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Crossing the line, a choice for DP/Director?


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#1 Oleg Kalyan

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 12:09 AM

I've just watched "21 grams" (better late than never!) What a great film, one thing I've noticed how many times the camera crossed the line, it was for sure creative choice of the Director, maybe more so of the DP Diego Prieto, I really think it worked to strengthen overall confusion of the film.

I am about to shoot a scene in a short film, it takes place during a parade, after a parade, lots of people are going to be in shots and behind on the background,
I contemplate whether do cross the line at all, how much, I realize it's a creative tool to get the context across, (also directing this)

Please share your thoughts,

Cheers!
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#2 Allen Achterberg

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 12:24 AM

not sure what sort of an answer your looking for here. I mean, its a choice for you and you, use your best judgement and if you see it fit with your style, go for it. Not sure many can make the decision for you.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 12:27 AM

I've always viewed "the line" as a tool to keep two people who are talking with each other looking at each other. Obviously if you "cross the line" in a dialogue scene, both people will be looking to the same side of the screen instead of toward one another. This is where dining room or conference table scenes get tricky. Following the rule just helps the audience from getting confused as to the geography of where one person on screen is in relation to everyone else.

That said, the line is just a guide, not a rule. If you want or need to cross it in order to tell a better story or to impart some kind of "feeling," the worst that can happen is that it won't work the way you wanted it to and people like us will take pot shots afterwards! :P

Really, whatever works. The standard "Wide Establish... Over... CU.... Over...CU" scenario can be boring, but it's safe. But the crazier you'd like to get while shooting, be sure to take some time to imagine or storyboard how the entire sequence will cut together so you don't get into trouble while sitting in that dark room.
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#4 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 12:32 AM

I've just watched "21 grams" (better late than never!) What a great film, one thing I've noticed how many times the camera crossed the line, it was for sure creative choice of the Director, maybe more so of the DP Diego Prieto, I really think it worked to strengthen overall confusion of the film.

I am about to shoot a scene in a short film, it takes place during a parade, after a parade, lots of people are going to be in shots and behind on the background,
I contemplate whether do cross the line at all, how much, I realize it's a creative tool to get the context across, (also directing this)

Please share your thoughts,

Cheers!



Watching "24" last year I was intrigued by how often shots crossed the line and yet weren't jarring. I think that in a simple scene, say two people talking about
the weather, it's really conspicuous if there's a jump across the line. In a scene in which there's all sorts of tension and dramatic dialogue, it's easier for the viewer to get caught up in the story and not notice as much, especially if the shots are also different focal lengths. I was constantly thinking about how "24" had scenes in which the line was constantly being crossed but it wasn't jarring to me; I was still caught up in the story.

Why they did it is another question. I think that, having seen some behind the scenes footage of "24" in which there were often two cameras rolling simultaneously with one moving handheld, crossing the line so much may have been the result of having the camera
operators follow the story without worrying about the line so much

When you then add a lot of action to a scene, like bullets and bombs, it becomes even easier in general to get away with crossing the line, I think, although
somehow that starts to irritate me more than say when Jack Bauer is talking to the president and the shots jump around during such an urgent discussion.

If you ever saw "NYPD Blue" that utilized a style that incorporated a lot of adjoining but fractured shots, as if there were some disjointed
documentary footage, but somehow that seemed to work. It may not have been for all tastes but it worked in that a shot panning would be interrupted and then a part of another shot would be next and then something else shaky in a way that typically would never be done for an episodic drama and which would
look funky even in a documentary but in "NYPD Blue" seemed to slide by.

I think that a good soundtrack with high quality and layers of effects and ambience and a score help shots flow together in a way that would be a lot
bumpier if the same shots had no score or underlying room tone from shot to shot and the audio was being cut each time as well.
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#5 Karel Bata

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 07:44 AM

Who's your target audience?

If I were watching it I might think you're a novice. An ad exec on the other hand might think it's a sign of real talent...

My suspicion is that sometimes it's done deliberately, but more often there's not a lot of choice cos they screwed up in shooting and the editor hopes the audience doesn't notice. Fact is it's a lot more difficult to find a good cutting point.



p.s. it's not actually a line but a plane that extends vertically (and gets very fuzzy around the ceiling). :(
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#6 Mike Washlesky

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 09:36 AM

The reason it is being used more often it seems, is that the audience is now conditioned to the look and editing style of reality TV unfortunately. But, that allows for greater freedom in shooting off the line and not confusing the audience. Watch some shows like Dexter and they have shots of 2 people across a desk having a conversation where one subject is in a WS in the lower right frame looking frame right with tons of negative space filling the rest of the frame. They then cut to a normal OTS clean on the person across the desk, and they are looking frame left in a CU. By the "rules" this shouldnt work by convention, but it does. Our eyes as an audience have changed it seems.
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#7 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 10:09 AM

... line crossing can be a really complicated issue depending on the scene... it's straight-forward to control in a two-hander, but when you've got multiple characters it can be a bit of a challenge and you've got to keep on top of your coverage and directions to actors with their eyelines, and of course the camera angle. If you want to cross the line it's often best when you make bigger jumps between framing sizes or use movement in a shot to fool the viewers eye'. Watch how Kubrick does it - with bold cuts and framing sizes etc.

... On reality tv the line is often crossed but it's more down to poor coverage than a creative decision...
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#8 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 10:29 AM

NCIS crosses the line all the time during two way dialogue scenes. Having said that, they also cut on every line of dialogue... I guess they worry in case the audience might realise how conventional it actually is beneath the surface.
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#9 Serge Teulon

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 01:10 PM

I've just watched "21 grams" (better late than never!) What a great film, one thing I've noticed how many times the camera crossed the line, it was for sure creative choice of the Director, maybe more so of the DP Diego Prieto, I really think it worked to strengthen overall confusion of the film.

I am about to shoot a scene in a short film, it takes place during a parade, after a parade, lots of people are going to be in shots and behind on the background,
I contemplate whether do cross the line at all, how much, I realize it's a creative tool to get the context across, (also directing this)

Please share your thoughts,

Cheers!


If a situation comes up like this I usually shoot the 2 angles plus a straight head on shot. In this case if the director by any chance changes his mind she/he's got a shot that will carry him/her to cross the line.

S
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#10 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 01:38 PM

If a situation comes up like this I usually shoot the 2 angles plus a straight head on shot. In this case if the director by any chance changes his mind she/he's got a shot that will carry him/her to cross the line.


Sandy Mackendrick told us in a class that while shootining 'The Sweet Smell of Success', that he was making small camera moves to keep shifting "the line" so that the producers couldn't drastically cut the scenes differently from his plan.
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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 01:39 PM

Just don't do it filming an interview, it just stands out and it really does look like a mistake to every professional watching.

I like to use eye movements (or non movement) to throw the line around during a scene, especially with multiple characters and the exchange's direction switches.
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#12 Oleg Kalyan

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 02:19 PM

Thanks a lot everyone participated for your input,
I found it very valuable.
Will do my best, good thing the piece is going to be shot with two cameras synced,
similar to 24, so at least that will cover some possible compromises.
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#13 Rich Hibner

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 03:05 PM

What's crossing the line?
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#14 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 03:22 PM

What's crossing the line?



It means you've gone too far. :lol:

But yeah, it really means that, sort of.

Here's a Wikipedia entry about it (is there ANYTHING that isn't on Wiki?): http://en.wikipedia....180_degree_rule

The gist is that you draw an imaginary line through the two people in your shot. That splits the room into two sections. To keep the proper geography consistent when editing, you want to keep your camera on only one side of that imaginary line for that length of the scene. You can do anything you want with it while there (closeups, over the shoulders, dollys, etc) but keep the camera on that side of the line.
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#15 John Sprung

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 07:06 PM

I like to use eye movements (or non movement) to throw the line around during a scene, ....

The other way to move the line is to move the camera. Use a slow, smooth dolly if you want to be subtle about it.



-- J.S.
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#16 Mike Washlesky

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 07:13 PM

What's crossing the line?



AKA breaking the axis, off axis
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#17 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 03:22 AM

If a situation comes up like this I usually shoot the 2 angles plus a straight head on shot. In this case if the director by any chance changes his mind she/he's got a shot that will carry him/her to cross the line.

S

That's just spraying the room. And if you consistently do that you'll most likely find yourself consistently behind schedule as well.
It's one thing to give an editor a choice, and it's a whole other thing to just shoot everything you can think of.
I think it was Scorsese who said, "There are directors, and there are selectors". The selectors shoot as many angles and shots as they can think of and sort it out in the editing bay. The directors shoot what they need, and only what they need, because they know how it's going to cut before they've shot it. I'll take a director every time.
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#18 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 03:24 AM

The other way to move the line is to move the camera. Use a slow, smooth dolly if you want to be subtle about it.



-- J.S.

That's a good way. Another subtle way is to cross the line in a wide shot. It's much less jarring and the geography isn't confused, which is basically the whole reason for the line to begin with.
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#19 Serge Teulon

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 06:27 AM

That's just spraying the room. And if you consistently do that you'll most likely find yourself consistently behind schedule as well.
It's one thing to give an editor a choice, and it's a whole other thing to just shoot everything you can think of.
I think it was Scorsese who said, "There are directors, and there are selectors". The selectors shoot as many angles and shots as they can think of and sort it out in the editing bay. The directors shoot what they need, and only what they need, because they know how it's going to cut before they've shot it. I'll take a director every time.



I hear what you are saying there brad but I would never consistently do that for the fact that it would be madness.
My reference was more towards if the situation arose where the director wasn't being decisive about that move. At the end of the day I believe that a good cameraman will not only do what he/she is asked to do but also to offer something extra. It has stood me in good stead in the past and I'm sure that it will in the future.

S
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#20 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 01:50 PM

My reference was more towards if the situation arose where the director wasn't being decisive about that move. At the end of the day I believe that a good cameraman will not only do what he/she is asked to do but also to offer something extra. It has stood me in good stead in the past and I'm sure that it will in the future.

S

I understand where you're coming from. The problem is, many directors who are "sometimes" indecisive are actually indecisive most of the time, which is obviously a problem. In those cases I've seen DP's end up making most of the choices regarding camera placement. If they don't make those decisions a lot of time is constantly wasted shooting all of the "options" for the director.
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