So say for instance two characters are sitting in a diner having a conversation, I've seen it shot where answering shots are merely clean singles and sometimes they have the hand, or the shoulder, or the head, or something minuscule of the other character in the frame, as well as the face of the person answering. What are the established rules for when to include a "piece" of the other character in the answering shot and when to make it a clean shot of just the person answering? Is this "dirty" shot kind of a variation of an OTS (Over the shoulder)?Thanks in advance!
Question regarding "answering shots"
Posted 18 July 2015 - 03:28 PM
I don't think there are any hard and fast rules on that. It's more of a stylistic choice and a matter of works for the shot. Sometimes having the graphic weight of the character who is being spoken to balances out the frame, but at other times it might feel intrusive. So it all depends.
You can see some very innovative examples of this in Gordon Willis' & Dante Spinotti's respective works (especially in Spinotti's collaborations with Michael Mann.)
Posted 18 July 2015 - 05:26 PM
I find that focal length is a factor -- it is easier to get a "clean" single in a conversation scene if the single is shot on, let's say, a 40mm, 50mm as opposed to a 100mm because the camera is essentially within the space between the actors, or close enough to the actual distance to the off-screen actor. Once you start going more telephoto, it is harder to cheat out the foreground shoulder of the person because they have to back up as far as the camera if you are shooting frontal singles -- actors can find that distracting, plus if they exchange objects or shake hands in the scene, it is hard for them to reach the other actor.
So once I commit to longer lenses for coverage, I generally live with over-the-shoulders and "dirty" singles as if I am a documentarian observing this conversation from a distance. Otherwise the solution if you want them clean is to shoot the singles from more off-axis, like in a 3/4 angle.
Just look at coverage in the Coen Bros. movies shot by Roger Deakins, often on shorter focal lengths -- often close-ups are "clean" when covering a conversation across a desk or table between two people.
There may be a practical reason for shooting "clean" singles, which is that your actors are not matching their movements take-to-take, like when they pick up their forks or take a drink during a dinner scene, etc. Makes it harder to intercut if the actor in the foreground is not matching themselves to their frontal angle, and vice-versa. This becomes even more of an issue when you are dealing with inexperienced actors like young children -- or animals -- it is useful to have some clean cutaways in case the action doesn't match.
You can also make a case for a certain character to be more visually isolated from his or her surroundings and from other characters, for dramatic reasons. Or conversely, to be more visually hemmed in and surrounded by others.
Posted 18 July 2015 - 05:31 PM
The other more practical factor is the aspect ratio you are composing for. When framing up singles in a wide 2.39:1 'scope frame, it's much more difficult to exclude foreground characters if you want a tight eyeline for the camera. So for clean singles you end up having the foreground actor right next to the mattebox which can be uncomfortable or intrusive for the actors. But you do whatever you have to in order to get the shots you need.
*David beat me to it!