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What's outside the frame


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this question is part-philosophy, part-technique, like all of cinematography i guess.

It's been said many times that "what's outside of the frame is just as important as what's inside of the frame". I think I understand this in my own way, but what does this statement mean to you? How do we keep this in our minds when composing to better serve our storytelling? To me, this question is indicative of the link between cinematography and editorial.

 

thanks !!

Edited by Frank Poole
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I think the opposite, that all that matters is what gets captured inside the frame. I once had to shoot a close-up on an actor in front of a bush in a residential street in Santa Monica during a summer heatwave, the bush and the actor dusted with fake snow, and cut that into a movie shot in real snow in the mountains in the previous winter -- and it works fine, but knowing that the actor's close-up was shot in June in front of some random bush we found makes me laugh. 

Another time, I had to shoot close-ups of an actor on an empty stage for a scene shot a year earlier on a big sci-fi lab set -- I looked at the footage and imagined with the set looked like out of focus and then with foamcore and strips of tape I created abstract shapes that behind the actor's head looked like the original set. 

I also think of that great gag in "The Terminator" when the Terminator on the hood of a car racing backwards down an alley punches out the windshield -- they used a pneumatic ram with a fake arm/hand positioned next to Schwarzenegger on the hood of a parked car and triggered it to punch the windshield just as a truck covered with a fake brick wall on it drove past them, so in the brief moment of the cut, all you saw in the background was the alley wall streaking by.

Where I did think what's outside the frame matters is in terms of performance, you try to keep a certain amount of real "acting" space for the actor and the off-camera actors to move and live in, you want to minimize the amount of equipment and crew (when possible) that surrounds the camera. Sometimes that's not remotely possible of course.

Another issue where what's outside the frame is important is, of course, lighting. A real space has ambience, it has some sources coming from a distance, and all of that feels different if all lighting can only be a few feet away from the actors.  This is one reason why I like sets with ceilings on them because the ceiling increases ambience in a room. I'm sure a sound recordist would have similar feelings about the space outside the frame affecting the sound.

Composition, on the other hand, is about the arrangement of elements within a frame, so in a sense, it is an act of choosing what to exclude and include -- what's outside the frame is deliberately made irrelevant. Now sometimes in composition, your goal is to suggest that there is space or life outside the frame, which is an artistic challenge because the fact that something actually exists outside the frame isn't enough to suggest it inside the frame unless you find ways of making that more obvious.

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@David Mullen ASC

Your story about the foamcore shapes is amazing! I love that, very inspiring. I did not know about the brilliant Terminator gag either. I do know about many of the brilliant tricks Cameron would use next on "Aliens" that were similarly economic, reinforcing your point about making the magic inside the frame, to the extent of set walls only extending a few inches outside the frame etc.

I am still chewing on that idea of exclusion and its effect on the audience. I guess it's really dependent on the story and scene

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Paintings have composition and there's nothing outside the frame... same goes for an animated movie. And there wasn't much shooting space outside of what was built for camera in the confines of a soundstage in classic Hollywood studio movies of the 30's and 40's.

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"what's outside of the frame is just as important as what's inside of the frame"

 

I've not heard that exact wording before, but it may have the same intention as the phrase:
"What you choose to leave out of the frame is as important as what you choose to include" 
and the meaning of that is much clearer to me.

If documenting reality, you can change the apparent meaning of an image by including or leaving things out. In fiction where things are much more constructed you have even more control.

 


 

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On 12/20/2020 at 11:17 AM, David Mullen ASC said:

I once had to shoot a close-up on an actor in front of a bush in a residential street in Santa Monica during a summer heatwave, the bush and the actor dusted with fake snow, and cut that into a movie shot in real snow in the mountains in the previous winter -- and it works fine, but knowing that the actor's close-up was shot in June in front of some random bush we found makes me laugh. 

Do you have a link to that clip anywhere? I'd be interested to see how it transitions.

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On 12/20/2020 at 7:17 PM, David Mullen ASC said:

I think the opposite, that all that matters is what gets captured inside the frame.

Very interesting! 

 

perhaps what matters the most is not what is inside the frame or what is outside it. but what is inside the viewer.

 

on the other day I watched Storaro lecturing about his color theory and he explained that how the same color can have different interpretation according to each viewer. may be the same can be applied to our topic here

let's say you spent your childhood in brazil, now you are an adult and you saw a movie that was shot in brazil, in the same city in the exact area you grown up in. while you watch the movie a lot of your memories come back to you  and perhaps you daydream so hard that you wouldn't pay any attention to what is happening inside the frame.

 

also let's say that you are watching a great thriller and the movie reached to the point where the protagonist is inside a forest searching for the one that kidnapped his/her daughter. at this point you as a viewer is very engaged in the story and you actually check every inch in the screen to search to find the kidnapper. at this point what you see inside the frame is the only thing that consume your attention.

 

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