Staging & Blocking

In a previous post we had a great explanation of clear staging in Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas’ book, The Illusion of Life:

“Staging” is the most general of the principles because it covers so many areas and goes back so far in the theatre. Its meaning, however, is very precise: it is the presentation of any idea so that it is completely and unmistakably clear. An action is staged so that it is understood, a personality so that it is recognizable, an expression so that it can be seen, a mood so that it will affect the audience. Each is communicating to the fullest extent with the viewers when it is properly staged.

At his blog Temple of the Seven Golden Camels, Mark Kennedy explains blocking:

The term “blocking” means the same thing whether you’re talking about film or theater. Basically, the term refers to how the characters move through the scene and how they interact with their environment, including props, furniture and whatever else can be helpful in telling the story.
When blocking is used well–especially in conjunction with good staging (and by staging I mean the placement of the camera)–it can make the difference between a series of events that are merely shown to the audience, or a powerful story that unfolds in an emotional and dramatic fashion.

These two terms are related and are used to get across the same idea: where you place your characters in relationship to each other and the environment is an important aspect of visual storytelling.

In the previously mentioned post we find an example of a scene staged in a way that highlights how alone and unconnected Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character is walking into the dance hall in The Gold Rush:

gold rush saloon

The composition and staging of this moment goes a long way toward establishing the tramp as an outsider. As he slowly shuffles into the saloon, the Tramp is isolated in the foreground while everyone else is situated in the middle or background, dancing and having a good time. The wooden pillars holding up the ceiling serve to divide the space up between the Tramp and the others.

This example goes hand-in-hand with the composition of the shot, using framing (the pillars holding up the low ceiling at the entrance to the dance hall), as well as depth (foreground, middle ground, background).

(Check back to this post later for more on Staging & Blocking)