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Eyelines help!


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#1 filmj101

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 02:29 PM

I don't know if proper eyelines are just intuitive for most people, but I don't get them, and I have yet to see a book with a good discussion about how to match eyelines. If there are some basic "rules" to follow I would like to know them. I know that many people would say that these rules are meant to be broken, but I think I really need to understand the fundamentals before branching out and I just don't. I know that every angle must be from the same side of the "180 degree line", but that's about all I really understand.
For instance, if I am shooting opposing close-ups of two characters facing each other, as pictured in this diagram, and I shoot character 2 from angle A, does that mean I have to shoot character 1's close-up from the exact opposite angle (angle B) or can I shoot it from any angle as long as it's on the same side of the action, like angles C or D? If I do have to shoot it from the exact opposite angle, is there a trick or some easy way of remembering the exact angle when moving the camera for the second close-up or do I just have to form a mental picture in my head of what the first close-up looked like and try to match that? I have not had much luck with that method. If it is really that critical, I imagine people must have a system for doing it, either taking measurements of how far off the lens axis the eyeline is or taking digital pictures of the monitor or something, but I've never heard anyone discuss any such method. No one really seems to discuss eyelines at all, which is what baffles me. Is matching the two shots more critical in close-ups than wider shots like medium shots?
And what about lens height? Is it more common to put the camera at the eye level of the person speaking or the person being spoken to? Again, I'm sure people will say it depends on the situation, but I'm just trying to get a grasp on the basics here. If one person is shot from a slightly low-angle, does that mean the other must be shot from a corresponding slightly high-angle?
Any info or helpful hints on this topic would be appreciated. I've seen people suggest that nothing matters as long as the camera stays on one side of the action, but then I've also seen cases where it doesn't really look like two people are looking at each other even though one looks left-to-right and the other looks right-to-left, so I don't know what to think. Thanks a lot.
-J

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Edited by filmj101, 15 August 2005 - 02:32 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 02:50 PM

You can either be really picky about matching eyelines (each close-up shot on the same focal length at the same distance at the same camera height, looking at the same opposing angles, etc.) or you might not be so picky. That's why movies are made by people and not computers.

The only real "rule" (and Ozu often broke this one) is that people in their close-ups, when intercut, look like they are talking to each other. So if you have looser shots where both people are in the frame, you have more liberty to cross the line because their geographical positions to each other are obvious.

Yes, it looks smoother if the two close shots match exactly, versus, let's say, one person being shot in profile and the other more dead-on frontal. But it's not always necessary that a scene be cut smoothly. Sometimes a more fragmented tone is OK.

The other reason why close-ups tend to be more frontal is just you tend to "read" the actors emotions and connect with them more if they look more towards the lens rather than far-off from the lens. But there are times when a shot of the back of someone's head or their hands, etc. can convey emotion too.

So basically if you can imagine the editing of the scene, the only thing you really need to concern yourself is the eyelines in close-ups and whether when intercut, the people look like they are looking at each other.

Kubrick, Kurosawa, and even Clint Eastwood (who copied from Kurosawa) were fond of "reverse masters" -- wide shots that were exactly 180 degrees from the previous master. You see this in Kubrick especially since he often shot rooms dead-on, symmetrically, like the red bathroom in "The Shining". But you'll note that when he punched into close-ups, the reverse close-up matches correctly for eyeline.
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#3 filmj101

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 03:22 PM

So basically if you can imagine the editing of the scene, the only thing you really need to concern yourself is the eyelines in close-ups and whether when intercut, the people look like they are looking at each other.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


That's the part I'm having difficulty with. How do I know if it will look like the people are looking at each other?
-J
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#4 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 03:43 PM

But there are times when a shot of the back of someone's head or their hands, etc. can convey emotion too.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Yes, and I think Hitchcock was a master at doing that sort of thing.

In a modern context, one of my favorite shots is from a scene in "Se7en" when Morgan Freeman is seated at his desk typing. As Freeman reacts to what he is being told, Fincher frames not a standard big CU, but rather a high angle shot showing us the BACK of Freeman's head.

We didn't need to see his face in order to gauge his reaction.
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#5 Gordon Highland

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Posted 15 August 2005 - 04:15 PM

That's the part I'm having difficulty with.  How do I know if it will look like the people are looking at each other?
-J

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


As long as they are actually looking at each other, and your angles are close to symmetrical on the same side of "the line," it will look correct. you could storyboard it if you're in doubt. watch some dialogue scenes you admire with the sound off and make notes of their framings. i personally give myself some flexibility with not always being perfectly symmetrical, but one thing that does bother me is if there's an over-the-shoulder on one side, but the other is not. to me, the closer i get to a straight-on shot, the pickier i get. all of one character's lines could be in a WS of the room with nothing but CUs of the other person, if it suits the scene. i've done that before when i was rushed for time on the shoot. wish i could say it was always story-driven. heck, you don't even have to cut back to the other character if the reaction is the most important thing, that can be very powerful.

the focal length does not have to match from cut to cut between people, although you should probably shoot them that way and pick the length that feels right for any particular shot later in editing (i always start with them matching, and sometimes get more agressive as the scene goes along). as far as height, everyone has different theories. to me, eye-level is a little too high and "shoulder-mounted"-looking. i prefer to drop down and shoot from about chest level, sometimes slightly tilted up. if one character is significantly taller than the other and i'm doing over-the-shoulders, i'll shoot the shorter person over the shoulder and keep the same height for the taller person and you'll see the side of their arm or whatnot in the foreground instead. in other words, i don't like to change the tilt.

personally, i think a profile shot is out of place cut against a 3/4 shot of the other person. profiles are best used when characters' agendas are in opposition to one another, and you can bring the angle around more straight-on as they resolve (or don't). but only you can decide that.
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#6 Jim Feldspar

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 09:19 PM

Yes, and I think Hitchcock was a master at doing that sort of thing.

In a modern context, one of my favorite shots is from a scene in "Se7en" when Morgan Freeman is seated at his desk typing. As Freeman reacts to what he is being told, Fincher frames not a standard big CU, but rather a high angle shot showing us the BACK of Freeman's head.

We didn't need to see his face in order to gauge his reaction.



"As Freeman reacts" ! Excellent example. That's Freeman's style. He says that he doesn't "act",
he reacts.

As far as shooting eyes and eyelines, read what Michael Caine says in "Acting in Film" about how an
actor should use
his eyes and once you know that trick you can teach it to actors. If they're good actors, they'll be
grateful.
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