Scene Coverage: The Art of Visual Storytelling in Filmmaking
In a nutshell, scene coverage in filmmaking refers to the array of shots used to visually narrate a story. Filmmakers typically employ basic shots like establishing shots, wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, inserts, and cut-aways. Employing this simple strategy gives editors more flexibility and options in post-production, allowing for a more captivating experience for viewers.
Below are a few sample coverage shots from a short film we shot a few years back:
Of course, as numerous techniques exist, not all filmmakers cover scenes in the same way,. However, certain essential aspects, such as the 180-degree rule, eye-line match, and looking space, should be considered while shooting 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 in Quentin Tarantino's iconic cult film, "Pulp Fiction." In a brief scene with four characters, Tarantino never shows a master or medium shot to establish their spatial arrangement. Instead, he employs only close-ups, and yet the audience never feels disoriented as to where the characters are situated in the room. This is achieved through some clever yet simple coverage, taking into account the following key factors:
Camera placement (eye-level, low-angle, etc.): The choice of camera angle influences the viewer's perception of characters' positions and interactions.
Eye-line match: Ensuring that characters' gazes match their intended targets on and off-screen provides a sense of continuity.
Looking space (looking left or right of the frame): Leaving empty space in the frame suggests the presence of other characters or objects.
Composition (characters in the middle, left and/or right of the frame): Arranging characters within the frame creates implied spatial relationships.
For instance, the scene starts with Bronagh Gallagher (Trudi) framed on the left side of the screen, looking toward the right side. The camera is placed at eye level, and the empty space on the right implies someone else's presence there. The audience instantly knows she’s listening to someone off to the right side of the screen.
Next, Rosanna Arquette (Jody) is shown talking to Trudi, looking to the left but placed more centrally in the frame. This composition suggests the possibility of another character behind her. Placing her to the right would've been the norm if the dialogue had only been between two characters.
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, also centered in the frame, confirms his higher position, likely on a couch or chair. His eye-line match with Jody further solidifies their relative positions.
A whip-pan then reveals Eric Stoltz (Lance), at a slightly lower camera angle, implying that he entered from another room. His gaze and placement suggest no one else to the right 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.
So there you have it, an incredibly simple and effective way of covering a short scene by only using close ups without confusing your audience. When viewed side by side, the shots clearly illustrate the characters' placements and roles, with the most critical figures centered and occupying more space in the frame.
In conclusion, mastering scene coverage and incorporating elements like eye-line match, looking space, and careful composition greatly enhances visual storytelling in filmmaking, keeping viewers engaged and immersed in the narrative.
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