15 Things That Stanley Kubrick Can Teach You About Filmmaking

8. Long Shot


A long shot allows you to place a lot of information on screen, and helps to convey an actor’s body language as well as their relative geography to other characters in a scene.

In another indoor shot from A Clockwork Orange, we see garish colours and trendy furniture, mixed with a radio, empty booze bottles, dirty dishes and a large pot of tea – in other words, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) comes from a typically normal British background.

Notice the artwork on the walls, which could be suggestive of society’s casual attitude to the objectification of women – perhaps a subtle influence on Alex’s violent behaviour towards women through the film.


9. Wide-angle Lenses in Cramped Spaces

wide lense

After you’ve decided to shoot a scene with a long-shot framing, then you’re going to need to select the right sort of lens to capture the scene’s detail. Many of Kubrick’s films are notable for their use of extreme wide-angle lenses, but even a subtle use of a wide-angle lens can make a difference.

The basic purpose of a wide-angle lens is to allow more space to be displayed on screen, so it’s useful for cramped, indoor sequences. Extreme wide-angle lenses also have the ‘Kubrickian’ effect of distorting straight lines that are near to the edge of the frame. They also exaggerate the distance between the foreground and background, giving his films a tangible sense of depth.

More fundamentally, wide-angle lenses allow a filmmaker to really show off their sets (which Kubrick always put a lot of thought into when constructing).


10. Wide-angle Lenses in Large Spaces

wide lense 2

Of course, it would be a mistake to characterise Kubrick as one-trick pony. During Paths of Glory’s court martial sequence you’re able to see a lot of detail, but it’s not all in focus. Kubrick uses a wide-angle lens so that the sense of depth is maintained but he’s only keeping Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) in focus.

This is achieved by using shallow depth of field with a wide-angle lens. As an audience member, we know where our attention is being directed but due to Kubrick’s framing we’re still aware of the full scale of the sequence.


11. Zoom Lenses


Many scenes in Barry Lyndon are filmed using zoom lenses, which slowly reveal the picturesque landscapes and ballroom settings. The focal length of a zoom lens can be adjusted mid-shot, allowing the camera to change from a wide-angle range to a telephoto range which enlarges distant backgrounds, making them seen closer to the foreground.

During the first duel sequence, it’s almost as if you’re standing close to a giant canvas observing the detail of the muskets. Kubrick then slowly zooms out to reveal his entire, magnificent, landscape (my comparison to a canvas isn’t accidental; Kubrick used eighteenth century paints as his reference points for designing shots for Barry Lyndon). It’s a beautiful shot that’s uninterrupted by edits, which helps to heighten the tension by keeping the audience member completely in the scene.


12. Choice of Film Format


These days, it’s very rare for a mainstream filmmaker to shoot on actual film. Regardless, Kubrick’s productions offer useful examples as to why a filmmaker might have chosen to work with different film formats.

2001: A Space Odyssey was shot in Super Panavision 70, which means that it was filmed using 65mm film and projected in cinemas from a 70mm print (similar to today’s IMAX, although 2001 was often projected in Cinerama on a curved screen). Although using this high-resolution format was expensive, it gives the film an epic, larger than life appearance.

For Kubrick’s next film, A Clockwork Orange, he decided that shooting on 65mm film wasn’t appropriate; many of the scenes were to be filmed inside real houses so they’d therefore need smaller, more portable, equipment. As a result the crew chose to shoot using the more commonly used 35mm film.


13. Chronology


It’s fairly commonplace to see non-linear narrative films in the Twenty-First Century, but it was atypical in 1956 when Kubrick played around with chronology for his heist film The Killing. The decision was stylistic and it was deeply impressed Marlon Brando and Kirk Douglas (and later inspired Quentin Tarantino for many of his films).

For Lolita, Kubrick played around chronology for a different reason; he sacrificed a good ending for a good opening. He felt that the second half of the story was inferior to the first so he moved the finale to the opening – so that the audience would stay interested.

By switching around the order of events, Kubrick dramatically altered how we perceive certain characters on screen; we know that Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers) has committed a terrible crime and we keep watching Lolita to find out what he’s guilty of!


14. Use of Colour


The internet is awash with theories that point to the significance behind the use of different colours in Eyes Wide Shut. Read these theories at your own risk; perhaps red might represent sex, maybe yellow could represent betrayal and it’s possible that blue signifies danger – but Kubrick’s true masterstroke is having created a film that uses colour so vividly that it becomes a talking point in itself.

The entire film is bathed in the soft, warm glow of Christmas tree lights – a tenable nod to an early conversation where Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) is told that he’s being taken to “where the rainbow ends”.

These soft, dreamlike colours were achieved using a technique called ‘push processing’, where the film is left to develop for longer than normal to enhance the colours. The method is normally used when light is poor (and as a result, Kubrick also used it in Barry Lyndon) and it let Kubrick work with a low-lighting level on set, giving the film an ethereal look that’s not dissimilar from many Christmas cards.


15. Casting


Kubrick went to great lengths to make his films appear as authentic as possible. From consulting NASA when making 2001, to using nothing but candlelight to light sequences in Barry Lyndon, he always made sure that his films reflected real life wherever practicable.

He took this drive for authenticity one step further for Full Metal Jacket when he cast real drill instructor Ronald Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Ermey delivered expletive-filled (and often hilarious), ad-libbed rants to the new army recruits. As a result you got a brutally realistic portrayal that became instantly iconic.

Author Bio: David Biggins is a film graduate and marketeer from England. He’s been published on the BBC website, and used to present a film radio show in Norfolk. Before joining Taste of Cinema he was a film critic for Reel Whispers.You can follow David on Twitter @MrMilktray.