OTS versus Singles (4 replies and 4 comments)
Hello Roger and all forum members,
something that has been confusing for me when I am writing my screenplay, is when I am writing dialogue scenes. I am not sure when a character should be shot with an OTS shot or a single. I understand that in order to give a character's words more of an impact, going in for a closer shot can achieve this.
The technique of keeping the camera close and between two characters in Singles resonates with me more than a dialogue scene shot on a long lens with over the shoulders, because that's how a real conversation feels.
My confusion is when should I opt for a OTS shot rather than a single and vice versa?
You don't have to indicate OTS shots in a screenplay...
There are no strict rules about this. From a practical standpoint, one advantage to clean singles is that the editor isn't locked into matching action of the (now) off-screen foreground actor.
Some of this is choice of focal length. If you plan on sticking to shorter focal lengths, 35mm and below, if you are shooting OTS shots, there are limits to how close/tight the subject can get because the foreground person's shoulder prevents moving physically closer.
Same thing the other way, if you are shooting on longer focal lengths, over 50mm, then it can look odd to shoot a clean single (unless it is tight) because you'd be cheating the foreground actor way back to keep that person out of the long-lensed shot (in other words, often when shooting the clean single, the actor that they were talking to is standing next to the camera lens just off-camera, so if the longer lens forces you to back up seven feet, let's say, to get the size you want, the off-screen actor is also standing seven feet back, which can be awkward if they have to exchange a prop or shake hands, etc. I'm on a show that shoots mostly clean singles, not OTS much, and we don't shoot tight singles, they are waist-up or elbows-up at the tightest. For this reason, our singles are often shot on a 30mm or 35mm because that puts the camera about three feet away from the actor, which feels "inside" the off-screen actor they are talking too, plus it is a reasonable distance for the off-screen actor to stand and talk.
When we do shoot OTS shots, it's often because we are cross-shooting both angles at the same time, which requires longer lenses in order to not see the opposite camera and thus the foreground shoulders have to come into the shot, the actor can't be standing next to the lens.
But as to why shoot an OTS shot, it is usually because you want to visually tie in the two actors -- maybe because they physically interact (kiss, hold hands, touch faces -- or fight), maybe because the foreground person is a physical threat (there is the funny shot in "Back to the Future" where the main character stands up against the bully in the diner, who then stands up and his shoulder is so large in the foreground that all you can see are Michael J. Fox's eyes widen in fear just above the shoulder line.). But the threat doesn't have to be physical, it can be more low-key and ominous, like when an authority figure comes into the scene. An OTS shot on a longer lens might also feel more observational and less subjective, if that's what you want.
This is a great explanation, thank you very much. I'm a little confused when you say that the threat doesn't have to be physical, I can see how you can create an ominous feeling with slow camera movements, but Isn't the authority figure in your example a physical threat? How can you communicate a non physical threat to the audience with an OTS?
It doesn't have to be a physical threat, but an authority figure such as a lawyer or a priest delivering bad news, for example, might lend itself to an OTS onto the main character, perhaps to visually suggest the walls closing in, the ability to escape being blocked, etc. Or you might do a movie where you only shoot over the main character's shoulder, to suggest the audience is following right behind them on their journey, seeing new things as the character sees them but tied into the character's body language.
OTS shots tend to put the audience in the position of an observer rather than of a character within the story. I mean a third party might observe a conversation from over a shoulder but is hardly likely to be sitting between a conversation and therefore directly in a protagonist's eyeline. I think that is the main psychological difference for the audience. A similar discussion also applies to how close an eyeline is to the camera or, in fact, the choice of a wide or a long lens. Each has a perceptual difference for the audience. The further away an eyeline is the more it implies an observed event rather than one that is subjective and experienced. The longer the lens the more 'divorced' from the event is the viewer.