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two-shot, both survive

There is nothing more powerful in human motivation than the urge to be on the inside. To be in the know.

Digression:If you have never read C.S. Lewis on “The Inner Ring”, you should; if you have read it in your youth, you should read it again. It is worth reading every ten years or so, I imagine for your entire life. There will be times when you disagree with it (I hope), but there should never be a time when you won't engage with it, when it has nothing to say to you. End Digression.

One of the less dangerous aspects of this desire is the pleasure taken in knowing how things are made. The secrets of construction, the way that the lights are hung to generate that eerie blue glow, the pocket the dove is hidden in before the trick, when they switch the duck for the duct tape. I've read enough about film-making to know something about how films are actually made, and although I get to feel smug about it a lot, it has led to a certain inability to enjoy a few particular aspects of film-making. Such as.

You are warned, you know. I'm going to ruin a bunch of movies for you. Stop reading now, Gentle Reader, and you will avoid that feeling of smug dissatisfaction that will mark you as the possessor of inside information and distinguish from those who simply enjoy the movie. Can you stop reading here? My advice to you, Gentle Reader, is to do so. Nothing you learn from here on in will be of the slightest practical use. Nor am I going to reveal anything that is in the slightest a secret, or that you could not figure out if you put your analytical skills to it. You should, rather, be content with the illusion.

Are you still here? Draw near, Gentle Reader, and I will tell.

So, almost everyone knows that movies are filmed in several takes; the director goes through the scene several times with the camera rolling and then prints those takes that he thinks best captured the scene. Furthermore, in post-production, there's an editing process that indicates when the audience is seeing the actor who is speaking and when the actor who is listening, when the close-up and when the two-shot, etc, etc. Yes? This is all well-known. And it should be obvious that unless there is a continuous shot, different takes can be spliced together to make one scene. This leads to continuity problems, where a pen that was moved, unnoticed, between takes appears in the scene now on the left side of the desk, now on the right.

Nothing sinister so far, you say? True.

Now, in many films there is a scene where two characters are talking, perhaps outside, and much the time we see one character over the other one's shoulder, alternating between the two characters, and (in editing) interspersed with shots where the two are together, seen from a bit further away. If you are filming that way, you can either be very clever indeed with placing the cameras so that the camera over Jane's shoulder will not be visible in the shot from the camera over John's shoulder, or you can simply set the camera over Jane's shoulder, run the scene, and then move the camera to over John's shoulder and run it again. Yes? Much easier. And then run it again with a camera far enough away to give you a sense of their surroundings. Your editor then cuts these three points of view together (perhaps with several takes from each) to come up with the actual scene that an audience sees.

But here's where things go bad: when the camera is over John's shoulder, we can only see Jane, right? And John is played by a Very Important Actor who is not going to stand around “acting” when he's not on camera, is he? No, he's going to go back to his trailer and prepare for his next scene. So there's a stand-in for the blurry shoulder or sleeve, and somebody to read John's lines, and the actress playing Jane does the scene for the camera, and then retires to her trailer while they move the cameras and do it for John and the stand-in and John's drama coach reading Jane's lines.

Not every such scene is shot like that. But enough that a Very Important Actor who is willing to be his own stand-in for such scenes is considered kind and helpful and all that; I've seen it mentioned in more than one memoir. And once you know that, it's hard to forget it. And with astonishing frequency, when I see a scene like that, it is very clear to me that the two actors are not in the same room. Sometimes the lighting is different, and sometimes the sound is different, but mostly I just become convinced that the actors are not interacting, just acting. Usually such scenes are either confrontations or romances; it ruins the scene entirely when I decide that they filmed it separately.

And now, you too, Gentle Reader, will have to think, is Dumbledore really talking to Harry? It sure doesn't seem like it, does it?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I had a similar moment during the Momix performance I saw yesterday. There was a beautiful piece with a solo dancer holding a large ball, and doing impossible moves with it. She's using a transparent grip of some sort, designed to let her do impossible moves while looking as if she's not actually attached to the ball. And at the end of the piece, she does a little move to remove her hand from the grip and throws the ball offstage, supposedly confirming for the audience that she was not using a grip. And I couldn't get past the intended-to-deceive mechanism of it to just enjoy the piece.

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