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Seeking advice on camera angle/actor eyeline for dialogue scene

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Sean Nolan
Seeking advice on camera angle/actor eyeline for dialogue scene
on Feb 22, 2012 at 9:27:31 pm

Hi everyone, hope you're all well. I'm about to shoot my first dialogue scene, for a corporate gig, and am seeking some help with camera angle/actor eyeline. Essentially, the scene is a conversation between 2 people, sitting at a kitchen table. I'm not sure if it will be a round of square table, but they'll be facing each other. I'll be shooting a master shot, as well as over the shoulder shots for each person. What I'm wondering is, what guidelines should I be following in terms of camera angle and actor eyeline for the over the shoulder shots. I've done a fair amount of googling, but haven't been able to come up with much useful information. I'm looking forward to your responses, and would be happy to provide more information, if you need any clarification.


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Todd Terry
Re: Seeking advice on camera angle/actor eyeline for dialogue scene
on Feb 22, 2012 at 11:51:58 pm

Well, that question is not math but pure aesthetics... there are no right and wrong answers.

It all depends on the "look" that the director desires. Woody Allen, for example, likes to shoot conversations at almost a 90° angle, shooting the sides of people who are having a conversation. Completely opposite of that are directors like Jonathan Demme, who like to shoot conversation subjects almost straight on. Watch the conversation scenes in "Silence of the Lambs"... in a one-on-one conversation you'll see the actors looking almost straight into the camera, just the tiniest bit off to one side of the lens. This of course is an "impossible' shot, as the camera and the other actor can't be in the same place at the same time. For the conversation shots in that particular movie, small flag markers were placed just adjacent to the lens to give the talent a mark for an eyeline.

More common though, is the shot you are used to seeing, where the camera is about 20-30° off to one side of the center line. Personally when I do that, I like to back the camera off a little more than a lot of people do and shoot with a longer lens. That helps compress the scene a little, and counter the effect that the foreground person is gigantic on the screen compared to the other actor.

The one thing I'd say you should remember, is that usually you want your camera height to be such that the lens is about at eyeline level. You'll see a lot of scenes framed by inexperienced directors or DPs where the camera is looking down on the talent, when it really shouldn't be... because, well, that's how high the tripod was. Sure, it can be higher or lower, but you need to have a reason if it is. Lower if you want the actors to look more imposing or ominous, or higher if you want them to look weaker or more vulnerable... or to make sure a particular background feature is in frame. But usually you'd want the camera height to be more or less at eye level.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Sean Nolan
Re: Seeking advice on camera angle/actor eyeline for dialogue scene
on Feb 23, 2012 at 7:02:44 pm

Hey Todd, this is awesome advice, and I really appreciate it. The film/director examples are great references, which I'll definitely check out.

One other thing I should mention, I'll be using a teleprompter on this shoot, and wondered about prompter placement. If the speaker is reading the prompter just over the shoulder of the person they're speaking to, do you think it will appear as if they're making eye contact with the other person. I imagine the over the shoulder shots will be pretty forgiving, since we only see the back of the listener, but I'm not sure how well my master wide shot will fare.


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Todd Terry
Re: Seeking advice on camera angle/actor eyeline for dialogue scene
on Feb 23, 2012 at 7:56:09 pm

Yikes, the prompter is gonna throw a kink into things. It's still doable, but you will have to be really careful with eyelines and things.

We've done this before, somewhat with success. We used a tiny 6" LCD monitor as the prompter, and put it on a grip arm so that it was floating right in front of the listener's face. We had to be pretty careful that it didn't show. You can try putting it to the side a bit, but have to tell you that at most camera angles the conversation will be very unnatural.

It will help if you can convince that talent to look at the prompter, and ONLY at the prompter... that the prompter is the person they are having the conversation with, and NOT to look back at the real person, EVER. That was the biggest challenge when we tried this. It was with corporate honchos, not professional actors, so their natural inclination was to try to carry on a conversation with the other person AND the prompter, looking or glancing back and forth between the two. This completely destroys the illusion, because there are now two different eyelines and it becomes more obvious than ever that the talent is reading. I see this on Saturday Night Live all the time, where you can tell the actors are reading cue cards because they glance over at them, and then back to the person they are talking with... whereas if they looked ONLY at the cards, it wouldn't be noticeable at all and you'd just think that was the normal eyeline for them to be looking at the other person.

If you can make sure they look only only only at the prompter, you might get away with it. You'll have to play with the camera angles though to find a spot that works best.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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