Filmmaking: Deep Focus

These days, years into the DSLR revolution, shallow depth of field rules the indie filmmaking scene and for good reason; it's a beautiful aesthetic. But now, let's all take a step back and remember that all that bokeh should just be one weapon in your storytelling arsenal.

Let's remind ourselves that deep focus can be a powerful tool as well. This clip is from Citizen Kane. (I know, I KNOW, but the film really is a technical clinic.) So, let's take a look and then I'll make a couple of observations.

It's an amazing long take (or oner) by Gregg Toland. The first thing that jumped out at me is how carefully crafted the blocking and framing are. When everything is in focus, you need different methods to direct the eye, otherwise you've just got a big ugly mess of a hundred things going on.

It's why most of us hate deep focus. We associate it with a video look because rarely do we construct our scenes and shots as carefully as this one. The window frames the child, there are three staggered levels of depth in the actors' blocking, and even the contrast of wardrobe against the backgrounds sets our subjects off; dark against snow, light shirt against the wall, then dark again in the foreground.