January 31, 2015

How the Cinematography of 'Drive' Utilized Quadrants for 'Tightly Composed & Weirdly Unpredictable' Frames

Drive Quadrants Tony Zhou

Tony Zhou delivers another quick bite of film education with this video on the interesting framing used by Nicholas Winding Refn in Drive:

One of the many pleasures of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” (2011) is that the shots feel both tightly composed and weirdly unpredictable. Even though most of the images follow a simple quadrant system, Refn puts plenty of subtle touches within the frame. Let’s take a look.

As always, with any of these devices, they may not be as intentional in every instance as what is shown above. What's undoubtedly the case with this quadrant system is that it comes out of conversations between director Refn and director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel before they started shooting the film. When you set ground rules about how you want to shoot, even when you're not thinking about them, they tend to come out subconsciously — which means that you will know what feels right for every frame due to prior communication.

The main lesson is that these things are created in pre-production, and when artists are working at a very high level and in-sync together, you get beautiful examples like what you see above. If you make conscious decisions to do certain things before you start shooting, and you stick to those choices throughout the film, you'll often end up with something far more coherent and watchable. 

For more of Tony's videos, check out his page on Vimeo.     

Your Comment

18 Comments

"every shot is a decision, if it didn't advance the story then it should not be on your shot-list"..
The shot (framing), the movement of the shot and the style of both the framing and light are all the most important elements to recognize and honor the "Film Cinematographer"...
It should all relate to the story, and that what made the work of the "Director of Photography" Creative and Unique...

January 31, 2015 at 7:08PM

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Ammar Quteineh
Director|Cinematographer |||France|||
651

Great advice! Thanks for sharing!

January 31, 2015 at 7:11PM, Edited January 31, 7:11PM

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Dang, this one was really good.

January 31, 2015 at 7:09PM

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"As always, with any of these devices, they may not be as intentional in every instance as what is shown above. What's undoubtedly the case with this quadrant system is that it comes out of conversations between director Refn and director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel before they started shooting the film."

Brilliant.

I rarely see directors onset talking about quadrants, yet the discussion is often how can we make this frame more interesting, how can we fill it up with more details, and what can we cut to that is going to interesting and different than what audiences expect. As critics and analysts of movies, we can then watch and see how these thoughts become choices, and choices become visual motifs.

Very important what Zhou is doing, but also keep in mind that onset few people take the effort to chop up the screen with a graph.

January 31, 2015 at 7:20PM

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That's been my experience too.

February 1, 2015 at 1:07AM

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Jeff Macpherson
Writer / Director
199

So... am I supposed to use 'the golden rule of thirds', Fibonacci spirals or quadrants for my next feature?

February 1, 2015 at 10:23AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1616

Well, I most of the shown shots you can say the rule of thirds has been used as well... So you can do that simultanuously ;-)

February 2, 2015 at 2:09PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9320

I = in

February 2, 2015 at 2:10PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9320

Use whichever one the particular shot calls for.

February 3, 2015 at 1:44AM

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I hate to say it but this guy is just waffling on, lower half this top half that, hes garbling words out of his mouth that make it seem like he is talking sense, could he be right.. probably, but in my opinion the framing and style depicts one thing, tight/close/uneasy viewing for the audience in order to bring a sense of connection between Driver and Irene.. all this framing business is nothing but bog standard design.

I could do a video with 10 lines showing how this was placed and that was placed to cause this effect blah blah, I like Tony's other videos but this one just felt attention seeking to be honest.

February 1, 2015 at 10:51AM

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Alperen Emirzeoglu
Director/DOP
81

Everything he said was supported with a visual reference to back it up, so I'm not sure what problem you've got with it. You call it bog standard design, but Tony's looking at the subtext beyond the design, and the subtle impact it has on the eye.

These design decisions may not be consciously present to most audiences (and, they shouldn't, because if they are then they're a distraction), but they still serve to create an affect and resonance.

And they may not be as consciously conceived, either. It may have just been that that series of shots "felt right" on the day between the director and DoP, but even in that case, Tony's still breaking down why they 'felt right', and what inspires such a gut instinct.

I completely agree that we can often over-analyze stuff in film. Completely agree. But this is an example where I, personally, found the analysis informative. So, each to his own I guess.

February 1, 2015 at 4:40PM

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Ben Howling
Writer / Director
692

I wasn't 100% convinced by the deconstruction. Many of the examples look like straight forward to "rule of thirds" shots. Definitely wasn't convinced by the "top half faces" bottom half "hands moving" example. That's just a standard mid shot. Their hands and eyes are exactly where I would expect them to be. There are only 3 shots shown that I thought demonstrated "interesting" results from quadrant thinking, and they all had important elements in the bottom right hand quadrant, without anything significant in the top right (where you might normally expect it).

February 2, 2015 at 12:46AM

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Josh Stafield
Director of Photography, Editor
238

Really interesting video. I think it is important that Zhou mentions that this may not be intentional in every instance shown - but it is certainly interesting to break it down and analyze it and perhaps keep it in mind AS an intentional device for future work.

What's for certain is that Drive is a particularly fine example of using composition within a widescreen 'scope frame in order to further the story. I see this aspect ratio being abused constantly by filmmakers who lean on it as a crutch to create automatic production value without actually using it to make artistic statements. But Refn and Siegel are clearly hyper-aware about how placing objects and subjects in different areas, quadrants, or however you choose to split up the frame, is a very powerful storytelling device!

February 3, 2015 at 2:06AM

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Oren Soffer
Director of Photography
2206

Thanks for the video and article!

I'm not a filmmaker, but I tested the quadrant technique against some of my own comic pages and things I've watched/seen recently: https://jesssmartsmiley.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/using-quadrants-in-comp...

February 5, 2015 at 6:03PM, Edited February 5, 6:03PM

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jess smart smiley
Designer/Illustrator
81

Well, okay. It's a fairly standard way of shooting. Very stationary. The shots did'nt add additional information or drama. In fact, the scene at 1:50 and beyond was pretty disturbing. At first glance it made the viewer confused about composition. Who is where? The feeling you have when you cross the axist. (sorry for my foreign English)

February 14, 2015 at 6:04AM

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Albert
89

I've greatly enjoyed other Every Frame a Painting videos, and I'm impressed with how much work Tony Zhou puts into them...but this one is utter bs. It's all simple rule of thirds...when the driver is in the hallway and Irene is sitting on the floor? He's in the top part of frame and she's on the bottom because he's standing and she's sitting, so their eyeliner follow a diagonal. In this scene, and the first scene...any scene with two people, you can always split the frame in half and they get an equal sized frame to fill them up...and that's because each of them is framed perfectly on the line of thirds! The argument about halves is even further discounted when you look at his examples of top-to-bottom quadrants (excluding the one I already mentioned when he's standong and she's sitting)...the framing has their chins chopped off---who frames like this? You only chop chins if you're so tight that even more of the top of the head is chopped off. Also, in the 2.39:1 format, since it's so narrow a frame, there isn't much room to actually work with top-to-bottom halves. There are eyeline matches between people standing and sitting, or taller and shorter people, but to further divide a tiny frame (tiny in the vertical axis) even more? No. There is no way, especially given these examples, that Refn and Sigel were intentionally taking three shots (look...thirds!) and further isolating their faces from their hands to create some sort of top to bottom symmetry. There is almost nothing in this movie that suggest any intention that they framing things in quadrants. If that was a plan (where is it sited that they plans to frame in quadrants?), they failed miserably.

February 16, 2015 at 3:49PM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2275

"Eye lines", not "eyeliner"...I wish we could edit our posts...

February 16, 2015 at 3:50PM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2275

Is this the same system used in Mr. Robot (tv series)?. Every shot on that series drive me crazy. It's beautiful.

August 17, 2015 at 4:22PM, Edited August 17, 4:25PM

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