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6.11.2009

It Cuts Both Ways

I was watching a TV episode this evening and we cut to a scene with a little boy. It was a funeral and the coffin was headed out of the church to the cemetery.

The scene was mostly closeups on the boy's face as the coffin moves in the foreground:


Coffin

The pallbearers move on toward the waiting hearse.

But wait, the coffin is moving past the boy again.

Huh?

This scene is horribly cut! They are repeating action in the cutting. I can't believe how shoddy the editing it for this scene. You've got to me kidding me! I mean, here they are putting the coffin into the hearse.

Cut to the pallbearers opening the hearse doors...

...wait...

There are two coffins?

Oh, that makes sense. Got it. Okay, not so bad anymore.

"Son," the man on the screen says, "I'm sorry about your mum and dad."


But the scene was bad. I was confused. I didn't know there were two coffins until they practically came out and told me. And if I wasn't slightly more astute, it would have taken until they said the line before I would have figured it out. And that makes it a very bad scene.

How could they have avoided this problem?

An establishing shot. And they could have had their pick:

  • Two hearses in front of a church
  • Two coffins in the viewing room
  • A wide shot of the processional exiting the church
  • The boy's POV of the two caskets
  • A slightly wider angle of the boy so we could see what was happening

But no. The entire scene was close in, personal, an individual experience focused on emotion and loss. And because of that, the audience was Lost.

I think many student films suffer from this same "claustrophobia" in that we rarely establish our scene. Establishing shots are difficult to pull off--in fact, I don't think we ever talked about them in film school--but they are essential to give your audience context for what is happening and where.

And here, a major scene from an excellent show was ruined because they never gave us a glimpse at what was going on.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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