Scene coverage in Road to Perdition

The main action is happening between Paul Newman and Daniel Craig’s characters, so it kinda makes sense to draw an “action line” between them and cover the scene from one side of the line. This way you’ll avoid problems later in the editing.

Scene coverage in Road to Perdition 01

From the picture above you can see, that most camera setups are located on the right side of the line. This side was probably chosen due to technical considerations (limitations of the location etc.)

The scene starts with a high angle master shot of all characters, this clearly shows where each character is seated. Now, we can freely cut to individual characters without confusing the viewer… unless we cut to the camera placed on the other side of the action line.

Scene coverage in Road to Perdition 02

In the third shot the camera physically jumps to the other side of the line. However, it doesn’t feel wrong. The reason is that you could get a similar shot while staying on the same side if you’d use a telephoto lens (instead of wide angle).

Scene coverage in Road to Perdition 03

The next jump is between shots 4 and 5. In this case, the trick with longer focal length won’t work anymore. You could eventually avoid this jump by making a new action line (right part of the picture above), but in this case I believe there is no reason to do that: There is almost no interaction between the two characters in the shot (this is basically a reaction shot), therefore the original action line remains the same (that is the one between Paul Newman and Daniel Craig’s characters).

Cutting to the other side of action line feels usually very disruptive, but in this case it works fine. The previous shot is more than 13 seconds long, that’s long enough to memorize where everybody is seated, so when we cut to the other side, we won’t feel confused. This applies to reaction shots 6, 8, 16, 17 and 22 as well:

This scene is a beautiful example of jumping from one side of the action line to the other (and thus breaking the 180 degree rule), without making the viewer confused (which might be the intention in some cases).

I’d love to hear Sam Mendes talking this scene through in some audio commentary, particularly the last shot, where camera follows and keeps in focus Tom Hanks with Paul Newman, while making Daniel Craig’s character increasingly out of focus…

P.S. Have you noticed the continuity error between shots 6 and 7?

Cinematic blend between POV and OTS

In February I read a great analysis of camera movements in Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows posted by digifruitella from filmschoolthrucommentaries. Particularly interesting was camera movement no. 6. It’s a nice and surprising blend between character’s subjective POV and objective OTS (over the shoulder).

…is a nice blend of geography, and subjective shot. When Antoine walks into the room and it cuts to this, you have the camera slightly dollying and panning as if to show you the eyes and the physical movement of Antoine, before the shot goes from subjective (Antoine’s eyes, and ours as an audience) to an objective one with him walking into a frame. Two birds with one stone…

Now, I noticed the same camera technique at the beginning of Skyfall directed by Sam Mendes. Traditionally, you would cut on the character, then to his POV and then back to the character (to make it clear that the shot in between is his POV). However this blend is much better, it’s more effective. If you can say more than one thing in one camera movement (what the character sees, how he moves and where we are), than why not to do it?

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Sam Mendes used the same camera technique as Truffaut did, but maybe not. Maybe he really knows his stuff, really really well…

Sound Bridge(s)

It’s not often that I would watch something and feel such urge to write about it, but today it happened!

This video game trailer for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified directed by Henry Hobson is a beautiful example of sound bridge(s). The sound design work is awesome, but notice how seamlessly it connects the shots together.

Pivot Reveal

In narrative filmmaking, a key concept of camera movement is that it must be motivated. The movement should not just be for the sake of moving the camera; doing so usually means that the director is suffering from a lack of storytelling skills. (1)

On the contrary, motivated camera movements (click here for a short list of possible camera movement motivations) show great storytelling and directorial skills. Pivot reveal in Moon directed by Duncan Jones is one those examples.

Moon (2009)

Moon (2009)

There is a scene, when Sam Bell phones home and talks to his daughter. He had already discovered that he is a clone. (Characters living lies is by the way reliable staple in science fiction (2). Movies like Alien, Island or newly Oblivion come to mind.) But when he sees the original Sam Bell, he breaks down. He realizes he never had a chance. The scene ends with his words: “I want to go home. I want to go home.”

Now, the camera pivots around the moon rover and reveals Earth. Both the moon rover and Earth have story function, so there is a clear motivation behind this camera movement.

Camera pivoting around certain object or character is a beautiful and high production value shot, but so much more powerful when it does more things at the same time. Here it revels the Earth in wide shot when he says “I want to go home”.

Moon (2009)

Moon (2009)

This shot purposefully ends in wide shot which makes you then ask all kinds of questions about humanity: Who are we? What is our purpose here? How…? Where…? Why…? WHY?


  1. Cinematography: Theory and Practice (p. 62)


Sound sweetening in Mission Impossible

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Helicopter scene at the end of Mission Impossible is another amazing example of sound sweetening. It’s very similar to the Velocipod scene in The Incredibles. The scene looks great, but doesn’t really work unless it FEELS like Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is about to be chewed up by the helicopter blades, that’s where sound sweetening comes into play.

Sound sweetening is about enhancing existing sounds to make them sound and feel emotionally true to the scene (enhancing is by the way the secret to cinematic storytelling).

Sound(s) used to sweeten up the helicopter blades might be sound(s) of a circular saw, but maybe it is something completely different (dental drill?). But no matter what sounds were used, they made the helicopter blades sound and FEEL really dangerous and life threatening. And that’s virtually all that matters, really.

P.S. I originally uploaded the scene to YouTube, but it is blocked in several countries (almost all English speaking). Nevertheless, you can try to watch it by clicking here.