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?