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Keeping within the Line when shooting 4-5 people


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#1 Joel Froome

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 07:17 AM

Hi all,
Im shooting a film in a couple of weeks and there are a few scenes where there are multiple people talking to each other

One scene is in a hallway outside an apartment and There is quite a bit of movement between the 5 actors including people arriving at different times and kissing each other hello, so its not just a basic 5 person setup with just 5 o.t.s shots or something.
Later in the film there is also a scene where they are all spread out in an apartments living room all talking to each other.

So basically my question is what is the best way of shooting a scene and staying on the good side of the line and keeping eye lines in check when there are so many going all over the place?
Ive never had to shoot a scene with this many people in mind and it is quite confusing.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Many thanks in advance.

Joel
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 08:33 AM

I'd say forget the line so much so, you know. Establish them all in the space in wides as they come and go so we get an idea of who is where, then just go into it and shoot them as they speak. I'm not sure who they're speaking to etc, but you should be able to get some SrSs in there w/o much trouble, cutting to reations a little bit wider to keep re-establishing the visual relationships.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 09:19 AM

The line "rule" only exists for one reason: the make things (spatial relationships mainly) less confusing for the audience. If they aren't confused, or if you want them confused, then you don't have to follow it. If their spatial relationships are clear within the shot, then it matters less. If two people are fighting and rolling around on the hood of a car, for example, you could cut to almost any angle of that because it's clear who is fighting whom and where they are. In fact, crossing the line, jump cutting, etc. may be more interesting in that case.

Where it mainly comes into play is intercutting close-ups when you want it to be clear that two people are looking at each other. So take notes in your wider shots as to who is looking left or right at whom so you can match it in close-ups.

I posted this before, but look at this famous scene from "The Shining". In Kubrick's obsession with symmetry, he often shoots his wide shots as dead reverse angles of each other, thus crossing the 180 degree line. But you'll notice that once in close-ups, he establishes a line:

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So the issue is really either covering close-ups in both directions to match every possible screen direction that different wide shots established, or picking the wider or medium angles that you want the close-ups to match in terms of screen direction. Because of all these possible variations, people try to either pick one character to "pivot" around, one person who always stays one screen direction in all sizes of shots, or they minimize the number of times people cross the line. But you don't want boring or false staging, so you may end up just taking notes as to what screen direction your close-ups will have to be, and for a couple of people who look at multiple people, you may need two sets of close-ups, one looking left and one looking right.
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#4 Bruce Greene

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 10:34 AM

Hi all,
Im shooting a film in a couple of weeks and there are a few scenes where there are multiple people talking to each other

One scene is in a hallway outside an apartment and There is quite a bit of movement between the 5 actors including people arriving at different times and kissing each other hello, so its not just a basic 5 person setup with just 5 o.t.s shots or something.
Later in the film there is also a scene where they are all spread out in an apartments living room all talking to each other.

So basically my question is what is the best way of shooting a scene and staying on the good side of the line and keeping eye lines in check when there are so many going all over the place?
Ive never had to shoot a scene with this many people in mind and it is quite confusing.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Many thanks in advance.

Joel

Joel, if you want absolute clarity of characters looks and positions, there are only two choices:

1. Shoot everyone's CU twice, once for each screen direction.

2. Plan the editing in advance and rehearse the scene so that you know who is looking where, when, so that you only need to shoot one CU each.

I would opt for choice #1 if possible. Even on a two shot, you're going to have to think about which side of the camera the actors would look to the out of frame actors.

The strategy can get simpler if you're clear that the scene is about one person and how they react to the rest, for example.

Perhaps the most important thing is to schedule enough time to shoot the scene. A one page scene with 2 actors might be 1 to 4 set-ups. A one page scene with 5 actors might be 12 or even more set-ups in unusual situations.
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#5 Luke Hill

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 10:25 PM

A lot of it depends on the staging/blocking of your scene and what you're hoping to achieve.

There are many different approaches you can take, but if I were in your shoes, I would rehearse the blocking with the actors and decide exactly how I was going to shoot it ahead of time. Whether you're going handheld or locked down, etc. will make a big difference in how you approach the scene. You could establish different lines for each 'set' of characters, have a handheld camera within the group shooting whoever's talking at the moment with little regard for strict 180 degree lines... if you have an idea of what you want the scene to look like you could probably find some films with similar scenes and see how they were done.

For my money I'd rather know exactly how I intend to shoot and spend the time putting in the work up front to know exactly what I intend to do rather than shooting every single actor from both sides. In my (admittedly limited) experience you risk taking a lot longer having to get multiple takes of each actor than you do taking the time to plan it all out in advance.
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#6 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 11:48 PM

The "line" does not matter if you establish the scene and the character positions well enough. Hopefully you are on the same page as the director and editor.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 02:04 AM

The "line" does not matter if you establish the scene and the character positions well enough.


Well, it matters once you start intercutting singles...
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#8 Karel Bata

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 03:22 AM

What you have to add into the mix here is that often the editor will want to reorder the the dialog, or maybe just cut a section. But if you've worked out exactly the sequence of camera angles for the dialog as it is in the script you may limit his/her options despite having shot it perfectly! I once had an elaborate sequence involving a track and two characters (only two!) moving around all over the set in which I'd plotted out exactly what would be needed. But when it came to editing it was apparent a section of dialog was redundant, however if we cut it we would cross the line... We shot a pick-up of a close-up of some action and cut that in.

Noddies can look false if the eyeline is wrong. Are there any serving staff, waiters etc. that you could shoot for cover? Someone pouring a drink? A reaction to the food? A bit of footsie under the table? 'Cutting to the kitchen sink' I've heard it called. Overhead shots (just a thought here) allow you to completely (temporarily) throw the line out of the window.

As to deliberately crossing the line - I always see it. It violates the notion of the viewer as the 'invisible guest'. But then maybe it's a matter of personal taste. I'd rather not risk it. But it can work well as an alienating device. That shot in The Shining (YouTube clip) crosses the line entirely for effect. It's deliberately jarring. An important aspect of that cut is that you're cutting to Nicholson's reaction (which is a sudden and huge shift in his perception) that helps to mask what's being done technically. Elsewhere in that scene it wouldn't work.
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#9 Luke Hill

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 10:39 AM

Are you directing this piece yourself or are you acting as DP?
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 10:59 AM

I don't mind creative line-jumping -- in fact, I often look for such opportunities. Otherwise, a computer could plot the coverage for a scene. You don't want filmmaking to become mechanical, a bunch of masters, mediums, overs, and singles, scene after scene after scene.

It's an important thing to learn to free yourself from overly safe staging and coverage, once you know the rules.

Like I said, the line rule only exists for one reason -- to make things less confusing to the audience. So you know who is looking at whom, spatial relationships, etc. So you can break the rule if (1) the spatial relationships are clear anyway, (2) the spatial relationships are unimportant, or (3) you want to confuse the audience.

I once was filming in a tiny room for a scene of a woman on the phone, panicked because she was a recovering alcoholic who felt tempted to take a drink. We shot a medium and a close-up from the same position. Well, because she was nervous and pacing, she never matched her positions or direction on any take, on either camera size. After trying to make some smooth edits from the medium to the close-up and failing, the editor decided to make every cut a jump cut and pick cut points with maximum mismatching in position -- it worked brilliantly. It conveyed her panic and confusion. It taught me to look for such opportunities to break the line. But in this case, spatial relationships and eyelines were meaningless anyway since she was alone.

As for the scene from "The Shining", I don't think the spatial relationships are confusing even though the line is crossed in the wider shots, so I don't really see it as jarring, just stark in its symmetry. And the close-ups conform to a line. What's jarring is simply the jump in screen size from wide to close-up.
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#11 Karel Bata

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 12:43 PM

You also 'jump' over to the other side, which I do find jarring. But it works.

You're right of course (as always) every 'rule' can be broken. Should be even. You just need a good reason, in that it has to serve the plot. BTW thanks for bringing that scene to my (our) attention. I like what he does there a lot and will steal that idea some day. ;)
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#12 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 11:11 PM

One of the best creative uses of crossing the line I've seen is in an episode of Battlestar Galactica, "Final Cut" (season 2, episode 8). In this sequence, crossing the line adds to the dramatic tension of the scene by simultaneously giving the viewer what they expect, while subtly violating their expectations.

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The camera has followed Col. Tigh into his quarters. He stops, the camera stops, and his wife Ellen runs towards him.

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In the reverse shot, we've crossed the line. These days, crossing the line in and of itself is getting more and more common. However, Stephen McNutt didn't just leave it there - he added a couple of more layers to it, to really scramble our brains.

In a "traditional" reverse shot, Ellen would be camera left, Col. Tigh would be camera right. As Ellen runs towards her husband, the camera would likely have remained stationary. The viewer would then see the figure on camera left move, and the figure on camera right remain relatively motionless.

In this shot, however, the camera moves with Ellen:
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The visual effect of this is to keep the figure on the right relatively motionless, while the figure on the left moves within the frame - exactly what the viewer expects. However, because the camera crossed the line, the characters have switched places - something that the viewer would not expect. It also sets up a visual conflict - the figure that is running is remaining fairly motionless in the frame, but the figure that is standing still is moving. Talk about your conflicting visual clues!!

And because the whole sequence lasts only a few seconds, the viewer doesn't have time to analyze the shots to figure out what is so jarring about them.

With this much care and attention going into a sequence lasting five seconds, is it any wonder that Stephen McNutt was nominated for an Emmy?
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#13 Bob Hayes

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 11:29 PM

The best way to simplify your life is shoot two cameras. When I get stuck in complicated line crossing situations on a television shows and I don’t have time to work through the blocking I’ll just throw a second camera in with different screen direction to insure I get those tough shots.

Another trick is to pick your key actor. I’ll often put them in the middle. Then hinge the screen direction off of them. Everyone camera right looks right to left at your actor and everyone camera left looks left to right. Now you only need to worry about some of the interactions between the other players.

You can also change screen direction off of a correct look. Let’s say actor A looks R to L to actor B which is correct. Once you have that correct connection actor B can now look at anyone else at the table with any screen direction. As long as you don’t change the geography of where they are it will cut.
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#14 Hal Smith

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 05:00 AM

In the shot from "The Shining" the sinks and the urinals also change screen side. That's a huge visual clue to the audience that they're looking at the actors from the opposite direction. Crossing the line isn't the sin, confusing the audience's internalized map of the scene is the sin...unless of course you intend to scramble that map.
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#15 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 06:49 AM

Well, it matters once you start intercutting singles...


Agreed :rolleyes: Whoops :)
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#16 Karel Bata

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Posted 18 June 2009 - 08:19 AM

One of the best creative uses of crossing the line I've seen is in an episode of Battlestar Galactica, "Final Cut"

I'm looking forward to settling down with the box set and and (finally!) watching it!

I couldn't find that scene on YT, but I found this boxing match (and I thought BG was a sci-fi thing! :huh: ) Interesting how crossing the line is used here. Of course you could argue they completely screwed up while filming and the editor has managed to rescue the scene! :D (And no, I don't really believe that. )

For a contrast here's Scorcese's Raging Bull At first it's rigidly on one side, then on the second beating the line is crossed but with something cut in like the girl's reaction to soften the impact, and by the end it's all over the place. Genius!


I've noticed how different people have different ideas about what the line is (and how hot under the collar they can get about it!) and I wonder if some folk who think it gets crossed frequently have too rigid an idea of what it is in the first place. It's very fluid.
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#17 Joel Froome

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 09:04 AM

Are you directing this piece yourself or are you acting as DP?

Im the DP of the film. It's just a challenge because there is about 35 pages worth of people in a room and all over the apartment so it's tough to figure out. But it's taking shape. The director has mainly done theatre before so as far as coverage goes it's pretty much up to me.
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#18 Luke Hill

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 11:09 AM

Im the DP of the film. It's just a challenge because there is about 35 pages worth of people in a room and all over the apartment so it's tough to figure out. But it's taking shape. The director has mainly done theatre before so as far as coverage goes it's pretty much up to me.


Wow. I'm a director and occasionally do some camera & lighting work only out of necessity, but I never show up on set without a shot list and a plan for exactly how I want to shoot every single scene on the agenda (often even including ideas about lens types, DOF, etc.).

I know that every director (and DP for that matter) works differently, but I work with the understanding that it's the director's job (certainly with input from the DP if they give it) to decide what shots are in the piece and it's the DP's job to be able to realize that vision with lighting, camera, etc.

I know there are plenty of people on the boards who have a lot more professional experience than I do, so maybe this is more common than I realize, but it certainly sounds to me like the director is ill-prepared (though somewhat understandable as he's coming from a theater background).

Guys (and gals)? Do the directors you work with typically have all of their shots planned out themselves or do they expect you to do it?

(By the way - hopefully some of the advice on the board has helped - it sounds like you've certainly got your hands full!)

Edited by Luke Hill, 20 June 2009 - 11:10 AM.

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#19 Joel Froome

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 05:14 AM

Wow. I'm a director and occasionally do some camera & lighting work only out of necessity, but I never show up on set without a shot list and a plan for exactly how I want to shoot every single scene on the agenda (often even including ideas about lens types, DOF, etc.).

I know that every director (and DP for that matter) works differently, but I work with the understanding that it's the director's job (certainly with input from the DP if they give it) to decide what shots are in the piece and it's the DP's job to be able to realize that vision with lighting, camera, etc.

I know there are plenty of people on the boards who have a lot more professional experience than I do, so maybe this is more common than I realize, but it certainly sounds to me like the director is ill-prepared (though somewhat understandable as he's coming from a theater background).

Guys (and gals)? Do the directors you work with typically have all of their shots planned out themselves or do they expect you to do it?

(By the way - hopefully some of the advice on the board has helped - it sounds like you've certainly got your hands full!)


Yeah, all the help on this board has been amazing, thanks everybody for that!!

This film has definitely has been a learning experience for me, I have never been left to do an entire shotlist for a film before, let alone for a 30+ page dialogue heavy film with 6 actors all over the place, But the director is still learning as am I so I guess I will chalk it up to expierence. Not to take anything away from the director, he has been great with the actors so hopefully my shotlist will be what he wants!

But again cheers for all the advice!!
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#20 kevin baggott

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 11:57 AM

Hey Joel - I recently picked up the 6 dvd box set of Hollywood Camera Work - and I envy you that at your age you could potetially buy it and gleam what are on those disks. I went to film school and even though as my thesis film i got to write and direct a 50 min film on 16mm - after watching the first 15 minutes of disk 1 I was learning more then the 4 years of film school. I'm exagerrating a bit. But that's one powerful tool those 6 dvds - Kevin
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