Film & TV

Spike Lee’s Double Dolly Shot: Learn About Lee’s Signature Filmmaking Technique

Written by MasterClass

Sep 3, 2019 • 4 min read

Dollies are one of the most essential pieces of filmmaking equipment and their use in Hollywood films is incredibly common. The double dolly shot is a specialized technique of camera movement invented and popularized by director Spike Lee.

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What Is a Dolly Shot?

A dolly consists of a camera mounted on a cart that travels along dolly tracks. In filmmaking, a camera dolly is generally used to create steady moving shots. Dollies are among the oldest pieces of film equipment—the dolly was first invented in 1907, allowing filmmakers in those days to move what were then incredibly large and unwieldy cameras.

“Dollying” can also refer to the in-and-out movement (i.e. closer/further away from the subject), and movement from side to side. To “dolly in” means to move the camera towards the subject, whereas to “dolly out” refers to moving out.

What Is a Double Dolly Shot?

A double dolly shot is a special type of dolly move that was popularized by director Spike Lee and has become a signature shot synonymous with his style.

  • Traditional dolly shots involve placing the camera and camera operator on a dolly that moves around the action being shot.
  • A double dolly shot involves a traditional dolly set up with the camera and camera operator on one dolly, with the addition of an actor placed directly across from the camera either on the same dolly platform or a separate dolly.
  • The dolly then moves the camera and actor at the same pace through the scenery. The visual created is of a motionless central character moving through space as the background glides past.
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Spike Lee’s Use of Double Dolly Shots

Spike Lee burst onto the scene in 1989 with his film Do The Right Thing. Since 1989, Lee’s films have explored the African American experience. Many have been filmed and take place in Brooklyn, New York. The double dolly can be found in many of Lee’s movies, including:

  • Mo’ Better Blues (1990). Lee created the double dolly shot with his cinematographer on the set of Mo’ Better Blues in 1990. Lee’s character, Giant, is depicted walking down a New York street towards a bookie with whom he has unsettled debts. The dolly shot depicts Giant moving towards the bookie and then floating away once he spots him.
  • Malcolm X (1992). Lee’s double dolly is used in the lead-up to the film’s climax. Malcolm X (played by Denzel Washington) is shown moving down the street leading to his eventual assassination. The double dolly shot is used to capture Malcolm X’s stoicism in the face of death and the plodding inevitability of his demise.
  • BlacKkKlansman (2018). Lee closes BlacKkKlansman with an affecting double dolly shot. The protagonist Ron Stallworth receives a knock on his door. Suspecting he may be in trouble he readies himself with a handgun before opening the door to reveal no one is there. We then watch as he and his love interest, Patrice, glide down the hallway in a double-dolly sequence.

Other films from Lee’s filmography that incorporate the signature dolly shots include Jungle Fever (1991); Crooklyn (1994); He Got Game (1998); Summer of Sam (1999); Bamboozled (2000); and 25th Hour (2002).

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3 Different Types of Dolly Shots

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Dollies are used for a variety of camera shots, almost all of which are used more often than the double dolly shot.

  1. Dolly zoom. The dolly zoom shot is when the camera is dollied in or out while the zoom is pulled in the opposite direction. This can have the effect of making the background rush in or out of frame while the main subject of the shot remains relatively motionless.
  2. Tracking shot. A tracking shot can refer to any camera move where a subject is followed by the camera. This is generally accomplished by using a dolly. Longer tracking shots are hard to pull off as they require a lot of time and action to take place in one take.
  3. 360-degree dolly shot. A 360-degree dolly shot is a dolly shot that moves all the way around the action it is depicting. It can produce a highly dynamic and kinetic effect and is often used for action sequences. 360 dolly shots have a high degree of difficulty because it is difficult for crew and equipment to remain hidden when the camera tracks 360 degrees around a space.

Whether you’re making your first short or working towards your first feature in the festival circuit, breaking into the world of independent filmmaking requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than legendary director Spike Lee, whose films have shaped movie history. In Spike Lee’s MasterClass on independent filmmaking, the visionary behind Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and 25th Hour breaks down the process of independent filmmaking, from writing, self-producing, working with actors, and making movies that break barriers.

Want to become a better filmmaker? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master filmmakers, including Spike Lee, Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Jodie Foster, Werner Herzog, and Aaron Sorkin.

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