Reading: Over the shoulder or single shot?

Camera angles affect the tone of the film

Filmmaking is a language – every choice you make directly affects how the viewer will interpret your film.

What do camera angles tell your audience?


Conversation scenes

  • the conversation scene is the cornerstone of filmmaking
  • these scenes develop character and communicate crucial plot information
  • conversation scenes are usually predictable – establishes location, closes in on two characters with a mid-shot/reverse shot, moves in closer to medium close up or close up if the scene calls for heightened emotion
  • when shooting the standard conversation scene you have two framing choices: clean shot of one actor in composition; over-the-shoulder shot
  • both types of conversation shot present the same information – but they have different effects on the viewer

Over the Shoulder

  • establishes the eye line and direction in which each character is looking – might not always get this information from a long shot, especially in group conversations
  • the OTS setup establishes who is talking to whom – we meet every person in the conversation, through a series of OTS shots
  • meet each character in the conversation through a series of OTS shots
  • a medium OTS shot can be used to give bits of exposition, character background, plot movement – a moment in time in which viewer does not need to be any closer than they are
  • as conversation becomes more personal – camera slowly closes in while still maintaining OTS shot composition
  • when conversation becomes heightened or darker – camera closes in further – pushes past second character to single shot composition – a ‘character moment’ – camera moves viewer into appropriate proximity of the character to feel that


  • place the camera behind the second camera and include their shoulder and head in frame
  • there are some rules – you don’t have to follow them, but they do help you get the best shot
  • first rule – the eye line of the actor in the shot should be level with the camera – if camera angle is too high or too low, it ruins viewer’s engagement
  • second – avoid an angle that reveals the nose of the actor whose back is to us – a nose is distracting and a visual signifier that the camera may be too far away


Single Framing

  • a single frame of one character in a conversation is when reactions and character moments should take place
  • one thing to note is the importance of focal length when shooting a single – single character framing is about emotion
  • shoot with a short focal length – if you capture with a 120mm lens you will distance yourself from what you are trying to say
  • Roger Deakins – “If the camera wants to be close, I would shoot singles inside [personal space]…It’s a sense of presence…psychologically it’s a totally different effect.’
  • it’s important to note that a single framing during conversations needs a close camera


Tracking into a Single

  • it’s common to track from an OTS shot into single framing
  • a lot more organic than just cutting to a close-up – especially when you a trying to convey a particular emotion


McGregor, L. (2017) ‘Camera Angles: Over The Shoulder or Single Shot?’ on At: (Accessed on 20 November 2017)

Project 6: Camera settings

I wanted to check the settings for shooting in slow motion on my camera, the Sony PXW- FS7.

The best way of achieving a slow motion effect in a moving image is to shoot at 50fps and slow it down to 25fps in post production, giving a smooth 50% reduction in speed. This is a much better approach than simply reducing the speed of footage that has already been captured at the camera’s normal recording speed of 25fps, which can look rather jerky on screen.

One of the exciting things about the FS7 is the high frame rate capabilities of the camera. Recording internally, it can shoot at a top speed of 50fps in Ultra High Definition (2160p) and 150fps in High Definition (1080p). To get the highest frame rates possible, the codec needs to be set to XAVC-I.

The S&Q Motion (Slow & Quick Motion) settings are available through Assignable Button 1, indicated ‘S&Q’ on the side of the camera.

There are two modes – Normal and HFR (High Frame Rate).

  • Normal mode – to enable the high frame rate recording using the S&Q feature I pushed the S&Q button on the side of the camera, which turns the setting on. The camera sets itself to 50P mode by default. In this mode it is possible to shoot anywhere between 1 and 50 frames per second.
  • HFR mode – to shoot with a higher frame rate, you need to go into camera’s menu under S&Q setting and change the setting from ‘Off’ to ‘Full Scan’. Once the HFR mode has been selected, you can then select a frame rate between 75 and 150fps.

The following applies when shooting in S&Q Motion mode:

  • S&Q Motion cannot be set during recording or playback.
  • Audio recording is not supported in S&Q Motion mode.
  • Auto focus is disabled in S&Q Motion mode.
  • When shooting at frame rates higher than 50fps the focus indicator, depth of field indicator, focus position indicator, iris position indicator and zoom position indicator are all turned off.

For the purposes of my project film on ‘expanding time’ I will:

  • Shoot in High Definition in HFR mode.
  • Use a frame rate of between 75 and 150fps.



Sony PXW-FS7 Software Version 4.0 Operating Instructions (2014) Sony Corporation

Project 6: Research – Union Station shoot-out in ‘The Untouchables’

I began my research for this project film with an analysis of the Union Station shoot-out in Brian De Palma’s film ‘The Untouchables’ (1987).

The scene in Union Station shows the main protagonists Ness and Stone finding Al Capone’s book-keeper Walter Payne guarded by several gangsters. A gunfight breaks out on the lobby steps, resulting in the gangsters being killed and Payne being captured.

The action begins with Ness turning and seeing one of the gangsters drawing a machine gun. He shoots and kills the gangster. At the same time, the woman beside him lets go of her pram, which sets off one cinema’s most effective gunfight scenes. What follows is very carefully choreographed.

Ness identifies a second gangster drawing a gun from beneath his coat, takes aim, shoots and kills him. While, at the same time, Ness’s partner Stone runs through an upper floor of the station towards the steps, Ness accidentally brushes against the pram, sending it down the steps, and we see the baby reacting as the pram moves through the frame.

A third gangster, standing beside the crouching Payne, has also drawn a gun and is shooting at Ness, who shoots back wounding him, drops his shotgun and draws a handgun from inside his coat. As the same time, a fourth gangster at the foot of the stairs aims a machine gun at Ness, but is shot from above by Stone. Simultaneous with this action, the mother reaches out after the pram, which continues rolling down the steps.

Ness sees the pram and runs after it down the steps. At the same time, the wounded gangster shoots at Ness, killing a bystander and a sailor in the cross-fire, and Ness is confronted by a fifth gangster standing beside a pillar at the foot of the steps. Again, simultaneous with this action, we see the pram rolling down the steps and the baby’s reaction as the pram moves through the frame.

Ness is now under fire from two directions and trying the save the pram and baby. A second sailor gets killed in the crossfire while trying to stop the pram. Ness runs out of ammunition. The pram continues rolling down the steps. Stone runs towards the steps, throws Ness a gun and slides along the floor, just in time to catch the pram as it reaches the bottom step.

Ness shoots and kills the fifth gangster, and the scene ends with Ness leaning over the pram looking at the baby and Stone lying on the floor beneath the pram, while aiming his gun at the last gangster.

The sequence, which lasts for 2 minutes 15 seconds and contains 105 edits, uses slow motion to help increase the perception of duration within the scene, over-lap shots and shows simultaneous events happening to the various characters within the scene. As a result, an otherwise short event has been stretched out and lengthened for dramatic purposes.

I think there are a number of reasons why this sequence is so effective in expanding time.

Slow motion – Time has been manipulated as a result of filming at a higher frame rate. Increasing the frame rate from 24 fps to 48 fps, for instance, would double the screen time in which the action takes place. As a result, we experience every movement in more detail, both actions and reactions.

Over-lapping shots – We are also drawn into the action as a result of over-lap shots. For example, shots 1, 3 & 5 of the gangster watching Ness and the woman approach the top of the steps are over-lapped with shots 2 & 4 of Ness and the woman walking towards the top of the steps. These over-laps continue as the action at the tops of the steps unfolds, with shots 6 & 8 of Ness taking aim at and shooting the gangster over-lapping with shots 7 & 9 of the gangster getting shot.

Simultaneous events – The pram is the magic ingredient in the sequence. Ness’s accidental brush against the pram’s handle sets in motion a parallel line of action to the gun fight. Now, not only are we wondering how Ness will cope with the gangsters, but we are also left wondering what will happen to the baby in the pram. These two simultaneous events are carefully woven together, so that the gun fight follows the pram’s path down the steps. So we are now rooting for the survival of both Ness and the baby. For example, shots 14, 21 & 23 of one the gangsters at the top of the steps over-lapped with shots 15, 18, 20 & 22 of Ness are all over-lapped with shots 16, 17 & 19 of the pram rolling down the steps.

Shot sizes – Most of the shots within the sequence are Medium Close Up and Close Up, such as Ness taking aim, a gangster getting shot, the woman reaching out after the pram, and the baby in the pram. These shot sizes help direct the viewer’s attention to specific key areas of the action. There are also a few wide shots, which help the viewer maintain a sense of the geography within the location and locate the physical relationships of the characters as they move through the scene. For example, shot 24, halfway down the steps looking up at the action; and shot 93 at the foot of the steps as Stone makes a dive for the pram.

I particularly like the way in which the sequence refers to the ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence in Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potempkin’. This is particularly clear in the way it uses shots of a baby in a pram and reaction shots of different characters to engage the viewer with the unfolding action.

Reverse-engineering the Union Station shoot-out in this way has been an eye-opener for me. It’s a great way of seeing how a sequence like this has been put together, both in terms of framing and editing.

Project 5: Transformation



The brief for this project film was to explore the idea of ‘visual transformation’ through a sequence of three shots:

  1. Someone throwing an object
  2. The object falling into a new shot
  3. A different object in roughly the same place the other object landed

The transformation from one shot to another is created through the use of a ‘Match Cut’, in which ‘one object matches the placement of a subsequent object and/or matches its shape. Or there is some symbolic connection between shots’ (Moving Image 1: Setting the Scene, 2017:93).

Examples of ‘Match Cut’

The Red Shoes (1948)


In ‘The Red Shoes’, the ballet dancer is given a knife to the cut dancing shoes off her feet. As she starts cutting, the knife transforms into a leafy twig. The dancer throws the twig down and it turns back into a knife, which sticks in the floor boards. This visual transformation works through three shots, starting with the dancer dropping the twig. This cuts to a static shot, in which the twig falls from the top edge of the frame towards the floor. On reaching the middle of the frame, the twig transforms back into the knife, now stuck in the same floor.

2001: A Space Odyssy (1969)


Stanley Kubrik uses a similar approach in the opening sequence of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, in which a visual transformation is set up using three shots. Here, an ape is seen throwing a bone in the air. This is followed by a shot of the bone spinning in slow motion in the air. There is then a match cut to a space ship floating above the earth. The result is both a visual connection between the spinning bone and floating spaceship, and a conceptual connection between the pre-historic form of ‘tool’ and the 21st century form of ‘tool’. The result is an image sequence built around a critique on the purpose of tools and machines.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)


David Lean adopts a different approach to presenting the passage of time through visual transformation in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. This time, using only two shots, first a shot of Lawrence holding up and blowing out a lighted match, and then a shot of the desert at sunrise, the juxtaposition of images creates a symbolic connection between the heat of the match and the heat of the sun. I like the way in which a small light source, the match, is replaced with another much larger light source, the sun.

What these examples show is that as well as providing a way of changing time and location within a film, visual transformation can also add considerable weight to a film’s style and meaning.

Notes & Sketches

Before attempting to film my own ‘transformation’ sequence, I tested out a few ideas on paper to see how well the placement of objects within frame and the visual and symbolic connections between shots worked.

Logbook 4, pages 11 – 14

In the first scenario, ‘Candlelight’, I took the idea suggested in the project brief and modified it to show a character reading a manuscript removing their glasses and folding the frame together. The shot of the folded glasses transforms into a burning candle. The transformation here is used to show a change of time and place, from present day to an earlier historic period (e.g. 17th, 18th or 19th century) in which another character is reading by candlelight.

The second scenario, ‘Paper plane’, shows a child throwing a paper plane into the air and watching it fly. The second shot of the paper plane flying in the air is then match cut with an passenger jet on its final approach into an airport. Here the transformation is again used to show a change in place and time, except this time there is also a symbolic connection between childhood and adulthood, suggesting the journey of life.

Visual transformation – ‘Coffee cup’

I then created a third scenario, ‘Coffee cup’, which used the match cut to move the action from one location to another. I liked the idea of creating a transformation from one shot to another with a match cut in which one object matched the placement of a subsequent object and matches its shape. I decided to do this by filling the frame with matching circles.

I began by writing a script for this scenario and sketching out a storyboard using three shots.


Logbook 4, pages 15-16


Logbook 4, pages 17-18

The idea behind the visual transformation in this sequence was to use the match cut to indicate a change in time and location, from a kitchen interior to a cafe interior, and to move from one character to another – from a man, agitated, putting clothes into a washing machine, to a woman sitting thoughtfully drinking coffee in a cafe.

In the first shot we see a man pushing some clothes into a washing machine and slamming the door shut. The second shot is a close up on the machine machine door, through which we can see the clothes spinning. This is followed by a third shot composed of close up of a coffee cup seen from above. It’s contents are also spinning, echoing the movement within the previous shot, though much slower and more benign than the washing machine movement.

Shot 1: Medium Shot, 16mm lens


Shot 2: Close up, 35mm lens


Shot 3: Close up, 35mm lens



I like the idea that a film is a network of ideas and that these ideas can be embedded within a narrative through techniques such as visual transformation.

In this project film, I set out to create a sequence that uses the match cut in a similar way to that used by David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia, to create a symbolic connection between two juxtaposed images – the clockwise movement of the clothes in the washing machine and the clockwise movement of the coffee in the cup. Within the context of their respective scenes, the spinning movement carries a different meaning for the two characters. For the man in the kitchen it is agitation and panic. For the woman in the cafe it is calm.

Visual transformation clearly has the potential of being a very powerful tool within a moving image and is now something which I will be alert to when planning shots for my moving images. Using match cuts enables the filmmaker to embed their ideas visually within a film.

When planning moving images I need to think in terms of ideas. I need to ask myself: What ideas do I want to express in my film? How can I best show these ideas through visual transformation?



Moving Image 1: Setting the Scene (2017). Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

The Red Shoes (1948). Dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

2001: A Space Odyssy (1968). Dir. Stanley Kubrik

Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Dir. David Lean

Project 4: Contracting time

Contracting time – Long version

Running time: 1′ 50″


Contracting time – Short version

Running time: 0′ 44″


Brief: Make a short film of a story about the longing for freedom. Edit two versions of this film: one short using only the essential information and one longer.


A woman is weeding the flower bed in her garden. She hears birdsong. Looking to see where the sound came from, she sees small bird perched on a chair. The bird flies away and the woman looks up, trying to follow it. The woman arrives at the bottom of a large hill. She walks up the hill, eventually emerging over the top of the hill with the landscape behind her. She turns to look at the landscape. The woman is standing in her garden, on a chair, looking over the fences and into other gardens, her arms spread out like wings. Her husband sees her and reacts.

Cinematic conventions:

  1. Cutting to a different scene/location.
  2. Character enters an empty frame.
  3. Use of cutaways to another subject.
  4. Use of a dissolve.

How long do you think this sequence will last on screen?

What will be the consequence of cutting each shot/scene very short or alternatively longer?

When planning this project film I knew I would be capturing several shots, many of which would be quite long in duration. As the script was over a page long, I expected this sequence would last between one and two minutes on screen.

I used a range of conventions when editing the long version, such as cutting to a different scene/location between the garden and the foot of the hill near the beginning of the film and between the hilltop and the garden at the end of the film. I used shots of the character entering an empty frame and cutaways of birds and trees to indicate the passage of time between scenes. I also added a dissolve between the character’s POV of the landscape and her in the garden to indicate a longer passage of time at the end of the film. The result is a sequence that is quite slow and lasts for almost two minutes.

The effect of the short version is quite different. Cutting the shots very short and allowing only the most essential information required to tell the story to appear on screen has resulted in a much quicker sequence. I still used several conventions appropriate to contracting time within a moving image, such as cutting to a different scene/location, the character entering an empty frame and using cutaways to another subject, all to indicate the passage of time within the sequence. I did not add a dissolve between the character’s POV of the landscape and her back in the garden at the end of the film as I did not feel it needed this. Although we still see the story moving from garden to hill and back to garden again, in this version time has contracted even more. Using a much more concise sequence of shots has resulted in a more condensed moving image.