Ever wondered how the greatest film directors shoot their movie? In this article we’ve put together a list of our favorite filmmaking quotes from the best in the business. Below, you’ll learn about camera movement, shooting coverge, how to create a shot list and much more.

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If my movie has two stars in it, I always know it really has three. The third star is the camera.

Sidney Lumet

To shoot a film is to organize an entire universe.

Ingmar Bergman

People say I pay too much attention to the look of a movie but for God’s sake, I’m not producing a Radio 4 Play for Today, I’m making a movie that people are going to look at.

Ridley Scott

The danger of everything that you do in a film is that it may not work, it may be boring, or bland, or stupid.  When you think of the greatest moments of film, I think you are almost always involved with images rather than scenes, and certainly never dialogue. The thing a film does best is to use pictures with music and I think these are the moments you remember.

Stanley Kubrick

[on making movies] you’re not trying to capture reality; you’re trying to capture a photograph of reality. Real is good. Interesting is better.

Stanley Kubrick

In the film business you’re taught all the things the cameraman doesn’t want to attempt for fear he will be criticized for having failed. In this case I had a cameraman who didn’t care if he was criticized if he failed, and I didn’t know there were things you couldn’t do. So anything I could think up in my dreams, I attempted to photograph.

Orson Welles

I have no imagination at all. I see beauty in the world and frame it correctly.

Akira Kurosawa

When I am shooting a film I never think of how I want to shoot something; I simply shoot it. My technique, which differs from film to film, is wholly instinctive and never based on prior considerations.

Michelangelo Antonioni

Finding where to put the camera is probably the most important thing you have to learn when you’re a young director, and it’s something that’s a mixture of instinct and technique.

Paul Greengrass

I set the camera. I do all the blocking. I choose the lenses. I compose everything. But Janusz, basically, is my lighting guy. And he’s a master painter with light. And he sort of, you know, made tremendous contributions to my work through his art.

Steven Spielberg

Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot. When I’ve got a gag that spreads out, I hate to jump a camera into close-ups. So I do everything in the world I can to hold it in that long-shot and keep the action rolling. Close-ups are too jarring on the screen, and this type of cut can stop an audience from laughing.

Buster Keaton

The size of the image on the screen and its composition is really orchestration. It’s no good throwing a close-up on the screen just for the sake of a close-up. It’s like music, you know. You have loud brass when you need it. The same applies to the size of the image. This side of the technical situation is almost completely ignored these days.

Alfred Hitchcock

To me real cinematography is very, very close to dreaming, as cinematography is when it is at its best. Think only of the time gap: You can make things as long as you want, exactly as in a dream. You can make things as short as you want, exactly as in a dream. As a director, a creator of a picture, you are like a dreamer. You can make what you want. You can construct everything. I think that is one of the most fascinating things that exists.

Ingmar Bergman

Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.

Martin Scorsese

There’s only one place for the camera. That’s the right place. Where is the right place? I don’t know. You get there somehow.

Martin Scorsese

Before you say ‘cut’, wait five more seconds.

Wim Wenders

The terrible tragedy for every director is to watch an actor do what you want and not have the camera rolling – and never get it back again. So I always try to roll the camera before anybody’s really ready.

Sydney Pollack

I never think of the camera until the scene has been almost lit. I think the camera is the last thing. You see, to think of the camera first is like tailoring the suit and then looking for a person who will fit it. I’d rather get the person and then take the measurements and then make a suit for him.

Roman Polanski

Camera Movement and Action

Although the most natural way to approach the actor with the camera is to move it at the same speed he moves, many people wait until he stops moving and then zoom in on him. I think this is very wrong. The camera should follow the actor as he moves; it should stop when he stops. If this rule is not followed, the audience will become conscious of the camera.

Akira Kurosawa

The camera isn’t just moving for the sake of keeping it moving. The camera is an active narrator in a thriller. The camera has to tell you how to evaluate every piece information you get and put it into context. 

John McTiernan

I think of action as a dance. It’s a riddle; it should have emotion in it.

Wong Kar-wai

I fear the art of telling stories by motion picture is becoming lost [said shortly after the introduction of sound]. It is too simple to take the easier way of telling the story through dialogue, and thus lose the most vital factor of the motion picture, the motion.

John Ford

Simplicity

Gordie [cinematographer Gordon Willis] and I used to talk about this all the time. If you have a good script and you shoot it in a stupid way, badly lit and badly shot, you can still have a successful movie. That’s been proven a million times. You see the films that are miserably made, ranging from amateur filmmakers to Bunuel, where the writing is so fine that it works even if things make no sense. Whereas if you have bad material, if the writing is not good, you can the shoot the eyes out of it in every way and most of the time, no mater what style you bring to the film, it doesn’t work. 

Woody Allen

The overriding consideration for me, as is apparent in all these examples, is that the techniques come from the material. They should change as the material changes. Sometimes it’s important not to do anything with the camera, to just shoot it “straight.” And equally important for me is that all this work stay hidden. Good camera work is not pretty pictures. It should augment and reveal the theme as fully as the actors and directors do. The light Sven Nykvist has created for so many of Ingmar Bergman’s movies is directly connected to what those movies are about.

Sidney Lumet

I use a lot of short lenses on most of my films. I like master shots, I like the audience to sometimes be the film editor and choose who to look at from time to time. I don’t like films that all close-ups or cut too fast, so you can’t catch your breath. A lot of my movies, I tend to not do one master but three or four masters of the same scene, it gives you the audience more geography, you know where stuff is.

Steven Spielberg

Coverage

Working with three cameras simultaneously is not so easy as it may sound. It is extremely difficult to determine how to move them. For example, if a scene has three actors in it, all three are talking and moving about freely and naturally. In order to show how the A, B and C cameras move to cover this action, even complete picture continuity is insufficient. The three camera positions are completely different for the beginning and end of each shot, and they go through several transformations in between. As a general system, I put the A camera in the most orthodox positions, use the B camera for quick, decisive shots and the C camera as a kind of guerilla unit.

Akira Kurosawa

[on The Last Duel (2021) and shooting with multiple cameras] I’m working 4 cameras, which fundamentally will capture any scene in a space. If it gets bigger, I’ll do 6. If it gets huge, I’ll do 11. You’ve got to know where to put the cameras, but it means everything is constantly fresh, so you do it 4 times as opposed to 20. Adam [Driver] was saying he loves the freedom that the 4 cameras gave him. He’d never experienced that before. I am continually puzzled about why people don’t embrace that.

Ridley Scott

I don’t really want to give those things to someone else; as a director, I have to believe that there’s some value in my brain being behind every scene on the set, not just in the edit suite. If you’re viewing the overall film in visual terms, it’s very hard to split off the shots that you think are unimportant or less than deserving of first-unit treatment. One of the things Wally and I do is to shoot all the inserts as we go along. Some people raise their eyebrows at that, but the truth is, that insert, that close-up of the hand, is going to end up on the same screen as the close-up of the actor, and it’s going to occupy the same space in the audience’s field of vision. Those insert shots are also about storytelling — otherwise, you wouldn’t need them.

Christopher Nolan

There’s always a conflict between time, money and quality. If you shoot a lot of coverage, then you must either spend a lot of money, or settle for less quality of performance. I find that when I’m shooting a scene, I shoot a lot of takes but I don’t try to get a lot of coverage from other angles. I try to shoot the scene as simply as possible get the maximum performance from the actors without presenting them the problem of repeating the performance too many times from different angles. On the other hand, in an action scene, where it’s relatively easy to shoot, you want lots and lots of angles so that you can do something interesting with it in the cutting room.

Stanley Kubrick

I don’t shoot movies quickly because I get a lot of coverage and a lot of angles, so we have all the pieces in the editing. I do a lot of takes, but it’s because I’m looking for something.

Nancy Meyers

Creating a Shot List and Storyboards

Now before shooting anything, you should really watch your movie in your head. Play it out in your head, watching it while imagining the actors and angles you’ve chosen. Picture the scene. See what cuts you’d make if you were editing it together. Would you stay on one actor the whole time, or would you cut mid-scene to something else? Watch the movie In your head; then when you think you’ve seen something interesting, get out a piece of paper and make your shot list. List each shot you need to make the scene work. Don’t overdo it, just follow your instincts. On a low-budget, shoot-from-the hip kind of movie your instincts are all you’ve got, so start learning to trust them.

After you’ve made your shot list, go through it. Read the shots you’ve written and watch them in your head, as if it’s a cut movie. Are you missing any shots? Watch it again. What shots do you see in the movie that you’re watching in your head which are not written down. Write those down. Now keep that shot list handy because now with your list you can concentrate on one shot at a time. All you have to do now is get each shot and cross it off the list. When your list is completely crossed off you’re done for the day. Congratulations.

Robert Rodriguez

The storyboard for me is the way to visualise the entire movie in advance.

Martin Scorsese

I can’t take shooting any scene for granted. I just can’t. The moment I do that, I have no idea what I’m doing. “Oh, that’ll be easy, I’ll do that in five minutes.” Believe me, that never happens.

Martin Scorsese

I draw the characters movements before I shoot. I always prepare a scene far in advance. I try to make an ideal diagram. It’s not as complicated as it looks. The first question I always ask myself is, “where should I put the camera?” Antonioni once said, “The placing of the camera is an ethical choice.” I think so too, because if the camera is at an appropriate place from the start, the rest of the scene will go naturally.

Ingmar Bergman

The evening before. When I come home in the evening, I just sit down with the script and I read the next day’s schedule very carefully. I make up my mind about it, and then I just note the choreography of the actors and the camera. Then in the early morning when I meet Sven – you know, we have worked so many years together – we just shortly, in five minutes, go through the scene. I tell him about my ideas for different positions of the camera, for the different positions of the actors, and for the atmosphere of the whole scene. And then we can go on the whole day; it is not necessary to have any discussions. He is just fantastic. He is a marvellous man. Suddenly everything is there, without any complications, and I can look in the camera, and everything I wanted is there.

Ingmar Bergman

What’s Your Favorite Shooting the Movie Quote?

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