfway through his comments to Schultz so the viewer hears the voice, then cuts to Crassus, then sees him forcibly hold back an exclamation upon seeing Tavi. This shot will be closer than the medium shots used so far, but not too close. Out of Order: Storytelling Techniques for Video and Cinema Editors claims that like a drug, the close up becomes less effective the more it is used. Bearing this in mind, I want to save my most powerful close-up or two for a little later.
The camera will pan and zoom out slightly to show Crassus walking to Tavi and the archers trained on the latter of the two back to around the legionnaires point of view, if a bit closer. I want a pan here instead of a cut to Tavi because I feel that too many cuts in this scene would not build tension as well as the slower pan. An excerpt from Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen mentions the possibility of too many cuts making a scene choppy, and choppy is almost the opposite of the slow, burning intensity I want. They grasp hands, Tavi again on the left, and Crassus will ask the fateful question. As Tavi begins his proclamation, the camera will slowly move to closer to Crassus’s point of view, taking him out of the shot as Tavi crescendos.
As Tavi finishes the announcement of his true identity, the light will burst from behind him, the source obscured by him but the light framing him brilliantly. The camera will slowly zoom out to show Crassus, pale, fall to one knee. It will keep zooming up and out to show his knights behind him do the same. It will continue up and out, a crane shot a la the scene of the wounded in Atlanta in Gone With the Wind (as seen in Figure 1), to show the whole legion fall to its knees. An indistinct figure will be standing but he will not be centered on yet and will be too far away to recognize. The camera will come back to Tavi to hear him say in a cold voice that he is here to bring a traitor to account, and as he points to Arnos and the ground beings to rumble as he bellows, I want a hard, fast pan to Arnos that has him enter on the right side of the screen and finishes with a close up of his shocked and terrified face as Tavi challenges him to single combat. I want this zoom and close up to be similar to the style of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, seen in Figure 2, as I think that would be effective in the style of Tavi’s explosion and the release of some tightness. This, along with Crassus losing the color in his face as he recognizes the truth, are the close ups I want to be the most emphasized and intense, especially the one on Arnos, as it is the release of the pent-up tension built throughout the scene.
I would be remiss if I acted as though there were no possible drawbacks to the style and shots I have chosen to film with, and in fact there are a few possible problems with my plan, most related to the type of pans selected and changing perspectives. However, I believe these issues more things to be wary of happening, and not necessarily concrete issues with the cinematography. The first possible drawback to keep in mind is that I do not want the audience getting disoriented by the different perspectives. To address this I will want to, as much as possible, adhere to the 180-degree rule. As much as my ideas rely on the idea of shots from different viewpoints, to keep the actual viewers from getting disoriented, the plan is to try to keep Tavi on the left of whatever interaction he is in, as is somewhat stated above. This should hopefully provide a sort of anchor for the audience to hold on to when the person interacting with Tavi rotates between Ehren, Schultz, Crassus, and briefly Arnos. Ideally, the heavier reliance on pans as opposed to jump cuts will also help the audience remain oriented with a sort of reference point.
A second issue that I found arose with my plan for shooting Chapter 51 was more of a logistical problem. Upon reviewing my plan I realized: this is going to be a very long scene. Now I am not changing any of my shots or ideas because of this, but I certainly think it is something I need to keep in mind. My vision is for a single chapter out a book that has sixty. Most likely the movie as a whole will correspond to the book as a whole, which means that I will have to cut elsewhere to fit the story into a single movie. Now, I mention this, but the reason I am confident in not changing my plan largely consists of part of my original reason for picking Chapter 51, in that I do not believe there is any fluff in the chapter. With a chapter where all parts were vital or at least important to the plot, I would not have to worry about cutting and could focus more on the vision I had already partly developed for this pivotal scene. So while I recognize this is a long scene relative to the approximately one-sixtieth of the story that it is, its importance makes me comfortable giving it perhaps a disproportionate length. And as I am mainly discussing the cinematography of my scene, hopefully I have a good editor to handle my logistical issues.
Having discussed how I will shoot the movie to create the correct atmosphere and feeling for the viewer and the problems I may encounter with my methods, my final key point to address is how I will relate the themes to the viewers through my choices. I believe I have already made some good decisions to accomplish this and will explain why, but first some background information is needed to comprehend what the themes are and where they come from.
When Tavi is first introduced to the reader in the first book, he is an outcast in every way. He is an orphan and he has none of the powers that other members of this world do and is the only person ever to have absolutely zero furycrafting, the name for the aforementioned powers.
He makes up for it in his own ways with far above-average intelligence, but that gets him no closer to being accepted into society. In book two he attends the academy in the capital under the patronage of the First Lord, the most powerful crafter in the land. Here he continues to improve and forge relationships, some with powerful crafters, but ultimately mostly befriends fellow outcasts and alienates himself further from most of society. He trains to be a spy, and then in book three, puts the training to use in the role of a low officer in a new legion. Eventually all the officers besides him are attacked and killed or incapacitated, leaving Tavi to command a legion, which he excels at. Book four begins after two years have passed of Tavi leading the legion under the name Captain Scipio. He has begun to develop his furycrafting, and is finally told of his true identity, that he is the son of the First Lord of Alera. This soon leads directly into the betrayal by Arnos and the summary at the beginning.
Tavi’s story has two major themes that I feel are also well represented in Chapter 51 that I want my scene to emphasize: true identity/self-discovery and self-worth. Tavi does not develop his powers until after he finally realizes he can excel and be happy without them. He spends the previous three books fantasizing about who his parents might be before learning that he is the Princeps and will soon have more furycrafting power than any other. The journey taken with Tavi to get to these important developments emphasizes finding out who one truly is, both literally and figuratively in this case, and knowing that one has worth no matter the answer to the first part.
Hopefully knowing these two themes and the context of the work as a whole, some of my earlier choices begin to make even more sense, especially how I choose to emphasize certain parts of the scene. For instance, I set up the challenge of Arnos as the release of tension in the scene, but if I conveyed my ideas correctly, not the climax of the scene or the most important part. Tavi challenging Arnos is indeed important and may happen last chronologically, but nothing should come close to Tavi announcing his true identity as the Princeps in scope or intensity. This is reflected through the shots I chose in multiple ways. The two key shots for the announcement and the challenge are the wounded soldiers shot from Gone With the Wind and the close up on Arno similar to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, respectively. The announcement shot is meant to instill a feeling of grandeur, the awesomeness of it all, and at the risk of being corny, a powerful truth. Tavi finally knows who he is, and now everyone else does too. The challenge shot is a true end to the scene, but should not give feelings anywhere close to the scope of the announcement. Further emphasizing the importance of identity is that when the camera zooms out as the legion falls to its knees, Arnos will remain standing, but will not be distinguishable or identifiable. Tavi’s self discovery dwarfs all else as he reveals it to the world.
As for the themes of self-worth, they will not be as obvious in the scene as those of identity. This is one of the two most powerful scenes in the series in terms of self-discovery, but there are many that emphasize Tavi’s journey towards recognizing his worth more than Chapter 51. So reflecting that, I want to show that theme a bit subtler, mostly by showing Tavi’s confidence and total control through the chosen shots and positioning. Tavi’s constant, steady position on the left throughout the scene will demonstrate a quiet confidence, be it him reassuring Ehren they will not be shot, or joking with Schultz to calm the legionnaires. Using him to hold and tie together the scene visually will reinforce his own self-assuredness, which will in turn strengthen the idea of his journey towards ultimately loving and respecting himself.
In the end, I have but two goals for the cinematography of my scene. I want it to 1. Make the viewer feel a part of the story, leading to higher tension and a better feeling and understanding of the scope of events, and 2. To properly convey the themes of true identity and loving oneself. I believe that my plan laid out above for shooting Chapter 51 of Captain’s Fury of the Codex Alera will accomplish both of these objectives.