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Beginner's Guide to Shooting a Dialogue Scene: Camera Angles, Framing, and Rule of Thirds

02.17.13 @ 5:50PM Tags : , ,

It’s one of the simplest and most common scenes you’ll find in a film: two people talking to each other. Just because it’s one of the most common, doesn’t mean people still don’t get it “wrong,” especially those who are just making a movie for the first time. You may even subconsciously feel like something is wrong, but it’s possible you weren’t able to put into words what felt off about the scene. Embedded below we’ve got a great tutorial to help with choosing the proper camera angles and framing, and why the rule of thirds can make for a more interesting and “cinematic” scene.

Thanks to Tom Antos for the video:


Obviously these are general guidelines, but these are the basic rules that govern almost any film. I know some people might take offense to having to follow by rules, but in my opinion, you can only successfully break them when you fully understand them. I think if you understand the effect that basic angles or framing have on your audience, then you’ll have a far better idea of what it does to the viewer when you choose to do something different.

Understanding where you are putting the camera is just as important as the dialogue or the plot of your movie, because the language of cinema is a bit of an unspoken rule between the filmmaker and the audience, and even though the audience may not be able to articulate what you’ve done with a shot, if something is different from the norm, there is a good chance they’ll feel it.

For those who are plenty experienced in these rules, when have you chosen to break them? What effect were you trying to achieve?

Links:

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We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • Raphael Wood on 02.17.13 @ 6:03PM

    Good old basics.
    Maybe you guys should try and do a full week of tutorials only and forget camera news during that week?
    Just to change the pace a bit.
    It would be cool.

  • You are absolutely correct about rules, you have to know what they are to break them successfully. If you don’t know the basic techniques of something you won’t have a foundation on which to do experimental stuff which will work. People should break rules BUT only from a foundation of consciously knowing exactly WHAT they are breaking and WHY, i.e. to enhance the intended communication or message of the art form.

    • Agreed. Its the best way to convey tension or off balance in the scene, those who know the rules first can best utilize breaking the rules for a subtle effect on the viewer.

    • Totally agreed. At first I was a little turned off by using the rules, but once explained that you need to know them to break them, I felt that was a correct way to look at it, even for someone who wants to be able to do something experimental.

  • What a coincidence – I went through the same tutorial video just a few weeks ago.

    Would be interesting to see more videos like this, and comments on why a certain shot was used, why certain color grading was used etc. Just like the article mentions, it’s good to know rules/guidelines for coloring, editing, framing etc so that you know when and why to break the rules :)

  • These “basics” and “rules” are something I could watch forever. I’m almost finished with my B.A. in television broadcasting and have taken many aesthetics classes that go beyond all of this, but every time I watch a tutorial or read about these “basic rules” I feel like I become just a little more knowledgeable about the subject.

    The more I’ve learned in school, the more I’ve realized that I don’t know anything. It’s just finding a way to continue pushing your education on this stuff. I think the NoFilmSchool tutorial week would be a good idea, but I also think that making NoFilmSchool a more interactive website would be even better. What about adding a forum where we can all discuss and share ideas about storytelling? There is a great community of people around this site and I think we could all learn a lot from each other if there was a way to communicate other than in the comments like this.

    • A forum is coming with our redesign, something else Ryan has been dealing with along with his feature.

    • Since I first learned these rules on my job training, I watched dozens of instructional videos, also watched other people apply these things on the job, and I have done it myself countless times. The more you apply these basic things the more you get a feeling for them – but it never hurts to watch a basic training video again even if you already kind of know everything. Sometimes there’s still something you need to remind yourself about, or something that’s just a little different in the 23rd training video that makes you think.

      I even think I can sometimes learn from my trainees questions at work. He asks me why I do something and that is actually the first time I really think about that certain aspect myself…
      Never stop learning stuff, never stop re-learning stuff. The second you think you know it all, you are basically done as a cameraman, I think! :)

      • … and I mean “done” in a bad way. Like, you’re out.

        I have seen quite some cameramen usually in their fourties to fifties who think they know it all and nobody can do it like they can – usually these types aren’t exactly what you want to become. The really good ones are still learning new stuff in their sixties and later :)

  • Pablo Saldana on 02.17.13 @ 8:15PM

    It’ll be nice. And maybe some challenges as well?

  • Really liking these technique posts popping up recently. Even if you don’t go with a ‘week of nothing but’ like some are asking for, perhaps a way of archiving these together in the redesign would be good? Camera manufacturers’ big announcements (which I also come here for) become outdated in a matter of weeks or months, but a strong understanding of film-making fundamentals have been handy for over a century now.

  • Also, let’s make noFilmSchool more about SCHOOL and less about strictly gear. Let’s have a tutorial DEPOT so that a newcomer can get a boot camp type experience.

    • I agree with this sentiment even if I’m confused why you’re linking to a site about corporate wellness in your multiple screen names :-)

  • Some great comments on the above. However I personally do not think you need to reserve a week for this type of article, I like all the gear info but a liberal sprinkling of these types of basics are very helpful to the consistent readers at your site.

  • That was, I think, the most concise and at the same time short explanation of all the important things for dialogue scenes. Very well done, with good and clear examples!
    I am absolutely going to bookmark this video and use it next time I need to explain these things to somebody.

  • I downloaded a book from KOBO titled “How to shoot Video that doesn’t Suck” for about $10.

    The Author is a Director and doesn’t include cameras and other equipment in the book. It is strictly about the technique of shooting……….anything from a birthday party to a a movie. As a newbie to this field I found it quite enlightening, interesting and informative. This book discusses the Rule of Thirds too.

    I use this rule when designing brochures, posters and other corporate information. It’s basically the same idea as film making.

    E-learning or Education through Social Media is a big and fairly complicated thing to pull off correctly. Don’t let that put any of you guys off attempting to do it. I am attempting one or two things myself, but I have the Chief Learning Designer for a very large organization helping me.

    Look at the E-learning Guild……..you can join for free and gain some insight into creating these tutorials yourself. You can do it; you’re all smart and have knowledge to share.

    Regards,

    Rachael

  • The end part about making it different enough to avoid it being a jump-cut made me think about an old rule from the old studio-system that was something like “the rule of 30″. Either you switch to a lens that is at least 30 mm different from the last shot or you choose an angle that is at least 30 degrees away from where you shot last. As you move up in lens-length though, I think that 30mm might not be enough.

    And as many say. Rules are meant to be broken. But you should only break the rules that you already know about. And when you do. Do it consistently and make it motivated. As a viewer I accept almost anything in the way of aesthetics if I are given enough time to orient my eyes and the framing is motivated by the narrative.

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