Pulp Fiction - Tarantino Scene Coverage Analysis
In a nutshell, scene coverage refers to the diversity of shots to visually tell a story. Some of the basic shots filmmakers use when covering a scene are establishing shots, wide shots, medium shots, close ups, inserts, cut-aways etc. Using this simple strategy gives the editor more flexibility and options in the editing room, making it more interesting for viewers to watch.
Below are a few sample coverage shots from the short film “straight to rem”, starring Chris Aguilar, Maria Lohn, Dave Moskin and Petra Kohles:
Close up shot
Close up reverse shot
Of course not all scenes are covered in the same way by every filmmaker and there are tons of different ways of doing it. However some important aspects such as the 180 degree rule, eye-line match, and looking space are good things to keep in mind while filming so viewers don’t get confused and understand where everything and everyone is in the space of the scene.
A great example of storytelling coverage using eye-line match and looking space can be found during a short scene from Quentin Tarantino’s classic cult film “Pulp Fiction”. There are four characters in this scene, however Tarantino never shows us a master or medium shot to establish where these characters are situated in relation to each another during their dialogue. He only uses close-ups, but the viewer is never confused as to where the characters are situated in the room. This is done by some clever and yet simple coverage, taking into consideration some important factors like:
-Camera placement (eye-level, low-angle, etc)
-Looking space (looking left or right of frame)
-Composition (characters in the middle, left and/or right of frame)
The scene starts with Bronagh Gallagher (Trudi) framed screen left, looking screen right. The camera is placed eye level while she looks straight ahead, implying she is talking to someone directly across from her. Only by looking at this image the audience automatically “knows” she’s listening to someone off to the right side of the screen because of the “empty” space.
The next shot we see is of Rosanna Arquette (Jody) talking to Trudi. Although looking screen left, Jody is placed more to the center of the frame instead of to the right (placing her to the right would've been the norm if the dialogue had only been between two people). Having Jody in the center leaves space on either side of the screen, implying the possibility of another presence behind her.
Indeed we do hear John Travolta’s character (Vincent) asking a question. Jody turns her head to address him. She is now looking a bit upwards, implying that Vincent might be standing, or sitting higher up.
Vincent’s close up is also framed more to the center of the screen, once again implying a possible presence on the other side of the frame. We get confirmation of Vincent sitting higher up than Jody through their eye-line match, my guess would be that Jody and Trudi are sitting on the floor and Vincent is on a couch or chair.
After a few moments, we get a whip-pan to Eric Stoltz (Lance). The camera is placed at a slightly lower angle and he takes a few steps back after giving his line of dialogue, making it obvious he just walked in from another room. He is looking camera left and framed camera right, implying there is nobody else off screen to that side. Essentially “closing the loop” of their placement in this scene for the lack of a better term.
How do we know Vincent also wasn’t standing? He acknowledges Lance’s presence by turning his head upwards. We know for a fact that Lance isn’t a 4 meter giant :)
So there you have it, an incredibly simple and effective way of covering a short scene without confusing your audience and only using close ups.
When viewing the shots side by side, their placement becomes even more obvious, with the two most important characters in the scene placed in the middle and taking up a bit more space in the frame.
Vitor is a filmmaker, cameraman and editor based in Vienna, Austria. He is the owner of Reel Arts Media.
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