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How one can Turn a Good Cry Into Good Cinema


Before the sniffles, before the sharp inhales and heavy swallows — before, in other words, any of the standard sounds of crying — you hear the muted pitter-patter of a toddler’s tears making landfall on his T-shirt.

The scene comes about three quarters of the way in which through “Close,” an Oscar-nominated drama (in theaters) from the 31-year-old Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont a couple of passionate friendship between two adolescent boys, Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav De Waele), that collapses under its own emotional weight. The kid crying is Léo. The placement is a physician’s office, where Léo is having a forged placed on his wrist after a hockey accident. But we understand that his crying reflects something more profound than physical pain. The doctor wraps; Léo’s tears drop. Pip. Pip. Pip.

If Dhont and his team have done their jobs well, this sound will help pull you into the crushing emotions of the moment. You would possibly feel such as you’re there with Léo. Perhaps, fleetingly, you would possibly feel as if you’re in Léo’s head. You definitely won’t notice that what you’re hearing every time a tear hits Léo’s shirt isn’t actually the sound of a teardrop in any respect, however the sound of a Foley artist, Julien Naudin, gingerly tapping fabric in front of a microphone at a sound studio in Amsterdam.

There’s a special form of alchemy required to capture tears on film. It takes a mixture of empathy and technical craft. In a series of interviews, artists behind striking crying scenes in three recent movies — “Close,” “Babylon” and “The Woman King” — discussed the behind-the-scenes work required to create an impactful moment of grief.

The job begins long before filming. For “Close,” Dhont spent months attending to know his forged, constructing an environment where the performers would feel comfortable exploring their characters’ vulnerabilities.

“We are going to go walking by the seaside,” Dhont said. “We are going to make pancakes, we are going to watch one another’s favorite movies. After which, sometimes, very informally, I’ll say, ‘Why do you’re thinking that Rémi cries on the breakfast?’”

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On the day of shooting, an enormous a part of the job for artists behind the camera is solely to provide actors the physical and emotional space to be vulnerable. That will be easier said than done — particularly for a blowout production like “Babylon,” set in Twenties and ’30s Hollywood. One key scene finds Margot Robbie’s character, an actress with silver-screen ambitions, getting an enormous break on a silent-film set, where she reveals that she will cry on command. The sequence is a doozy, with long takes and gymnastic camera movements. For Heba Thorisdottir, the pinnacle of the makeup department, pulling it off in a way that was minimally invasive for Robbie required careful planning and on-the-fly precision.

“It’s very sensitive if you find yourself working with an actor who has to cry, since you don’t know emotionally where they’re going to go,” she said. “And also you don’t wish to be in there rather a lot.”

Thorisdottir used waterproof cosmetics, plus a layer of setting spray to assist all of it stay intact. She also applied illuminator under Robbie’s foundation, which reflects light and helps tears glow.

On set, Thorisdottir stood off-camera with a Q-Tip and glue in her hand, able to race in and fix Robbie’s makeup and eyelashes when each take finished — like a cut man treating a boxer’s face between rounds.

Probably the most powerful scenes in “The Woman King,” a drama based on historical West African women warriors, comes when Thuso Mbedu’s character, a young fighter named Nawi, cradles her gravely wounded mentor, Izogie (Lashana Lynch), in her arms. It’s in the course of a fast-moving escape scene. Izogie drops. Nawi stoops to her. Time seems to stop. “No, no, no.” As Nawi’s tears fall, they catch the sunshine in midair.

It’s a wrenching, beautiful image, and the product of natural sunlight corralled by Polly Morgan, the director of photography.

“Whenever you’re shooting water, whether it’s rain or tears, you’re all the time going to see it clearly if you backlight it,” Morgan said. “We blocked the motion in relation to the sun — I could backlight those falling tears.”

One other trick: considering of teardrops as if they’re globules of Dr Pepper.

Linus Sandgren, the director of photography for “Babylon,” likens filming tears to capturing beads of liquid running down the side of a bottle in a beverage industrial.

A go-to technique, Sandgren said, is to have “an extended surface of sunshine on one side” illuminating the tear, making a border of sunshine that accentuates its shape. On the opposite side, “have an extended shadow, vertically long because the tear runs down.” The aim is to supply contrast that makes the teardrop stand out, and to cover the tear’s journey down the actor’s face with diffuse light. Do it right, and you may make the trail of liquid on skin as shiny and clear as a slime path left by a slug on a sidewalk.

All three of those scenes share one major cinematography alternative: using relatively wide lenses. To make an actor fill the frame, the camera should be placed much closer to the motion, which will help create intimacy and produce an emotional wallop.

With a wider lens, “there isn’t a trick,” Frank van den Eeden, the cinematographer behind “Close,” said. “You’re really there.”

Sound design can do a few of this work, too. Zeroing in on the sound of tears in “Close,” for instance, was intended to guide the audience to focus completely on Léo and his emotions.

“The entire world around them is of no importance in that moment,” said Vincent Sinceretti, the movie’s sound designer.

Equally vital to creating the appropriate environment for an actor to provide an emotionally raw performance is knowing if you’ve gotten what you would like.

“You never wish to must push an actor to must do something like that unnecessarily,” the “Woman King” director Gina Prince-Bythewood said. “For those who don’t have that thing inside that tells you that you just got it, then you definately’re going to go five, six, seven, eight times — and I feel that’s cruel.”

Within the editing room, it’s also crucial to discover the emotional peak — and to make the cut at that frame, no later.

“You wish to get to that time where they’re just form of inhaling and never exhaling,” said Terilyn A. Shropshire, the editor of “The Woman King.”

For the scene by which Nawi weeps over Izogie, Shropshire decided to chop away before Nawi had finished expressing her anguish. Since the moment comes in the course of an motion sequence, she explained, there wouldn’t have been time for Nawi to grieve properly.

“Reality would have interrupted,” Shropshire said.

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