Roger Deakins On When & Why To Use Over-The-Shoulder Shots!

By Arun Fulara. Posted on July 09, 2015

Roger Deakins is a name that needs no introduction. Nominated 12 times for the Academy Award for Cinematography and a frequent collaborator of Coen Brothers, he's shot classics like The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption, Kundun & Skyfall over the last 40 years of his illustrious career.

His site is a goldmine for students of cinematography and we stumbled upon this most awesome forum on the site that hosts discussions on almost every topic under the sun of interest to a filmmaker. We've bookmarked the forum and i don't think i need to tell you that you should do the same.

So while trawling the forums we came across this really insightful chat on how, where and when to shoot over-the-shoulder and when to shoot single shots. The discussion is a long one and you should read it in its entirety, but we've culled out the meatiest part from it for you.

Q: Hello Mr. Deakins et al. I think dialogue is a very important and crucial tool to tell a story in a film, and there is a lot of techniques to shoot a dialogue: over-the-shoulder, single (front or side)...

What make you choose one over another? OTS vs Single, and Single from the front or from the side. Mr Deakins, In Prisoners there was a conversation between Detective Loki and Keller you start the conversation with an OTS and you switched to a single, for what reason please? (is it to show Keller emotions? he seemed very brokenhearted and angry). Whats the difference between shooting a conversation on a Tripod or handheld?

OTS_Prisoners_1 blogShot 1 - OTS Shot

Roger DeakinsShot 2 - Single shot

Roger Deakins: You might close in on a conversation simply to give more weight to a certain point or to a reaction. That was the case with the scene you mention. Over the shoulder shots are by definition a little more 'observational' than a single, especially one that is shot very close to the eyeline. So, the choice of eyeline is also a factor. Shooting profiles is an extreme but there are a range of possibilities between a profile and a front on shot, each of which can that bit more intense. In the end I think that shot choice is often more instinctive than calculated.

Hand held or on a tripod? Hand held can give a slightly nervy/uncertain feel to a static scene. It can also imply some sort of 'documentary' realism but that depends on exactly what kind of Hand Held is done. Is it a steady version of holding the camera or something decidedly wobbly?

Q: In the below link you find a conversation between Keller and Franklin, you started with an OTS like in Picture 2 then they moved from the door Picture 1, then you got back to the OTS Picture 2, cut to Alex, then you showed Franklin from a different angle! you went back to Keller in the same OTS but you keep shooting Franklin from the same low angle.

Why you shoot them in different ways?

Prisoners 3 blog

Roger Deakins: I think the difference in shot here was simply a case of Hugh Jackman pushing back Terrence and forcing the frame a little. Each angle is virtually the same but, as I am usually working off a jib arm so as to be as flexible as I can, each take will differ that bit. The lens is not changing nor is the perspective.

The cut to the full figure wide is just for emphasis. We were pretty careful with the eye line so that geography was maintained. In a doorway it is usually the case that you cross the line in a straight reverse as that is the only way that the camera can fit the space but that was not at issue here.


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