Cinematography

Changing Stage Direction – 3 Simple Ways

Maintaining only one screen direction over the course of a longer traveling sequence can get somewhat monotonous for a viewer. It’s easily possible to change screen direction (i.e., the axis of action) and still maintain the feel of a character’s progress toward the destination. Below shows three simple ways we can change screen direction for Jessica, who is walking across the park to her destination:

1. Show the character change direction within a shot. Given that our character leaves the first shot (A) moving screen right, we match screen direction and start the next shot with Jessica following a footpath screen right. But if that path curves around so that she ultimately crosses the front of the camera and exits screen left, she has now reestablished her screen direction (B1). Her journey from this point on can progress screen left (C).

Three ways to reverse the screen direction of a subject while maintaining the feeling of forward progress. From shot a (moving screen right); changing direction within a shot (b1); cutting to a neutral shot (b2); or using another character’s POV shot (b3 and b4) will allow us to continue the journey toward screen left (c).

2. Use a neutral shot. A neutral shot is a shot that has no specific horizontal screen direction, meaning the character is moving either directly toward or away from the viewer. We have not crossed the axis in this shot; rather we are shooting right on the 180° line (B2). Since there is no (left/right) screen direction in this shot to match, the following shot can be taken from either side of the axis of action, showing the character moving screen left or right, and it will cut in seamlessly.

3. Use a POV shot. Using a POV shot reestablishes the axis of action via a third character and can reverse your character’s direction. For example, in shot A Jessica is crossing the field moving screen right. In the background is a mysterious man, sitting under a tree, watching her.  We can redraw our line of action between Jessica and the man (B3). Now, if we cut to an over-the-shoulder POV shot (B4), Jessica’s direction is reversed and her journey can proceed toward screen left (C).

There are, of course, other ways to strategize changing screen direction and to maintain coherent directional orientation. Although these things can be puzzling and even frustrating, at times it’s often actually a fun conceptual challenge to devise elegant or even acrobatic approaches to keeping a character’s journey as interesting as possible.

Excerpt from Voice & Vision: A Creative Approach to Narrative Film and DV Production, 2nd Edition by Mick Hurbis-Cherrier © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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