View Full Version : Shooting a two character confrontation

06-17-2004, 05:35 PM
I will be shooting a confrontation scene in a few weeks for a small public service spot and I will be working with actors with mimimal experience.

Does anyone have ideas on how to have the actors maintain thier performance level between setups? I'm be shooting both actors over the shoulder with one camera/boom mike, and two setups.

I was thinking of letting them listen to thier performance just before a take. Is this a good idea?


06-17-2004, 06:27 PM
That is a very classic and basic method you are going with. It's not as difficult as it sounds. You are going to use the best takes, probably a piece from a different one etc... Don't freak out about it. It has been done for 100 years and has been working very well so far. If you know how the scene is supposed to go, you will know when they have nailed it.

Of course, rehearse the whole scene before shooting, so they have something to base their performances on. They won't go too far from something they did before. It's very simple.

I wouldn't show their performances to them on the set unless I really needed them to show what I am referring to when I'm polishing a shot. Especially with untalented actors, showing their previous performances on tape can be quite inhibitive. But have them ready. That is only my way of doing it, and each set has it's own. The changes you need to make while directing should be subtle ones (sometimes they are not. We have to deal with some dosage of unexpected - thank god!), the main feel of the thing should be understood and adressed at rehearsals.

Truly, understanding when the "movie magic" will work is based on a little experience, common sense and a little bit of gut. What you have to take care also is the angle of the camera and the eyelines. Subtle changes in those could have strong results. Sometimes they are much more important if the way he said "I'll take the pancake" doesn't quite match how he said "what's on for breakfast".

Anyway, my 2 pennies...

06-17-2004, 06:45 PM
Thanks for the good ideas. I was thinking of just letting them listen to the audio only (of a suitable take) and after what will be a lengthy setup for the second character.

06-17-2004, 07:14 PM
Why not shoot it as one master. You can keep the camera close, possibly hand held, and pan back and forth rapidly for a high energy docu-style.

06-17-2004, 07:30 PM
No problem Bill.

As I said, Bill go with whatever works for you. It's all good. They will have done it so many times by then none will forget. If they do, it is essential that you DON'T(ya know, err... forget)! As I said, keep the tape idea. If you have to use it, please do, but I doubt you'll need it. You know, it is better to have the trickier setup first, don't leave the hardest shots to do last!

06-18-2004, 05:52 AM
I probably wouldn't have them listen to their previous performances. Well, I shouldn't say I wouldn't do it, rather I'd use it as one of the last resorts. You might wind up with a situation where they're trying to imitate their previous performance. That can come off as forced.

06-18-2004, 08:49 PM
Rehearsal. Rehearsal. Rehearsal. I just sent two actors home who are in my next short after a few hours of rehearsing. All totalled, we'll spend close to six hours rehearsing a 5 minute short. Personally, I would never play back an actor's performance on the set (even audio only) unless it was for a really experienced actor who insisted on seeing their performance. #1 - it kills my directing momentum. #2 - could totally distract my talent from their performance. Plus - every take is different.

06-19-2004, 07:50 PM
Why not shoot it as one master. *You can keep the camera close, possibly hand held, and pan back and forth rapidly for a high energy docu-style.

That is actually a terrible idea. Too many filmmakers are doing this now, it really isn't as appealing or great as sodenburg made it seem in traffic, when it was actually impressive and new.

Definitely shoot a master though. Basically go with 3 setups. 1 master of the two of them running through their lines, 1 of one of the actors using whatever shot you intended, and a reverse angle of the other actor. This will give you enough coverage that you shouldn't have to worry too much about problems in the editing room with performances or subtle changes. You'll also always have the option of cutting to the master shot. This is the tried and tested method of filming dialogue that's been used for decades.

06-19-2004, 08:31 PM
That is actually a terrible idea. Too many filmmakers are doing this now, it really isn't as appealing or great as sodenburg made it seem in traffic, when it was actually impressive and new.

Soderburg didn't exactly invent that style. It's been around for a few decades now.

06-19-2004, 08:41 PM
The whip-pan-between-characters has been around a while, particularly in low-budget shoots (trying to capture an entire scene at a 1:1 shooting ratio, thus saving film and time).

David Jimerson
06-20-2004, 08:26 AM
Whip-pans rarely work well, for a variety of reasons, I didn't even think they were particularly effective in "Traffic" -- though Soderbergh fared better than most . . .

06-20-2004, 10:38 AM
Well it's hard to say if whip panning would be a good idea or not, not knowing the script. I guess that's Bolton's job as a director to find that out. But certainly, whip panning has been around at least since 60's french new wave or other modern cinema expoent.

06-20-2004, 12:39 PM
Normally, it's not something I would do (I'm not too terribly fond of hand-held either). But you're dealing with inexperience actors with whom performance level might be spotty. So you want to try to get it all in one take if you can, so you're not relying on them to get that performance back up for coverage.

Or you could do it ONLY in coverage and get the performance in one take that way. But you're hoping then that each actor gives the best performance in his or her close up. That's no problem when you have experience actors. But when you're dealing with non-actors, you have to adjust accordingly.

06-24-2004, 09:11 AM
Well, the hand-held quasi-master style can work in certain situations and not be distractingly "NYPD Blue".

Take a look at some episodes of Homocide for ideas, as they often used a less intrusive hand-held jump-cut approach to shooting 2-shot confrontations.

06-26-2004, 06:37 PM
Thanks for all the good ideas, I was planning on the Master, dialog and reverse. My actors are not very experienced and if I was to try a hand-held with whip panning, I can just imagine thier eyes being distracted enough to look at the camera.

The inexperienced talent are there because they are young and inexperienced. Basically it's a story about kids in a junior high level classical music competition (big time cut throat!) and if I substituted older more experienced people, it would not look real.


07-02-2004, 06:42 PM
I've normally found that with inexperienced actors, *having* multiple takes has worked better. It allows you to direct the actors more intimately, line for line, and only work on it line for line (or intended shot to intended shot). Because you're going in short spurts, as long as *you* know what you're wanting, it normally turns out relatively well.

Obviously it's best to have the actors do it perfectly the whole way through, many times and from different angles, if time allows this to happen...But I wouldn't think that an inexperienced actor, who can't even run a scene properly more than once, would be able to PERFORM an entire sequence properly...it takes too much.

So it might benefit you to shoot it in short spurts, and therefore not only allow, but almost *force* you to use multiple cuts.

07-09-2004, 01:07 AM
You should do that with the master then the coverage later. There is an excellent video made by Michael Caine that you could rent at your local video store. He talks about film acting but one of the thinks he says that intrigued me was about the over the shoulder shot and the use of the actors eyes and where they should focus on the other actor. The soderberg fast sweep method of masterwork is not really good *in the mind of the average viewer since a lot of new camera people move the camera too fast. A Panavision camera weighs a lot and doesn't move that fast that is why in your mind you will always believe it is film. Vs video operators that whip around the camera will immediately tell the viewer it is video and cheapens the whole project. I personally wouldn't use any feed back but instead have the actors prepare in the corner before the scene and to get them into the right frame of mind first...then when their peaking they will go and do their lines on camera. I've seen many actors cussing and swearing up the storm then they were ready to do the scene. You will be surprised that when they are in the right mental state, especially if it is a heated scene then you will get the best takes ever without any work from you. Trust your actors...everyone has buttons that will piss them off. This will also keep them from watching themselves or do line adjustments. Record everything and let them do it without your direction. And take the best take in post. Just ask them if they have anything that will piss them off then they will be ready to deliver the goods when asked to do it. Afterwards let them cool down by taking a 10 minute break.

07-13-2004, 04:21 PM
If you can spare the time during setups, work with your actors. You don't have to rehearse, though that's good, but just talk, improvise perhaps - above all keep their involvment going. Have them be that they are making a contribution and not just serving (it's easy to feel that way between takes if you're neglected) - you'll be suprised at what gets created.

But do keep them from watching themselves - especially if they are inexperienced. They'll get tied in knots trying to make technical acting adjustments they don't have the experience to carry off - let them concentrate on BEING.

07-16-2004, 11:45 PM
Did you know Star Treck invented whip pan? Bahah....
Shoot it invisible, master>coverage actor 1 > coverage actor 2 so on so forth. Move in with the coverage shots though... shouldn't be mechanical unless that is the effect you are going for. Cutaways, inserts, establishing shots should all match the scene. To shoot a confrontation of some sort take it back to Pulp Fiction the "shot" scene... stadicam it.. Yeah just to comment on the Clerks in the car shooting technique i am not a big fan of it either. Some guys are coming out with 3 pound dv cams handheld expect me not to get a head ache.