A case study in thrilling, visual storytelling.
In this sequence from horror comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004), director Edgar Wright has created a montage made of three smaller montages. As Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) devise their plan to rescue their loved ones from the zombie apocalypse, we see their brainstorming play out before our eyes in an expert mix of careful photography and strategic editing:
In under two minutes, we’re shown four whole stories: three plans, plus the story of making the plan. It’s a wonderful example of efficient, elegant visual storytelling.
Of the many lessons we can take from this sequence, the main is that a sequence like this isn’t “discovered” in editing – it’s the result of detailed planning. Most of the dizzying transitions are in-camera: the whip-pans, whip-tilts, push-ins and pull-outs aren’t visual effects added in post – they’re part of each individual shot, designed and devised (in pre-production) to deliver maximum story with minimal coverage.
Each shot contains two camera moves: for example, a whip-pan then a push-in. Each shot also begins with a move that complements the shot which preceded it: if Shot A ends with a whip-pan to the left, Shot B begins with a whip-pan to the left; if Shot A ends with a tilt away from its action, Shot B begins with a tilt into its action. Each shot sets up the one which follows it – right down to the whip-pan away from Shaun as he begins to describe the latest version of the plan.
In-camera transitions aren’t just a trademark of Edgar Wright’s film-making – they also offer creative possibilities for no-budget films.
They don’t require large crews, expensive resources or production value – only planning, storyboarding, and careful consideration of how much story can be crammed into how few shots.
Ok, so some in-camera transitions do require more resources – but where less visionary filmmakers want to show you where the money went, Wright is more interested storytelling effects, as evidenced by his explanation of this seemingly subtle, yet monumental example from Scott Pilgrim vs The World:
The living room set rolls out and the school corridor set is underneath. No green screen at all. If you hear the raw production sound it sounds like the whole earth moving outside the bathroom. https://t.co/uPZHMezV1b— edgarwright (@edgarwright) June 23, 2019
In fact, Edgar Wright shared fascinating production details about the entire film in his live-tweet rewatch of the film – and we’ve collected it all here.