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Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?

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Max Palmer
Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 10, 2012 at 2:16:19 pm

Hi guys- I'm currently going through footage that was shot for a multi person interview we conducted here at work. The footage was shot with two cameras. Since this is my first time doing this sort of project, what is the general rule of thumb for how long one would want to stick to one angle before switching, in order to alleviate "boredom"? This is a corporate-type of interview, and I would appreciate any tips or tricks to sort of help make it a bit more interesting. Some of these guys are pretty comfortable behind the camera, but a couple of them were a bit rough.

Thanks!


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Kylee Peña
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 10, 2012 at 3:56:46 pm

Basically whenever you feel like it should cut. I would never cut for the sake of cutting, or because "we've been on this angle a while I guess."

Or if you need to cover up stumbles, obviously.

You can also cut for impact. Cutting to the closer angle during an emotional or particularly important statement, maybe.

Just don't over-think it. There's no solid rules for any of this.


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Max Palmer
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 10, 2012 at 7:54:41 pm

Hm, good to know I'm overthinking things- as usual!

Thanks for the other suggestions too- all helpful!


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Mike Smith
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 10, 2012 at 6:10:40 pm

I'd go with the no-rules answer from Kylee. Just make it interesting to watch, as best you can.

Can you find any "b roll" - moving pictures with something interesting going on - to cut to while they're talking? It would need to be stuff relevent to what they are talking about, obviously ...

Cut it as short as you can, consistent with making sense ....

It's OK to see the person listening sometimes, as well as watching the person talking (what you'll probably end up doing most of )
...
Cut when there's a reason to cut - something to see, a point of passion, a good reaction, some relevant image ...


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Mark Suszko
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 11, 2012 at 2:31:35 pm

I think of cutting as punctuation applied to the spoken words in these cases. As with written punctuation, there are, if you don't want to call them "rules", at least there are "conventions". People speak in paragraphs, that is, they make a statement that they usually then follow up in more detail, and they tend to sum up that overall idea at the end. Not every time, but with some regularity in a situation like a business presentation.

Now, scientists and doctors have found that our brains become more activated when there is a sudden change in the visual input. This goes back to our evolutionary ancestors' need to quickly interpret food or foe when something changed in their environment. So we're hard-wired to perk up attention to movement and to a change in the overall scene.

A hack interprets this to mean if you cut to a new shot every ten seconds, keep startling that brain, you get the maximum activation and attention from the viewer. You do. Until you quickly tire them out with the false alarms, and they get bored and/or annoyed. Like that long car trip where your sister keeps poking you every couple of seconds.

How a pro would use this knowledge is to help define and shape the narrative flow, to create a subconscious boundary or break at each new idea, and an activating pulse of attention at a summary statement, or wherever they needed the maximum impact.

How I apply this practically, assuming a reasonable variety of available footage, is to open with wide or medium shots, and let the premise of the "paragraph" happen in that shot. As the speaker takes a breath and then launches into a more detailed breakdown of his idea, I slowly zoom in or dolly in or cut to a tighter shot, the change defines stages in a progression of the thought. When he's given the detail, and is about to make his summary of what he just meant, Boom, There goes the tightest shot, subconsciously activating the brain's extra attention with the abrupt angle change, but keeping the quick scanning of the visual field centered on the eyes and mouth and expression of the speaker, where all the nonverbal visual communication is happening. I cut so that if you wanted the quickest summary version of what was said, you could get enough to understand, just from the tightest shots alone. In each paragraph or set of thoughts, we're stalking the conclusion, creeping up on it. If you jog/shuttle thru this form of cutting in fast-forward, you'll see the repeating pattern of the cut sequence and you'll know whenever a new topic has started just from the choice of shot. Every wide shot becomes like the first page of a new chapter.

Can this repetition and imposed structure get boring? Well, yes. You can mix it up every once in a while, and you need to be listening to the cadence of the speech as much as the actual words, to get the timing cues. That's especially vital in a conversation like a talk show format. Beginners cut after the last word by speaker A is said, and before the response from speaker B begins. That's sometimes called "Dragnet" cutting, because it was the style used on that old cop show. But that's very stilted and artificial, an affectation. In a situation where you are standing with two people talking to each other, your eyes flick between them without regard for who is actually speaking at the time. You are following unconscious cues driven by the cadence and pitch of the speakers, and the "tells" in their body language that signal in micro-gestures, they are non-verbally commenting or are about to cut in and respond. When a single person is talking, and they are telling a story and maybe pretending to be a character at one point, or doing a character voice as opposed to their own, that to me is a cue to cut to a new angle, helping set that section apart. When they go back to their own side of the narrative, I change again to follow with them.

When I cut a talk show, 80 or 90 percent of my attention is on the posture, body language, and expressions of the faces and not on the actual dialogue happening. It's funny after the show, the presenters ask me how I liked what they said, and I have to tell them: "I was too busy paying attention to what you were communicating, to listen much to what you "SAID".

I'm trying to catch the "tell" in one person's face and cut to them in the split-second BEFORE they speak, then as they are speaking, I'm looking for the perfect time to cut away to the reaction of the other person, even as the first one is still talking. And all the time, I'm using the timing of the cuts and the choice of focal length to punctuate: as the the guy is reiterating his premise, I'm going in tight, then maybe cutting to the 2-shot to get the other guy's reaction, especially if he seems ready to interrupt. If I'm doing it right, I should be able to cut any conversation and get it right even if I don't know the language.

In fact, that might make a pretty good editing exercise sometime.


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Richard Herd
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 11, 2012 at 2:39:20 pm

[Mark Suszko] " I slowly zoom in or dolly in or cut to a tighter shot, the change defines stages in a progression of the thought. When he's given the detail, and is about to make his summary of what he just meant, Boom, There goes the tightest shot,"

Although Mark called it a "zoom in or dolly," these can be achieved in the editing program.

Running time is important too. In my experience, 10 minutes seems to be as long as people can take without some kind of dramatic intrusion or dynamic naturally-gifted speaker making eye contact -- for the same evolutionary biology explanation Mark unpins.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 11, 2012 at 2:45:42 pm

Yes, if you shoot in HD, you can fake some zooms and closeups out of a wider shot, up to a point.


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Max Palmer
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 11, 2012 at 8:28:56 pm

That's a great writeup Mark. Definetly gives me something to think about!

The footage is in 1080i, and I'll most likely be outputting down to DVD, so I definetly have some wiggle room if I want to do some panning or dollies.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 11, 2012 at 9:22:26 pm

Watch any TED talk with the sound turned off, snap your fingers at every new cut and call out if it is wide, medium, tight, or cut-away. Do the same for any soap or sitcom. You will learn things.


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adam taylor
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 15, 2012 at 2:16:59 pm

one of the best edits i ever saw was from a film i cannot remember the title of ! Go figure!!

Basically, the shot in question was a round table discussion in a diner. The camera was constantly circling around the table at which a group of people were plotting and conspiring, as they do in these films.

Nothing too challenging there - until you realise that you never ever saw the person speaking. The camera was always looking at the reactions of the listeners. Each time a speaker changed, you saw the eyeline of the listener move to the new speaker. when the editor made a cut, it was to another listener, you even could tell when the person you were looking at was about to speak, even though the cut would pre-empt them.

A massive amount of planning must have gone into that shot, and it worked beautifully...i think the reason i don't remember the films name is that it was something i channel hopped onto, so had missed much already.
adam

Adam Taylor
Video Editor/Audio Mixer/ Compositor/Motion GFX/Barista
Character Options Ltd
Oldham, UK

http://www.sculptedbliss.co.uk
My YouTube Animations Page


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David Park
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 16, 2012 at 11:02:53 am

well let me know when you remember the name of the film! peaked my interest!


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adam taylor
Re: Rule of thumb for switching camera angles?
on Oct 16, 2012 at 11:07:00 am

sadly don't think that is ever going to happen. I didn't know it at the time, so its not even a buried memory waiting to be found!

Adam Taylor
Video Editor/Audio Mixer/ Compositor/Motion GFX/Barista
Character Options Ltd
Oldham, UK

http://www.sculptedbliss.co.uk
My YouTube Animations Page


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