Erik Alexander Wilson is one of my favorite DP’s. He’s shot a handful of features, shorts and music videos that demonstrate the mastery of visual storytelling through color selection, framing and dynamic composition.
Here’s his website:
I wanted to look at Submarine briefly and comment on what stood out for me after watching it a second time on Netflix. Instinctively I realized that he doesn’t normally indulge in the typical two shot that follows into an over-the-shoulder subjective setup. Instead, he understands the context and requirements of the story scene and determines a two shot from there.
Usually, an entire scene in Submarine will play out in a master two shot.
I think this is how DP’s should approach framing any dramatic scene by first understanding the parameters of the story. It’s strange how much the two shot followed by OTS has become a standard way of visually depicting conversation in film and television… I don’t have anything against OTS shots as they function as strong POV devices, but I do think that there are more creative ways to capture an audience’s attention.
This is a painting by Winslow Homer titled “Boys in a Pasture” that I analyzed at the MFA Boston for my cinematography class. Can you imagine this image as a two shot in a movie? Shooting OTS wouldn’t make much sense here because the boys are having a shared experience. I feel like there’s something almost natural to Homer’s framing, the triangular composition and low angle that makes it seem like the ground is connected to the sky.
I wonder if there’s a way to film two people arguing more like these two shots. In the second Submarine screenshot above from the top, a conversation between Oliver and his schoolteacher plays out in a two shot. They share the space, but the blocking emphasizes Oliver’s teacher on a higher level (sitting on the desk). This type of framing with levels denotes authority and point of view without having to engage OTS — and also reminds me of the way actors are sometimes blocked in theater plays.
There’s a scene where Oliver and Jordana kiss for the first time. Another tool at the DP’s disposal is the POWER TO CONTROL TIME AND SPACE. Yes, we are time wizards… sort of.
Story time and real world time are two separate concepts. A minute that goes by in the real world can mean seconds or hours on screen.
How do you go about altering time? By either slowing a clip down in production or post… or by shooting all the elements of any given scene:
Do I spot an After Effects lens flare?! :O
Are you looking at these photos? You could say “they kissed,” but that’s not what’s really happening visually (and in the script, I suppose).
In story world:
(1) They connect for a kiss.
(2) A Polaroid photo drops to the ground.
(3) The camera bulb flashes.
(4) Oliver tightens his grip on the suitcase.
(5) His eyes read “holy shit.”
Finally, it’s easy to forget to point out that Jordana’s red jacket instantly draws our attention to her because she wears the brightest color in the frame. It’s a simple choice in production design that allows for some brilliant, dynamic two shots.