The Tracking Shot: Underrated Much?

We spent a lot of time this semester covering a lot of old technology that I thought was largely useless. Sometimes I sit there and ponder the practicality of learning half the stuff that we learn about film. What utility is there to knowing about Alice Guy Blaché? Why do I need to know the formal name for intertitles? Why was learning about Muybridge so important? For someone who doesn’t appreciate the history of film(or the history of most things in general), I struggled quite a bit to reconcile the usefulness of what we learned in class until we came upon more modern film techniques. It was fun to see the techniques discussed in class and even more fun to try to recollect which techniques certain films used. One in particular that I enjoyed discussing was the tracking shot which is defined as “any shot that physically moves the camera through the scene for an extended amount of time” (Lannom 19). It was even more interesting to see some YouTube videos that detailed how the tracking shot was utilized in current films.

The image above details a transformation made by a character, Shaina. On the right is what was caught by the camera and on the left is an image detailing what is occurring in the room where the filming is taking place. From films like In a Lonely Place to more modern shows like Suits, the tracking shot is an important technological advancement that was made and should continue to exist in films. There are several advantages to using a tracking shot. First, it allows for continuity within a story line. Often times, transformations of scenes have to occur by changing the entirety of a set. In order to make this work, producers would have to insert a new scene or make the insertion of the new one really choppy. A tracking shot allows for a scene to be altered in the background seamlessly as if nothing had occurred. Second, the tracking shot is really good for close ups and characterization. The tracking shot allows an audience to follow along with a character throughout the duration of a scene. This allows for a 3rd person omniscient point of view. Additionally, this would allow for monologues or other important emotional scenes to occur. Often times, this is more engaging for an audience because it allows the viewers to connect with the film. Lastly, an important benefit to the tracking shot is that it gives the audience an understanding of space. Tracking shots can convey the distance between objects better which makes storylines and plots easier to comprehend. It also means that It becomes easier to see objects in the background that can be used to convey themes or symbolism.

Learning about the tracking shot made me appreciate film a little more. I was unaware that the tracking shot could be used in important ways and the significance it has on film despite being so simple. I seem to forget that film itself has a huge history and that living in the 21st century allows for ignorance of minor details to settle in. This raises further questions for me about different film technologies that seem negligible but would make viewing experience radically different. In modern films, everyone seems to only talk about actors or CGI and that seems to abstract from a lot of what this class seems to find important.

“25 Best Tracking Shots of All Time.” StudioBinder, 11 Sept. 2019, https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/tracking-shot-camera-movement-definition/.
Romney, Jonathan. “The Tracking Shot: Film-Making Magic – or Stylistic Self-Indulgence?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Dec. 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/dec/04/tracking-shot-film-making-magic-or-stylistic-self-indulgence-birdman.
YouTube, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_YeNw0N8aE.

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