If I were to describe the basic plot of 12 Angry Men to you – a dozen jurors spend the entire film in a room deliberating their decision – it would probably sound, well, kind of boring and not at all dynamic. This is a fair enough critique, the film is based on a play and certainly the “action” as such is a better fit for the theater than the big screen. But why then is 12 Angry Men one of the most powerful, fascinating, and in fact dynamic films of its era?
Part of this is owed to the razor sharp script full of fleshed-out characters with varying philosophical centers, which is of course essential, but not the only element at work here. The way director Sidney Lumet staged his actors and utilized his cameras kept 12 Angry Men from being a filmed version of a play and indeed made it a separate entity, one that uses space in a different way to add dimension to the story and those who populate it.
In the latest video from Andrew Saladino’s The Royal Ocean Film Society, the essayist examines what he considers the six best ways to build scenic density: move characters within the frame, have the background and foreground interact, allow characters to take over shots, move among stories instead of cutting between them, hold conversations and reactions in the same frame, and use close-ups sparingly to augment their significance.
Too often we focus on the distinctions between film and theater, as we should; they are, after all, different art forms. But at the same time, there’s no denying that the latter is the basis for the former, and as such some of its subtler production facets are just as integral to film production, and in some ways even vital. This video is an excellent primer on how.