The past scenes in Blue Valentine were all shot on film to achieve a more nostalgic feel, like looking back on fond memories. This also meant fewer takes as they only had a certain amount of film to shoot with, and only used one camera. This results in the couple always being in the frame together for majority of the shots.
These moments are almost always accompanied by the soundtrack too.
A lot of the scenes were unscripted and improvised by the actors, as the director Derek Cianfrance used various method techniques to create these moments, which is why all the scenes are hand held, adding to the spontaneous feeling of the past section of the film.
The future/present scenes were shot with digital cameras, mostly on tripods and long lenses, creating a more distant feeling. These scenes are shot in a traditional shot, reverse shot way, meaning we don’t see the couple in the same frames anymore.
The soundtrack never accompanies these moments until the end, making the future/present section of the film feel more empty.
In between filming the past and present parts of the film, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams stayed in a house together for a month, encouraged by the director to pick fights and argue with each other, so when it came to filming these scenes, the arguments would feel real, tiring and repetitive. Shooting on digital also meant they had more time for more takes, which would really emphasize the worn out feeling of the dialogue exchanged, opposed to the fresher, unrehearsed performances of the past.
That line in the movie - that was never written in the script. That’s an improv line from Ben. So many of the best moments in movie history were captured, or just found, you know - were real, and were improvised… It blows my mind to think that the catchphrase of our movie was improvised by Ben Mendelsohn on set one day.
- Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines commentary
“Ryan Gosling called me like 8 weeks before we started shooting and said ‘Hey D. Let’s have the most tattoos in movie history in this one.’ I said ‘Okay. You want tattoos.’ He said ‘Yeah. And, I want a face tattoo.’ I said ‘Sure you want a face tattoo? That’s really permanent.’ He says ‘Yeah. And, it’s gonna be a dagger and it’s gonna be dripping blood.’ And I said ‘If I was your parent I’d say don’t get a face tattoo. You’re gonna regret it. But, you’re a big boy. You do whatever you wanna do.’
Flash-forward 8 weeks later, we’re shooting, first day of shooting. Ryan comes up to me at lunch and says ‘Hey D. I think I went too far with the face tattoo. I think we should reshoot all the stuff we did.’ And, I said ‘That’s what happens with the face tattoo. You regret it, and now you’re stuck with it. We’re not gonna reshoot anything. You’re gonna live with it for the rest of this movie.’ What it created in him was this shame. He was ashamed of himself. He had a regret and walked into every scene with that regret.” - Derek Cianfrance
Derek Cianfrance was adamant not to let production designers dig the hole for Ryan in the scene where Dean is burying his dog. Ryan dug it himself and an hour and a half later, “When he was done digging the hole, he broke down. And that was an unscripted scene, him crying at the table. He was actually so emotional and what he told me afterwards was that, that process tricked his body because his body was so exhausted and his body didn’t know that that wasn’t his dog. His body just buried his dog, and his body reacted in that way.“