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Old July 15 2012, 11:34 AM   #209
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Re: Fan Filmmaker's Primer

I've had some discussions recently with some fan fimmakers about some of the "rules" I've mentioned in this thread. One that keeps coming up is The Line, so I thought I'd revisit this, using something more contemporary than the original Star Trek to illustrate it.
The Line, Part 2

To recap, from the original example (full post LINK here)

Maurice wrote: View Post
Let's get on to some cinematography basics, starting with...

In short The Line is an imaginary line you draw between two players in a scene, and which extends through them.

Let's say you shot the above scene. You've established that Kirk is to screen left of Sevrin, and must look to screen right to face him. If Sevrin faces Kirk, he must face screen left. Now, if you wanted a closeup of Kirk without Sevrin in the frame, you'd have to stay on the same side of The Line, so that Kirk's eyeline still goes to the right side of the frame.

In all the camera positions to this side of the line, Kirk's screen facing is always to the right, even if we looked over his shoulder or over Sevrin's shoulder
The basic rule of The Line is that once you establish it, you cannot cross it. This is because The Line establishes direction of looks, movement and relative positions in relationship to the camera. It makes it possible to maintain a sense of screen direction and where things are even when you change setups and angles.
In the previous post I used some frames from "The Way to Eden" to illustrate the rule, and what steps and editor would take to ensure it was followed. But modern TV shows and films move the camera around a lot more than than in the 60s, so you might think they're looser about such rules. Let's see...

In the preceding and following frames, notice that The Line that's set up in this scene is between Kirk and Spock, so that any time Kirk looks at Spock his gaze is to camera right (right side of the frame), and any look from Spock to Kirk is to camera left. The camera goes to various distances and framings, but it DOES NOT cross The Line.

Notice also that Pike's eyelines re Kirk and Spock are not similarly consistent: that's because in this context we as viewers see him only in terms of his relationship to Kirk and Spock, who are the focus.

Next, we see something new, because Kirk is talking to Pike, and a new Line is drawn between them, but notice that the framing typically would keep Kirk's eyeline to Spock the same as before. The only time this is broken is when the camera goes behind Kirk to see Pike, but it still obeys the new Pike to Kirk Line. This isn't a problem because Spock and Kirk aren't interacting AND we know where he is when off-camera because we've previously seen his relationship to Kirk and Pike.

Next, Pike turns to hear Uhura, and this a third Line is established between THEM, with Pike's eyeline to camera left and Uhura's to camera right. Technically, we've crossed the Kirk Spock Line here, except that the focus now has shifted off Kirk and Spock to Pike and Uhura.

Finally, when the conversation jumps back in close with Spock and Kirk addressing Pike, the camera pops back to obey the first Line, with Kirk facing camera right and Spock left.

Now, the thing about The Line is it's not permanent. You can draw a new line via a camera move (like dollying, or jumping way back to reveal the character relationships from a new angle) and/or having characters physically move.

If all that seems confusing, let me try to summarize why staying to one side of the The Line works:

Simply put, when you stay on one side of The Line the eyelines of any two characters will always be in opposition when they face. This is what you see in the real world when you see two people looking at each other. When you cross The Line and the eyelines are not opposed then the characters do not appear to be looking at each other.

So, at it's core this isn't a cinema RULE as much as it's cinema adapted to take advantage of how we perceive cues in the real world.

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"There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
óWill Rogers

Last edited by Maurice; July 15 2012 at 11:44 AM.
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