Why does 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi look like it's been filmed with a camcorder at times? It's especially noticeable with the colors, especially of fire or harsh lighting at night but also in the camera work. I'm not even talking about the shaky cam for action sequences but the hand-held look of almost every tracking shot and even pans between two people talking.

With an estimated budget of $50,000,000 I doubt that they couldn't afford a Steadicam, decent digital cameras and professional color grading. So was it an artistic choice? What would Bay have gone for with this? I found it nothing but distracting, taking me out of the movie more than once. The movie is not going for found footage or a mockumentary look or whatever to enhance "realism" so what gives?

  • "Really, it’s best to let “13 Hours” come at you like a piece of hyperkinetic abstract art, drenched in diesel, blood and testosterone. Beebe, doing his most striking handheld work since Michael Mann’s “Collateral” and “Miami Vice,” captures images of staggering brutality, but there’s an eerie seductiveness to his palette as well, from the regular use of night-vision footage to the sight of this still-beautiful beach city" - variety.com/2016/film/reviews/…
    – user7812
    Mar 7, 2016 at 20:59
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    Directed by Michael Bay. Not sure any other answer is necessary.
    – MattD
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:18
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    @MattD Well, there were certain shots like the one at the pool where the camera is at ground level looking up to the guy for no fricking reason that bore the handiwork of Michael Bay to me. The camcorder look didn't particularly scream "BAY!" to me.
    – Christian
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:22
  • @Christian Are you talking about his infamous, "Low view pan around," shots?
    – MattD
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:24
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    @Richard Cloverfield is found footage though. I mentioned that genre in my question. I get how the visual language of found footage would translate to action scenes but in a quiet scene of two people talking, isn't one bound to wonder who the guy holding the camera is if attention in drawn to the camera work?
    – Christian
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


Doing that on purpose is a cinematograpy technique called Shaky cam:

Shaky cam is often employed to give a film sequence an ad hoc, electronic news-gathering, or documentary film feel. It suggests unprepared, unrehearsed filming of reality, and can provide a sense of dynamics, immersion, instability or nervousness. The technique can be used to give a pseudo-documentary or cinéma vérité appearance to a film.

So most likely the explanation if you asked the filmmakers (Bay and company) would be that they did this to give you the feeling that you are there with the camera during the action. A lot of war movies are doing this (most notably, the Normandy Invasion scene during Saving Private Ryan). Its director Michael Bay is famous for (over?)use of this technique as it is, so him using it for a war-movie seems like a slam-dunk.

In this particular case, I've also heard cynics say that shaky-cam is trying to overcompensate for the fact that the movie itself is pure politically-motivated fiction by using a documentary film shooting technique. Perhaps if its shot like a documentary, some people might be fooled into thinking it is one.

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