Thanks heaps to the BFI for sharing this terrific piece of work on the effort of Paul Thomas Anderson’s seemingly effortless steadicam shots. Kevin B. Lee walks through the evolution of Anderson’s camera work from Hard Eight to There Will Be Blood.
The contribution from Blood stands out to me:
This two-and-a-half-minute shot is one of the longest in There Will Be Blood, yet it only moves several feet. But within those few feet it is able to create four distinct compositions, a profile closeup of Eli Sunday entering Daniel Plainview’s office, an obstructed wide shot of Plainview at his desk, a medium three-shot of Plainview, Sunday and Fletcher, and a final closeup of Sunday. Each of these shifts changes the dramatic tenor of the scene and the dynamic between its characters, exploring and expositing the space between them.
One way that it does so is by providing multiple steady points of visual focus for the viewer, as demonstrated in this scientific study by the Dynamic Images and Eye Movement project, that tracked the eye movements of several viewers to see what they were looking at in the frame. This steady multiplicity of focal points is something radically different from Anderson’s earlier films, where one dominant point of focus takes our eyes through the shot.