Monday, 31 January 2011

Establishing the tone of AMC's The Walking Dead The first few minutes of the first episode of AMC's The Walking Dead need to establish the tone of the entire series, but they need to do so without boring the audience. Given that the comic on which it's based alternates between menacingly quiet moments and long stretches of extreme chattiness, it may be a mistake to think about the tone in a singular fashion; however, the fact that these two tonal elements could be characterized as "opposites" means that the opening scene of the series will have to choose one or the other. Director Frank Darabont not only decided on quiet menace, he emphasized the future significance of silence by turning down the diagetic sound and eschewing non-diagetic sound entirely. The result? The series introduces itself to the world with a unusually quiet establishing shot of a car approaching the camera on a deserted road: As the car nears, the camera tracks it and Darabont uses the resulting tracking shot to create the impression that the person behind the camera is hiding behind the car. The camera pulls back until the burnt wreck in the foreground nearly obscures the patrol car, only to pan right at the conclusion of the long take and reveal that its "hiding place" has been compromised. In short, the camera seems to be hiding from the patrol car, which strongly suggests to the audience that there's something to hide from and that it may be in that patrol car. As if to emphasize that potential danger in the car, Darabont moves the camera-spy-without-a-hiding-place further away from the patrol car before cutting away: Even after the cut away, the camera still behaves as if the mind behind it wants to remain hidden while scoping out a better hiding place. It begins behind and to the right of the burnt wreck and tracks to the back and to the left as Rick Grimes moves toward it. The resulting shot keeps Rick occupying the center of a long shot until the camera knows he can be trusted: Or until it knows Rick either can't see him or can but doesn't care. Rick's eyes scan the area occupied by the camera but never directly addresses it. Initially, this means he's not a threat; eventually, and as anyone who's had a long conversation with someone who refuses to make eye contact with you well-knows, when sustained over time it will create the impression that Rick may not be worthy of the audience's trust. And it is sustained over time via another long take: Note how the camera seems to be following from the front in what almost seems to be a point-of-view shot from the perspective of someone walking backwards down a steep hill, adding to the generally suspicious tenor of the previous shot another possible means of inflicting bodily harm: falling. The steadiness of the camera only adds to the tension: because audiences have come to expect shakiness from their realism, the calmness of Darabont's camerawork creates the...

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