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Theory Behind Reverse Lead Room


Max Field
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Saw 50 Shades Darker yesterday (had really funny moments but only a decent flick) and shots with reverse lead room were abundant.

 

Example:

c413cdd9fd334a31474e38042f75ba20.png

 

While this shot seems to have the purpose of showing the interaction behind them, there were many others without any form of activity going on, just completely defocused backgrounds without detail.

 

Obviously this isn't the first film to ever do something like this, but I was wondering if there was some form of philosophy for why a DoP would elect to do the complete opposite of the lead room rule if there are no other details present.

 

The primary rule of lead room where space is in front of the nose feels intuitive to me.

 

Thanks for all insights.

Edited by Macks Fiiod
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Saw 50 Shades Darker yesterday (had really funny moments but only a decent flick) and shots with reverse lead room were abundant.

 

Example:

c413cdd9fd334a31474e38042f75ba20.png

 

While this shot seems to have the purpose of showing the interaction behind them, there were many others without any form of activity going on, just completely defocused backgrounds without detail.

 

Obviously this isn't the first film to ever do something like this, but I was wondering if there was some form of philosophy for why a DoP would elect to do the complete opposite of the lead room rule if there are no other details present.

 

The primary rule of lead room where space is in front of the nose feels intuitive to me.

 

Thanks for all insights.

 

Since I've not seen the film, my initial guess of the sample image, is the guy is 'pushing his way' into the off camera person's space.

 

A person staring out a window, with could be interpreted two ways depending on the 'space'... no space... perhaps 'blocked' person... much space... perhaps many options... it is of course hard to tell post facto what was on the mind of the filmmaker/director/dop that lead to that specific composition.

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Usually when I see this trick used, it's to highlight something in the background. Maybe it's the location, or what's physically happening in the background.

 

I personally don't like this trick at all.

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My theory for why the DP would choose to frame that way:

 

When there's nothing in the background, it's going to make the frame unbalanced, which tends to make the audience uncomfortable. It also has the effect of making the other person's space feel cramped, while giving the other person a visually stronger and move overbearing position.

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If it was OK for Gordon Willis, then I'm OK with doing it:

 

manhattan6.jpg

 

manhattan7.jpg

 

Simplest reason is that there might be more visual interest in the background when short-siding the framing -- I've been in many restaurants where your choice is to short-side and see the restaurant or put the extra space conventionally ahead of the actor's look and see a wall.

 

Other reasons include creating some sort of tension from the subject not "paying attention" to what is going on behind them, or suggesting that the world is going on without them so to speak, that the character is "outside" of society, or simply creating a feeling of unease from the unconventional framing.

 

The scene from "Manhattan" above is about a couple breaking up and the short-siding emphasizes the happier couples around them in the restaurant that the main characters are not perceiving.

 

"The Insider" has a lot of unconventional framing choices including short-siding characters.

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I've become a bit of a fan of doing that, but frankly I'm probably just copying much more skilled people than I am.

 

I do notice that most of the examples here are in scope frames, which would clearly make it more noticeable.

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But what if any background is totally out of focus.. there is no information there at all.. as the OP says... that would be the reason then.. in an otherwise "unstylised" film.. just because its jarring.. why not light it badly too.. have bad acting.. make it out of focus.. also jarring to an audience .. sure there can a reason to do it.. same as a jump cut.. but if there is no reason .. it can only be seen as some pretentious attempt as being "edgy " and even now its been over done ..

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Is getting an F on a Math test cool too? The answer is yes, but I feel there's tons of room for a feature to purely look "cool" without breaking certain rules. David showed those examples above but they really backed the primary rule of "telling the story". If there's nothingness in the background I see zero reason to mess around with the principles of lead room. It's there for coherency, which is important for spatial awareness within the telling of a scene.

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......the primary rule of "telling the story". ........ the principles of lead room......spatial awareness......

 

The principals of headroom are a really worthy topic, even if it feels like an uncertain ship..When you invoke the "story" word it's like you jumped into the lifeboat

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I think some of you are overestimating my intelligence. I'm not that smart. I look at images and nod "yes" or shake "no". :P

 

But seriously, I think those Gordon Willis shots look great and what I mean by "look great" is they stimulate my aesthetic... they excite my taste... I like them... regardless of the context. But in context, even better!

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Lol, I was just framing this way today on a beauty ad! Handheld, wide-open type of stuff. The shots on sticks/slider were more or less framed conventionally.

 

I think part of it is just instinctual, if it looks good and feels right, do it. You can certainly intellectualize the choice, especially for a narrative film, but for advertising it's mostly done if it looks good.

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But what if any background is totally out of focus.. there is no information there at all.. as the OP says... that would be the reason then.. in an otherwise "unstylised" film.. just because its jarring.. why not light it badly too.. have bad acting.. make it out of focus.. also jarring to an audience .. sure there can a reason to do it.. same as a jump cut.. but if there is no reason .. it can only be seen as some pretentious attempt as being "edgy " and even now its been over done ..

I don't think short-siding a composition is 'bad' - it's just unconventional. Now, I'm not saying the composition in question is good or bad. To me, it's somewhat flat. If you look at the films of Wong Kar Wai, you'll see incredibly beautiful compositions using this technique.

 

What makes a 'good' composition can be such a complex thing, purely on an aesthetic level. If you look at still photography, you tend to see a much wider range of 'acceptable' conventions being used. I think it's a shame that framing in cinematography is often much more bland as a whole.

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I just think the framing looks cool. Maybe that means I like bad lighting and bad acting too, but I hope not. ;)

 

 

Justin.. sorry I wasn't meaning to imply that.. nor was my rant :) directed at you sir.. it really is a pet hate of mine.. but each to their own.. maybe Im too old !! my wife thinks so..

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I don't think short-siding a composition is 'bad' - it's just unconventional. Now, I'm not saying the composition in question is good or bad. To me, it's somewhat flat. If you look at the films of Wong Kar Wai, you'll see incredibly beautiful compositions using this technique.

 

What makes a 'good' composition can be such a complex thing, purely on an aesthetic level. If you look at still photography, you tend to see a much wider range of 'acceptable' conventions being used. I think it's a shame that framing in cinematography is often much more bland as a whole.

 

Yes good point.. I think in stills you can get away with alot of "un convectional " framing.. its just one frame..stand alone.. even the stills shots Dave posted of Mr Willis frames.. look great as stills.. you could hang them on the wall..but as a scene in a film.. of course moving images .. there are some conventions that exist for reason.. jump cuts.. POV,s.. crossing the line between 2 two talking to each other.. it could be fun.. cool.. jarring .. edgy or suite a film that would make that decision have some point or meaning.. but if there is no reason.. its just two people talking-to each other.. why do it.. solely that reviewers will comment on it.. ? why cram someone into the "wrong" side of the frame.. if you have nothing even in focus on the "air" side.. commercials and music videos you have alot more leeway and Ive done that too.. its totally what looks good.. thats what you getting paid for..but in a straight dialogue scene .. with no reasons to be "arty".. it should be what they are saying thats important ,not an awkward frame with just totally out of focus info not adding in anyway to the story... just for the sake of it.. IMHO..

Edited by Robin R Probyn
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Sorry, I meant lead room....

 

 

Thought you might have been watching North Korean TV.. in Tokyo they always seem to be showing clips of North Korean tv .. possibility due to imminent nukes coming this way.. but they always have this huge amount of head room.. it annoys me more than the missiles TBH..

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Without unconventional thinking, we wouldn't have most of our cinematic language tools today. When Cecil B. DeMille first started having faces lit from the side for moodier scenes, some distributors complained that they were only paying for half a face.

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