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Simon Ubsdell
Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 8:37:11 pm
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 8, 2016 at 8:52:41 pm

This is pretty much completely off topic but I wanted somewhere to vent and here's as good a place as anywhere.

So many people shooting talking heads which are supposed to be convincing the viewer of a particular point of view or are trying to convey that the interviewee is sincere and trustworthy, manage to break one of the cardinal rules ... OK, one of my cardinal rules.

The degree of engagement between the viewer and the person on screen is fundamentally and ineradicably dictated by the angle of that person's eyeline to camera. The closer the eyeline is to the camera the greater the degree of engagement. It's such an obvious point that it's almost embarrassing to have to spell it out.

So why in the name of heaven do so many "directors" think it's effective to shoot their interviewee from an angle that favours their ear?????????

I'm not saying that we should be shooting the interviewee talking straight down the camera lens (which feels awkward because it's just a bit too intimate), but for heaven's sake!!!!!

If the eyeline is way off to the side of the frame, then the trustworthiness of the interviewee is fatally compromised. He or she is talking to someone else and actively excluding me from the conversation and that is perfectly designed to piss me off. Am I really that unimportant? Is the mysterious person off the edge of the frame so much more interesting to talk to than I am? Do you really care that little about engaging me in what you are trying to say?

I know I'm attempting to criticise a convention that's been in place for a pretty long time now, but it still really doesn't work for me and irritates me more and more every time I see it. Which is pretty much all the time and everywhere. (I think it probably developed out of second-camera-itis and became a kind of norm from there, but that doesn't excuse it for one second.)

OK, so you're just shooting a talking head with the sweaty, overweight, purple-faced, uncharismatic CEO of the local paper company and it might seem like it doesn't matter. But it does - it actually matters a lot. We're going to dislike sweaty guy a whole lot less and be engaged with what he has to say a whole lot more, if we actually feel he is talking to us, rather than somebody offscreen.

If someone wants to convince me of something, I demand to see into their eyes - if I don't see their eyes, I sense that I can't trust them. Pretty simple, huh?

Am I really alone in getting so worked up about this? Or am I just being a grumpy bastard as usual and nobody else feels this way?

Here's the example that triggered my diatribe:







Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Steve Connor
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:03:29 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "Am I really alone in getting so worked up about this? Or am I just being a grumpy bastard as usual and nobody else feels this way?


"


You're not alone! The other thing that gets me is the current vogue for facing people out of the wrong side of frame


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:04:41 pm
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:04:52 pm

[Steve Connor] "The other thing that gets me is the current vogue for facing people out of the wrong side of frame"

Aaaaarrggggghhhhhhh! Don't mention that. My blood pressure has just doubled.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:16:25 pm

I can understand the need to try and vary the shooting style for creative effect ... goodness knows I've shot enough of these things over the years. But the basic misunderstanding of the visual language really bugs me.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Andrew Kimery
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:46:27 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "I can understand the need to try and vary the shooting style for creative effect ... goodness knows I've shot enough of these things over the years. But the basic misunderstanding of the visual language really bugs me."

This I think hits the nail on the head. It's wanting to be different for the sake of being different without understanding (or understanding but just not caring) how camera position can subconsciously impact the audience.

I know there are some people that say the only rule is that there are no rules, but you still have to understand how shot composition, lighting, etc., impacts the audience if you want to effectively communicate with them.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:51:28 pm

[Andrew Kimery] "I know there are some people that say the only rule is that there are no rules, but you still have to understand how shot composition, lighting, etc., impacts the audience if you want to effectively communicate with them."

Exactly - couldn't agree more.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Bill Davis
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 11:49:10 pm

Hang on.

Have you ever sat at a conference table and listened to opinions of individuals in a group setting and had the slightest bit of trouble assessing the veracity of the speakers - even those not DIRECTLY across from you?
To me, that all this is. This framing makes me a neutral observer. And it seems perfectly natural.
(Perhaps because I've been at so many similar conference tables working in groups and it mirrors my experience?)

I agree that "intimacy" is enhanced when the eyeline is direct. But there's a LOT of content I watch where I neither need or prefer such intimacy. I merely need to observe and listen to the information.

Neutral detachment is, in my opinion, a PERFECTLY legitimate way to present factual information in a video - and since I've been watching 1-shots framed this way for literally decades, I understand (and I believe the larger television audience understands after 30 years or more of conditioning watching countless "interview" style shows such as 60 minutes et al, that the audience completely understands that the person I'm watching is likely being questioned by an off camera reporter or facilitator.

Which may be why it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

YMMV.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Michael Gissing
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 1:07:33 am

[Bill Davis]"Have you ever sat at a conference table and listened to opinions of individuals in a group setting and had the slightest bit of trouble assessing the veracity of the speakers - even those not DIRECTLY across from you? "

Yes and being there, the eye can read a hell of a lot more than a restricted camera angle can. Including taking in how others are reacting, again not possible with a fixed point of view. And we are just talking about visuals and not the whole hidden world of pheromones, sounds that are off mic etc etc.

In spite of all that when someone address you directly or the person next to you you will pay more attention. Being side on allows you to pay less attention. So even in real life you react differently even with the enhanced cues.


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Bill Davis
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 5:32:11 am

No quarrel with the idea that a more direct eyeline is more engaging. But my experience is that more engagement is not always desirable. A few years back I was shooting interviews of people who had (decades earlier) been early pioneers in treating the local AIDS infected community. One interviewee being honored was a woman who had lost her teenage son as the result of a transfusion back before the virus had been identified and who had spent the rest of her life fighting to improve things in the early "at risk" populations. Even tho I literally stopped taping three times to let her get her emotions under control during her telling her story, the pain was still so intense that The LAST thing I needed was the enhanced emotional connection a direct shot would have captured. That's all I'm saying. Emotional engagement is ONE tool in a shooters quiver when recording interviews. Not the best or only one. I'm probably 500 interviews down the road and that's my 2 cents. Feel free to disagree. But notice that while direct "head on" mirror boxes that allow easy interviews with perfect direct to the audience eye lines have been around for decades (one of my producer friends built a nice one in around 2005 we used for a while) you don't see many of them in regular use. But you DO see constant interviews in the classic "near but off-camera" style. Maybe there's actually a reason for that.
That's all.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Steve Connor
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 7:40:07 am

[Bill Davis] "No quarrel with the idea that a more direct eyeline is more engaging. But my experience is that more engagement is not always desirable. A few years back I was shooting interviews of people who had (decades earlier) been early pioneers in treating the local AIDS infected community. One interviewee being honored was a woman who had lost her teenage son as the result of a transfusion back before the virus had been identified and who had spent the rest of her life fighting to improve things in the early "at risk" populations. Even tho I literally stopped taping three times to let her get her emotions under control during her telling her story, the pain was still so intense that The LAST thing I needed was the enhanced emotional connection a direct shot would have captured. That's all I'm saying. Emotional engagement is ONE tool in a shooters quiver when recording interviews. Not the best or only one. I'm probably 500 interviews down the road and that's my 2 cents. Feel free to disagree. But notice that while direct "head on" mirror boxes that allow easy interviews with perfect direct to the audience eye lines have been around for decades (one of my producer friends built a nice one in around 2005 we used for a while) you don't see many of them in regular use. But you DO see constant interviews in the classic "near but off-camera" style. Maybe there's actually a reason for that.
That's all.
"


Simon wasn't talking about direct eyeline, he was talking about incorrect "off Camera" style


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 7:53:06 am
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 9, 2016 at 8:06:05 am

Yes, Bill, you're perfectly right in saying that directness of engagement is sometimes best avoided rather than sought, and context is all, but I gave a very specific example where the eyelines were very clearly defeating the whole point of the exercise.

The Guardian is pleading with me to hand over money every month and someone thought the best way of convincing me was to have the interviewees direct themselves not to me the viewer, but to someone somewhere well off camera.

If you want my money, Guardian, then please have the courtesy to speak directly to me! By refusing to engage with me, you are making it much less likely that I will open up my wallet - you're actually annoying me instead. (Incidentally, getting people to hand over this subscription money is probably vital to the Guardian's continued existence, so this is hardly trivial!!!)

I think my point is pretty relevant because 99% of the talking heads shot around the world every day involve someone trying to convince the viewer of a point of view and very frequently, as in this case, persuade the viewer to part with their cash.

OK, maybe not 99% ... but the reality is that most talking heads are a lot more humdrum and simply mercantile than your example (where your choice was clearly a good one), and the people shooting them are "getting them wrong" usually because they just don't understand what they're doing, or rather because they've unthinkingly absorbed a misguided convention.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Shawn Miller
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:29:01 pm

[Steve Connor] "[Simon Ubsdell] "Am I really alone in getting so worked up about this? Or am I just being a grumpy bastard as usual and nobody else feels this way?"

You're not alone! The other thing that gets me is the current vogue for facing people out of the wrong side of frame"


Yes, that, and framing so that the head is at the bottom corner of the frame... so that you can see branding in the background. :-(



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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 9:37:36 pm

[Shawn Miller] "Yes, that, and framing so that the head is at the bottom corner of the frame... so that you can see branding in the background. :-("

That's a really nasty one!!!

I think there's this assumption that "it's just a talking head" so it doesn't really matter how you mess around with the framing.

The reality is that in almost every case a talking head is being required to convey a message that needs to resonate with the viewer and create engagement. Which means that randomly mucking about with the shooting style is the very last thing you should be doing.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Shawn Miller
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 10:07:48 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "
I think there's this assumption that "it's just a talking head" so it doesn't really matter how you mess around with the framing.

The reality is that in almost every case a talking head is being required to convey a message that needs to resonate with the viewer and create engagement. Which means that randomly mucking about with the shooting style is the very last thing you should be doing."


Totally agree. A former co-worker of mine used to joke that there isn't an "interview" that can't be fixed with a cutaway to a time-lapse of a skyline or a call center.

Shawn



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Mark Smith
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 10:17:49 pm

Ah - the seeds of another brilliant Hawaiki FCPX plug in....


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 10:20:41 pm

[Mark Smith] "Ah - the seeds of another brilliant Hawaiki FCPX plug in...."

Hawaiki AutoEyelineCorrection, huh?

Hmmmm, yes, it might just work ;-)

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 8, 2016 at 10:55:08 pm

Here's another one that really manages to annoy the heck out of me ...

.. and that's shooting from an angle below the natural eyeline so that you're looking up the interviewee's nose ...

... which contrives effortlessly to convey "supercilious, condescending, patronising", in other words the exact reverse of what you're actually trying to achieve in the main.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Michael Gissing
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 1:02:48 am

Eyelines do matter. As does the height. Looking up or looking down does convey an opinion of the film maker. When people talk in a group setting things are different and all bets are off because they are talking to the group and the audience becomes a more detached observer.

An interview that cuts from a conventional eyeline to a side on says subconsciously that this bit of dialog is not important, so go and look at your phone or tablet until we cut back. It is so often gratuitous and lets the short attention span of the viewer take them out of the story. Why you would want to tell your audience to pay less attention I don't know. Why are we training a shorter attention span into our audience anyway?

I like the double camera approach if possible of wider and closer from the same angle. I have a bracket that locks a second BM4k to the bottom one and allows me to frame both. It is entirely different to just shooting wide and punching in as that still looks like a jump when the perspective doesn't change.

Old school maybe but Simon is right about the subtle messages you are conveying to the audience.


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Claude Lyneis
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 5:21:21 am

A very timely subject for me, since I had just watched a number of student documentaries where the eye lines were very disconcerting. After reading the comments above I went back to a favorite of mine, a Frontline story "League of Denial" edited by Steve Audette. In it the eye lines are very close to the lens, but never on it. I know Audette wrote up how it was shot and edited, but I can't find the link now. Anyway, it is far different looking from the example above.


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andy lewis
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 6:09:01 am

I wonder if this is partly a generational thing. If you are under 30, you strongly associate close / direct eyeline with youtube webcam video whereas eyes off to the side means cinema, innit?

I know that the Guardian pays very poorly for articles. It wouldn't surprise me if the videos are made by unpaid (young) interns.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:26:39 am
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:32:52 am

[Claude Lyneis] "I went back to a favorite of mine, a Frontline story "League of Denial" edited by Steve Audette. In it the eye lines are very close to the lens, but never on it. I know Audette wrote up how it was shot and edited, but I can't find the link now. Anyway, it is far different looking from the example above."

Is this the article you were referring to with Steve Hullfish interviewing Steve Audette?

http://www.provideocoalition.com/art-of-the-cut-with-steve-audette-of-front...

It's a really fascinating read with some amazing insights into the thinking of an exceptional film-maker.


Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Claude Lyneis
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 4:58:27 pm

Thanks Simon, that is indeed the article. I learned a lot reading it.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 7:32:28 pm
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 10, 2016 at 2:04:37 pm

[Claude Lyneis] "Thanks Simon, that is indeed the article. I learned a lot reading it."

You might enjoy this extended interview with Steve Audette where he goes into a lot of fascinating detail about his methods with particular reference to "Gun Control":



Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:38:03 am
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:44:37 am

[Michael Gissing] "I like the double camera approach if possible of wider and closer from the same angle. I have a bracket that locks a second BM4k to the bottom one and allows me to frame both. It is entirely different to just shooting wide and punching in as that still looks like a jump when the perspective doesn't change."

I know it's really fashionable to use the punch-in method and obviously it's a very convenient way of working, but I agree with you that it just looks wrong because of the simple fact of the optics.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Don Walker
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 5:13:34 pm

I hate to admit this. I did not find the ad distracting. Is there any off axis interview styles that you find appropriate? Can you show me an example? I've been editing for 30 years. (not a newbie) but I've also never been institutionally trained to edit. (i was trained as a broadcast engineer, but found directing and editing far more fulfilling).

don walker
texarkana, texas

John 3:16


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Mark Smith
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 7:10:20 pm

So to make a comparison to language, if a profile shot is the equivalent of 3rd person and straight down the lens is first person, eye line is on this slider control that is movable in coarse or fine degrees between 3rd person and first person . When you have it right for the context of your interview it's really right and there are lots of degrees of not quite right to completely wrong.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 7:54:41 pm

[Mark Smith] "So to make a comparison to language, if a profile shot is the equivalent of 3rd person and straight down the lens is first person, eye line is on this slider control that is movable in coarse or fine degrees between 3rd person and first person . When you have it right for the context of your interview it's really right and there are lots of degrees of not quite right to completely wrong."

Yes, I think that's very well put.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Bill Davis
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 8:21:12 pm
Last Edited By Bill Davis on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:01:15 pm

Mark,

I think you're articulated it very well. Like most creative efforts, there is seldom a single "best" answer just as there's never a single best painting or song. Rather there are a range of answers that are informed by the nature of the work you're trying to create.

Plus, if the information is compelling - the fact that the shot is "not quite right" fades in significance.

The key is ALWAYS tell the story first. I might, or Simon might be bothered by something we see that's not shot as we prefer. But I wonder how many viewers overall will be bothered at all by those things?

That's certainly no excuse not to study and try to get as much exactly right as possible.

But "perfect"t CAN be the enemy too - IMO. That old line about how "great engineers ship" supports that. Meaning that you can't let your striving for the ideal, prevent you from sending out work that's the best you can do under your present conditions. I believe in that as well.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Mark Smith
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 9, 2016 at 9:47:48 pm

I mostly shoot and do some editing , and that balance may flip over time. I can say from the shooting side of the story I tend to err on the side of content especially since I do a fair amount of Doc work and seldom do we have the chance to make all the pieces work together because of the situations we find ourselves in . I try to optimize always but 12 hours into a shoot day when a subject suddenly opens a new avenue content wise in what could be the worst situation there are always compromises. Bad sound will break a doc much quicker than a less than perfect shot.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 10, 2016 at 1:43:04 pm
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 10, 2016 at 1:43:30 pm

[Bill Davis] "I think you're articulated it very well. Like most creative efforts, there is seldom a single "best" answer just as there's never a single best painting or song. Rather there are a range of answers that are informed by the nature of the work you're trying to create."

Hi Bill, your answer is very interesting, but although you say you are agreeing with Mark, I'm not sure that you are.

My understanding of his comment was that there is indeed a "Platonic ideal" for the eyeline that is very literally "the best choice", given the film-maker's intention for the shot, the scene and the film. (That last part is clearly of great importance, unless of course we want to start in on my favourite subject, viz The Death of the Author.)

What you seem to be saying, and forgive me if I've got this wrong, is that the creative process is so nebulous and undefined that there are any number of right answers and frankly anything goes if that's what you want to do, which seems to be the exact opposite of what Mark was saying.

My original point, which was certainly a whole lot more mundane (and I certainly avoided invoking "art"), was that there are choices that communicate effectively, and there are choices that achieve the exact opposite of the communication intended. I adduced the psychological factors that are seemingly inherent in certain shot choices and, while we're maybe we're not talking about something that can be conclusively proved, I'm willing to bet that one could pretty easily run tests to demonstrate the plausibility of these factors.

I think, if I have understood Mark correctly, I would intuitively agree that while in practical terms it's much more likely that one will deviate from the ideal and never exactly reach it, the ideal is in fact definable, but that is to aim for heights of metaphysical abstraction that I'd hesitate to scale.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Oliver Peters
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 10, 2016 at 5:46:11 pm

What seems interesting and even more fundamental is whether to shoot with the subject looking into the camera or off-axis. The Errol Morris solution is to shoot with the subject directly looking into the lens and has designed a rig accordingly. He also accepts and sometimes revels in the jump cut during the interview. So why do we generally avoid this approach? Obviously the off-axis angle adds a bystander or voyeuristic element to the perception. The in-the-lens approach implies that the subject is talking directly to you. But is there really a right or wrong to doing this?

- Oliver

Oliver Peters Post Production Services, LLC
Orlando, FL
http://www.oliverpeters.com


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 10, 2016 at 6:10:06 pm

[Oliver Peters] "Obviously the off-axis angle adds a bystander or voyeuristic element to the perception. The in-the-lens approach implies that the subject is talking directly to you. But is there really a right or wrong to doing this?"

My simple plea is for some intelligent and thoughtful appraisal of the way the viewer responds to different eyelines and the appropriateness of particular eyelines for evoking particular effects in particular contexts, and I've explained that above for one very particular type of example.

Seeing someone speak to you straight down the lens can be intimate, friendly, unnerving, scary, depending on the context. But the reasons for why this approach evokes these particular types of reaction are really not too hard to work out. You just need to try and remember what it feels like in the real world ... which ought to be pretty obvious unless you're a sociopath or have some other condition that means you just don't understand how to read other people! Then you factor in the context.

To say that it's all subjective and hence there are no useful answers is pointless defeatism to my way of thinking.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Brett Sherman
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 13, 2016 at 12:35:46 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "My simple plea is for some intelligent and thoughtful appraisal of the way the viewer responds to different eyelines and the appropriateness of particular eyelines for evoking particular effects in particular contexts, and I've explained that above for one very particular type of example."

I finally watched the piece in question. And I have to say that based on what this piece is, I'm not sure how much validity there is to the criticism. This is not an in-depth emotional video. This is quick-cut interviews - primarily talking head driven. And as such, having slightly off-axis interviews or different framing adds visual interest. In fact, I thought there should have been more of that kind of thing. And perhaps you are reacting to the, "One of these things doesn't belong" element, which is admittedly problematic.

This is not to say there aren't videos where the off-axis look doesn't work well. It's just not this piece. My .02.


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Andrew Kimery
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 13, 2016 at 5:26:50 pm
Last Edited By Andrew Kimery on Apr 13, 2016 at 6:51:26 pm

[Brett Sherman] "And as such, having slightly off-axis interviews or different framing adds visual interest. In fact, I thought there should have been more of that kind of thing. And perhaps you are reacting to the, "One of these things doesn't belong" element, which is admittedly problematic."

The thread meandered a bit but below is Simon's original criticism from his first post.

[Simon Ubsdell] "The degree of engagement between the viewer and the person on screen is fundamentally and ineradicably dictated by the angle of that person's eyeline to camera. The closer the eyeline is to the camera the greater the degree of engagement. It's such an obvious point that it's almost embarrassing to have to spell it out.

So why in the name of heaven do so many "directors" think it's effective to shoot their interviewee from an angle that favours their ear?????????

I'm not saying that we should be shooting the interviewee talking straight down the camera lens (which feels awkward because it's just a bit too intimate), but for heaven's sake!!!!!
"


Basically, off axis is good. Varied framing is good. Straight down the lens might be too engaging. What is so important about that dude's ear?

In the posted video the ear shot and the long shot of the older gentleman in glasses both feel out of place an ineffective to me. Both shots are of excited people trying to get me to care about what they care about, but their emotions are largely wasted because their faces are obscured by poor framing. On a 40ft theater screen it would be less of an issue but I doubt this video was made with the intention of it primarily being shown on a 40ft theater screen.

It's obvious someone wanted something different but different for the sake of being different doesn't always lead to something better.


EDIT: cleaned up some grammar and spelling.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 13, 2016 at 6:44:43 pm
Last Edited By Simon Ubsdell on Apr 13, 2016 at 6:48:42 pm

Hi Brett,

Thanks for you post.

I think I need to have one final go at trying to explain this because I've obviously not managed to do so yet.

I'm not laying down rules, I'm not talking about what I like and what I don't like, I'm not talking about style, I'm simply talking about effectiveness of communication.

You will remember that the video that I posted was an appeal by the UK-based Guardian newspaper for people to take out monthly subscriptions, with a view to sustaining a business that without that support might fail alarmingly soon. In other words, the single and only purpose of the entire video was to get the viewer to hand over their money - nothing else. It didn't matter whether the viewer liked the video - they simply needed to be persuaded to act upon it.

So let's imagine this scenario.

I come to your house, Brett, and I want you to hand over some money to me - and this is money that I really, really need. We go inside and we sit down. This could play two ways ...

A) I sit down opposite you with my chair facing yours and I make appropriate eye contact - not too much mind, cos I don't want to creep you out - and I say my piece and I try to engage you in the normal way that human beings do.

B) Instead of sitting down facing you, I stand up and rotate my chair so that when I sit down again my entire body is pointing at the window. Instead of making eye contact as I say my piece, I keep looking at what's outside the window and I completely ignore you.

Which of these two approaches is more likely to get you to part with the cash that I so desperately need?

If you answer B, then I guess I'm just wrong about my intuitions about the way that human beings function, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's going to be approach A that stands the better chance.

Always assuming that you agree that A is the better approach, then this little thought experiment illuminates my contention that the Guardian video was fundamentally flawed in its choice of eyelines. They chose approach B.

The camera is the viewer - it's almost too obvious to have to state it, but it seems to have been forgotten in the relentless quest for stylistic innovation or simply through lack of understanding of the dynamics of the photographed image.

Obviously this is an absolutely huge subject and we could go on forever analysing the finer points of it, but my example was super simple and to my mind the conclusion is brutally self-evident. The choice of eyelines was not just ineffective, it was fatally counter-productive to the single objective of the video - to persuade me to hand over my money.

Does that make any sense?

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo productions
hawaiki


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Brett Sherman
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 15, 2016 at 1:41:01 pm

I understand the theory, I've been doing this for 25 years. I personally shoot either straight on or typical interview fashion. And I don't shoot sideways interviews like this for a variety of reasons. But, what I'm suggesting is that your theory of the straighter the more convincing is not necessarily true. Especially in a montage like this.

In this piece there is the "cool" factor there too. You're not going to subscribe to something just because people are asking you to. I don't even know why I should care about these people. You're going to want that content to be engaging, fresh, unique and exciting. Now, I'm not claiming that one particular shot does that. Or that it is framed correctly. Or that this piece was even particularly well-produced. There are problems with each.

My style tends to be rarely showing the interview subject at all, just 3-4 seconds to introduce and allow for IDing. Now your line of reasoning would suggest that this approach is somehow less convincing, because the person is talking off camera. But I find it quite the opposite.

Style is an evolving concept. I'm doing things very different than I did even 5 years ago. And it takes experimentation. While I wouldn't consider this a stylistic success, I also wouldn't consider it critically worse than a more straight on approach.


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 11, 2016 at 11:06:50 am

I always think this is a fantastic example of what it means to have someone talk "straight down the barrel", but then Spike Lee is a film-maker who thinks very carefully about everything he does and tends to know exactly why he's doing it:







Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Herb Sevush
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 11, 2016 at 1:05:23 pm

[Oliver Peters] "Obviously the off-axis angle adds a bystander or voyeuristic element to the perception. The in-the-lens approach implies that the subject is talking directly to you. But is there really a right or wrong to doing this?"

Above and beyond the aesthetical considerations most interviewee's are uncomfortable talking straight into a camera. To get a great interview, which trumps any consideration of eyelines or anything else technical, is the primary concern during production. Unless you have a setup where the host is supered over the lens, it's very hard to get a civilian to have a meaningful conversation with a piece of glass -- just like the audience wants to read the interviewee's eyes, the interviewee wants to read the interviewer's eyes.

for years it had been SOP to have the interviewer sit/stand as close to the camera as possible to obtain the most direct connection for the audience. In modern times the use of a reverse angle on the interviewer nodding in apparent agreement with the subject, often shot after the interview was over, became anathema to a younger audience - it seemed a badge of insincerity. With the advent of multiple camera interviews the use of a second, "profile" angle was born to help hide the jump cuts and give a bit of "style" (bad is good)to an interview. From this it was merely another step to have the profile camera become the only angle - what can be more hip than intentionally screwing with the "rules" - and then to mess with any sense of proper framing while doing so. We have now arrived at the point where bad angles and poor framing are no longer being used to imply "hipness" they are merely indicators of a lack of visual education. My guess is in a few years young viewers will become entranced with the latest gimmick - on axis angles and classical framing - and we can go to our graves with a smile.

Herb Sevush
Zebra Productions
---------------------------
nothin' attached to nothin'
"Deciding the spine is the process of editing" F. Bieberkopf


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Gary Huff
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 11, 2016 at 1:24:31 pm

[Herb Sevush] "My guess is in a few years young viewers"

I think you mean young videographers. I don't see audiences driving these techniques.


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Bill Davis
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 10, 2016 at 6:05:00 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "What you seem to be saying, and forgive me if I've got this wrong, is that the creative process is so nebulous and undefined that there are any number of right answers and frankly anything goes if that's what you want to do, which seems to be the exact opposite of what Mark was saying."

There is some misunderstanding here.

I see it as a practical matter. I set up to shoot an interview. I think about the content, the objective, and (when I have time) I try to get to know the person I'll be shooting. AT THAT MOMENT I have to make a decision about camera positioning and framing.

Sometimes, I can control that carefully. Sometimes I cannot. If I CAN control it - there isn't just ONE right answer. My AIDS interview example attempted to demonstrate that. I had no clue the content would end up being be so raw and searing. So what's the point of abstracting about what the PERFECT framing might be for that context? It's a variable. So the best we can do is establish an educated guess in advance of the unfolding story.

That's what shooters face in the real world. I come to an interview with a head full of standards and ideals - but if what I see in the monitor doesn't really work with those - I have to adapt. And I often have to adapt AWAY from the preconceived "ideal." You posted a link to the very engaging Steve Audette Frontline piece. It didn't escape me that nearly all the reaction shots of the reporter had her framed midline without much "look space." Did that make the content less effective? Hardly.

Could somebody criticize THAT camera work? Surely. Would that be useful. I suspect not.

That's my point in a nutshell.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Oliver Peters
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 10, 2016 at 6:15:45 pm

[Bill Davis] "I see it as a practical matter."

From the POV of the editor, we often have no control over the choices the director or shooter made. For example, I've edited single-subject interview pieces where the B-camera is on a slider going back and forth. Whether or not I can even use the shot depends on whether that shot is really at the right point when I decide I need to cut to it.

My approach is to edit for content and then make the visual edit work. So, if I have two angles, I'm going to cut back and forth to avoid jump cuts. As a result, the choice of A or B camera on any specific line becomes a bit arbitrary.

Naturally, sometimes you really do want to end up on a certain angle for the proper impact. Then you end up resorting to a punch-in or dip-to-white or something else earlier in the piece in order to get the camera choreography in the right position.

- Oliver

Oliver Peters Post Production Services, LLC
Orlando, FL
http://www.oliverpeters.com


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Simon Ubsdell
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 10, 2016 at 6:45:07 pm

[Bill Davis] "Could somebody criticize THAT camera work? Surely. Would that be useful. I suspect not. "

This is the bit I don't get. Why isn't it useful to analyse the effect of this?

You don't need to tell me about the difficulties that one faces on the actual shoot because I've experienced them myself over many years, and yes, everything is a compromise of one sort of another and it's pretty much impossible to get things just right - and frankly I've coming away from every single shoot seeing a hundred things I could have done better.

But my point is that I try to learn from analysing my mistakes, and the mistakes of others, as well as looking at what other film-makers do really well. And at the same time I try to think in terms of first principles about what makes a certain type of shot work better for a certain purpose than another.

You seem to be suggesting there's something illegitimate about that ... which is what I'm having a hard time getting my head around.

Simon Ubsdell
tokyo-uk.com


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Gary Huff
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 11, 2016 at 1:23:16 pm

[Simon Ubsdell] "You seem to be suggesting there's something illegitimate about that ... which is what I'm having a hard time getting my head around.
"


There's nothing at all illegitimate about that, and I too support your war against terrible talking head angles. Too many people would rather be shooting something "sexier" and bring inappropriate camera work and techniques to the subject. And they are inappropriate when they detract from the intent of the content. You can argue that creativity is always nebulous, and try whatever "creative" thing you pull out of your rear in a given moment, but if you don't have a specific reason other than showing the world you can be arty, then you'll probably do something that is irritating to viewers, regardless of whether or not they are the kind of crowd that frequents Creative Cow. My wife, for instance, has hated the same poor interview shooting as I have in recent documentaries we watch, even commenting on it before I've had a chance to. She is absolutely not the kind of audience that is thinking about technique or style or any of that, but knows when she gets annoyed by something presented in a visually lackluster way.

[Oliver Peters] "The Errol Morris solution is to shoot with the subject directly looking into the lens and has designed a rig accordingly. He also accepts and sometimes revels in the jump cut during the interview."

I actually like the Error Morris look, save for the jump cuts, but in my own particular taste of shooting, I came about with a compromise in which I get the eyeline tight. This requires the interviewer to sit right next to the camera (and not talk with their hands lest they hit the camera) so that the eyeline is ever so slightly, but I really like how it looks.

I also tend to make the second camera angle really close to the main, making the two cameras sit as close to each other as is physically possible. I find the second camera angle is horribly abused these days in a way that is not clever, artistic, or interesting, but annoying and distracting and screaming LOOK AT ME! I'M BEING CREATIVE!


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Mark Suszko
Re: Eyelines in talking head interviews
on Apr 11, 2016 at 2:14:44 pm

Preach the truth, brother Simon!

One of the misuses of angles that makes me get all stabby, is making inappropriate, out-of-context use of a profile cut-away during a standard interview type shot.

You know the shot: it's originally meant to give a "behind-the-scenes" feeling to a portion of the narrative, and establish some sense of the location where the person is speaking. But I see it put into use in many, MANY inappropriate situations, where a more conventional b-camera wide or tight shot to match the main camera would have made more narrative sense. This started happening about the same time as the original wave of fashion for "shaky-cam" came on the scene. For the same "eyeline" reasons Simon has already explained, this side-on cut-away disturbs the semiotics of the scene by suggesting, inappropriately, a third person viewpoint where none is really needed or desired.

The side-on cut-away can be a useful tool, applied thoughtfully and sparingly. But today's practitioners seem unable or unwilling to do either. Different isn't always better. There's a visual grammar to editing shots, and this mis-use is like adding a verbal tic or stutter artificially.


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Bill Davis
Re: Eyelines in talking head intervie
on Apr 11, 2016 at 3:41:20 pm

Simon.

Relax. You keep trying to re-frame what I'm actually saying in a manner designed to make it contentious when it patently is not.

I have NEVER said post analysis is useless or unwarranted. Never said that - never will. I LOVE post analysis of Everything.

My point, which stands, is that doing a thing is vastly different than criticizing it.

I'm prepping for NAB and sadly, don't have time to continue right now. But I'd love to revive this in a few weeks.

If nothing else, the rise of high def cameras have created new options in camera framing knowing that punch in reframing is a viable option like it never was before - so in the future - do we see the center cut framing I pointed out in the frontline piece a field choice? A post choice? A mistake? Avant guarde? Precise? Sloppy?

The mind boggles.

Back to work.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Gary Huff
Re: Eyelines in talking head intervie
on Apr 12, 2016 at 12:04:45 am
Last Edited By Gary Huff on Apr 12, 2016 at 12:05:26 am

[Bill Davis] "You keep trying to re-frame what I'm actually saying in a manner designed to make it contentious when it patently is not. I have NEVER said post analysis is useless or unwarranted. Never said that - never will. I LOVE post analysis of Everything. "

Come on, Bill, you are playing semantics.

[Bill Davis] It didn't escape me that nearly all the reaction shots of the reporter had her framed midline without much "look space." Did that make the content less effective? Hardly.

Could somebody criticize THAT camera work? Surely. Would that be useful. I suspect not.

That's my point in a nutshell."


So you suspect that the post analysis of that particular interview would not be useful. That's literally what you said. So you actually did say that, just not those exact words as you spelled them out. If you don't want to give people unwarranted opinions, then you should say what you mean and mean what you say.

"I would watch my wallet closely around that guy."
"He's a good dude, why are you calling him a thief?"
"I NEVER said he was a thief..."

See?


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Bill Davis
Re: Eyelines in talking head intervie
on Apr 12, 2016 at 5:13:02 am

[Gary Huff] "Could somebody criticize THAT camera work? Surely. Would that be useful. I suspect not.

That's my point in a nutshell."

So you suspect that the post analysis of that particular interview would not be useful. That's literally what you said. So you actually did say that, just not those exact words as you spelled them out. If you don't want to give people unwarranted opinions, then you should say what you mean and mean what you say."


Sigh.

I'll make it simpler. I said quite clearly that I was referring to a single bit of framing. I described it specifically. A midline framing on ONLY the interviewer. If you can't grasp a simple context like that...

You know, Gary, everything you post has a consistency that is quite amazing.

I may take to thinking of you as the Or Not Hobgoblin.

On reflection, while that was fun to write, I'm getting tired of these tiresome sparing contests. And this one is particularly hollow, IMO. Plus As much as I relish debate, I have way too many deadlines between now and NAB. Too much work to do. So I'll generically apologise and move on.

Continue to take your best shots. And good luck with your PPro workflow moving forward. I hope it continues to exceed all your expectations. Peace.

Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.


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Gary Huff
Re: Eyelines in talking head intervie
on Apr 12, 2016 at 12:47:32 pm
Last Edited By Gary Huff on Apr 12, 2016 at 2:47:12 pm

[Bill Davis] ". I said quite clearly that I was referring to a single bit of framing. I described it specifically. A midline framing on ONLY the interviewer. If you can't grasp a simple context like that..."

No, Bill, you're playing semantics again. You were referencing a single bit of framing as an example to make your point.

[Bill Davis] "You know, Gary, everything you post has a consistency that is quite amazing. I may take to thinking of you as the Or Not Hobgoblin. "

So instead of actually taking issue with what I said (choosing to play semantics yet again) you have now tied it up with an ad hominem bow. Nice.

[Bill Davis] "And good luck with your PPro workflow moving forward. I hope it continues to exceed all your expectations."

This is so pathetic it's utterly hilarious, Bill. I'm proud of my work in the variety of NLEs I work with. Unlike you, I can actually jump around. And when the chips were down and FCPX couldn't handle some of the content from my C300 Mark II, Premiere was right there working just fine. And as someone who pays his bills with the work he does both on set and behind the computer screen, I need something that works.


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