How to Read a Movie

Reading: Angles and Cuts

The first video I watched was the video on the match cut. When I researched this further I realized it was also known as a “match on action.” A match on action is an editing strategy in which a singular action is seen from multiple different points of view or angles. This match cut type of editing is used to pull the audience into an action scene or to at least make it more interesting by cut the shots together in an interesting way. For example, if a scene of say a car chase is shot entirely from the point of view of one character it is likely to not be nearly as exciting as it could be. If that same car chase scene uses a match on action construction, which would allow the viewer to see it from the vantage point of the character running away, the character chasing, bystanders, or even an aerial shot, it will likely be much more exciting and interesting. If these match cuts are not edited together perfectly however, it may take away from the overall scene. Take this car chase scene from The Matrix Reloaded, it is basically one big match on action.

In this scene the main focus is on the car containing Morpheus, Trinity and the key maker. However, we see the car from just about every angle imaginable. There are many other characters interacting with the main car. Through match on actions we can see the car’s actions from the point of view of every character. This makes the scene much more interesting and exciting. If we only could see the car chase scene from any one character we would lose a lot of interesting shots and would not be able to clearly see exactly what is happening with the other characters.

A similar but different film technique that can be used to enhance a match cut is the camera placement itself. The placement of the camera decides the viewpoint. Different viewpoints can display different moods. If a single character is showing emotion for example, often times the camera is close up on the face, while if there is a group shot it has to be zoomed out. The camera angle and size of the shot is everything in the mind of a director. With close attention to the way a shot is sized and structured as well as editing them together to display a match on action is critical for developing an effective scene. Alfred Hitchcock was a director who, among many things, was famous for his work with camera angles. This scene from Psycho makes use of many different types of camera angles coupled with match cuts. 

 

Look, Listen, Analyze

How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes

Video Reflection on a Scene from The Matrix.

Visual

This “Red Pill Blue Pill” Scene from Wachowski’s The Matrix focuses on the conversation between Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Neo (Keanu Reeves). In the clip, Neo has become aware of the matrix, an artificial reality used to keep the human mind occupied to maintain docility, while the body is harvested for energy. Morpheus presents the opportunity for Neo to escape the matrix and see the real world by taking the red pill or to continue living in the matrix and not be bothered again by taking the blue pill.

In this scene, there are numerous different cinematographic techniques used. Since this is a clip that focuses primarily on the dialogue between Neo and Morpheus, much of the scene uses a straight on shot of Morpheus’s and Neo’s face with a shot reverse shot pattern to imply that they are speaking to each other. A shot reverse shot is a technique used in which only one character is on the screen at a time. One character is shown speaking in one shot then in the next shot the next character’s face is shown speaking. Even though we cannot see them speaking to each other directly it is implied by this style of editing.

First shot is of Morpheus
First shot is of Morpheus
Second Shot is of Neo
Second Shot is of Neo

These two images illustrate this shot reverse shot pattern that is prevalent throughout the scene. While only one character appears in each shot, it is implied that they are speaking to each other by the direction each character is looking. Is it by chance that the director has placed Neo on the right and Morpheus on the left? Ebert notes in his “How to Read a Movie” that “Right is more positive, left more negative…. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left.” In this scene Neo is located on the right and Morpheus on the left. Neo in this scene is the character of innocence and naiveté while Morpheus is the knowledgeable and more cynical character. Additionally, Neo represents the future in that his mind is about to be freed from the matrix, while Morpheus is a resistance veteran who has freed minds his entire life. This set up is consistent with Ebert’s ideas.

In addition to the shot reverse shot used in the dialogue between Morpheus and Neo, we also see an eye line match. An eye line match in cinema is when two characters are on screen together and they are either looking each other in the eye directly or direct eye contact is implied. A common type of eye line match is when we can see one character’s back and another characters face in the same shot. In this case eye contact is implied.

Shot of Neo with Morpheus Visible
Shot of Morpheus With Neo to the Right

These two images, which are played one immediately after the other, illustrate this form of eye line match. Eye contact between the two characters is shown. This differs from a shot reverse shot pattern because now both characters are visible on the screen at the same time.

The scene also makes use of a wide angle establishing shot, which shows the viewer the room in which the scene is taking place.

Establishing Shot

This is a rather “zoomed in” establishing shot. Some establishing shots will show the outside of the building or even an entire city to show the viewer where the scene is taking place. This shot is also characteristic of the lighting that is used throughout the scene. There is not much light in the shot and the characters remain in an almost silhouette form. For every lighting scheme, the director wants to create a particular mood. This elicits a mysterious and foreboding response in the minds of the viewers. This scene is filled with mystery and fearful apprehension. The viewers of the film also do not have the knowledge of Morpheus so the lighting is made to put each viewer in the same mindset of Neo.

We also see a match on action occur when Neo takes the red pill from morpheus’s hand. A match on action is a technique in which the a shot of one action is cut to another shot of the same action taking place from a different angle or viewpoint.

The Gif above is the example of three match on actions from the clip. We can clearly see Neo reach for and grab the red pill in the reflection of Morpheus’s sunglasses. The pill, however, is taken from the point of view of Neo and is placed into his mouth from the point of view of Morpheus.

A minor detail is that Morpheus has a prop throughout the scene. A prop is defined as anything a character interacts with on camera. Morpheus is holding a small container with the red and blue pills.

Here we can see the container that he has been holding throughout the clip. Later, Morpheus is holding the pills in his hands.

Red Pill Blue Pill

Since Morpheus interacts with these items they are both considered props. The prop is small and is somewhat concealed in the hands of Morpheus. The prop raises questions in the scene. What is it? What does it contain? Why are the pills red and blue? Will they hurt Neo? These are all questions evoked by the props that add to the viewer’s mystery surrounding the scene.

Audio

The scene makes use of both diegetic and non diegetic sound. Diegetic sounds can be heard by the characters themselves. These usually include character’s voices or sounds made by objects in the story. Non-Diegetic sounds are not heard by the characters themselves in the clip. These sounds often include a narrator’s commentary, sound effects, or “mood music.” It is important to note that diegetic sounds and non-diegetic sounds frequently are played at the same time. This particular scene makes use of both forms of sound.

Below is a portion of the clip, which displays diegetic sounds.

The diegetic sounds in this clip are voices between Morpheus and Neo as well as the thunder and rain in the background. These sounds are all diegetic because they can all be heard by the characters in the clip. The thunder and rain are used from the very beginning to set the tone for the scene. The thunder immediately portrays the ominous ambiance.

Below is a portion of Non-Diegetic sounds from the clip

The background music is a non-diegetic sound that builds to a climax. This is non-diegetic because neither Morpheus nor Neo can actually hear the music. It is only heard by the audience watching the movie. This ominous music adds to the creepy aurora portrayed in the scene. The dialogue, however, is diegetic sound.

Although this scene is fundamentally just dialogue between two characters with the only prop being two pills, a glass of water, and a small box, the director has created an exciting, tense, interesting, and climatic scene through the use of different camera angles, dappled lightning, rich and voluminous diegetic speech and thunder sounds as well as non-diegetic background music.

Notes from The Matrix Scene

Ghost Stories Audio Reflection

I chose to write my audio reflection on Season 10 Episode 9 of RadioLab entitled Ghost Stories.

Overall, how effective do you think audio was for telling the story(ies)? Overall I think audio storytelling can be as powerful or even more powerful than a story with visual aids. In a way, the lack of sight can enhance the suspense in a story. It can add a layer of fear because we cannot see exactly what is happening. It is almost like being dragged blindly through a scary situation. Imagine we were lost in a graveyard with a friend, unnervingly trying to find our way out. This would be plenty scary in and of itself. Now imagine that we are lost in that same graveyard with the same friend but your eyes have been blocked in some way. Now the only way out is to rely on your friend holding your hand and pulling you along with him. In my mind this would be far more scary because our only “sight” into the world would be to hear what our friend was telling us. This is how I see radio vs. film. In radio stories we only have our auditory sense to fill us in on the story, whereas in television we can see for ourselves exactly what is happening. In television nothing is left to the imagination. In contrast, auditory stories allow the listener to add his or her own imagination into the story because every detail  is not explained and it is up to each audience member’s imagination to fill in the gaps.

What types of audio techniques did the producers use — sound effects, layering of sounds, music, etc. — to convey their story?

The producers use sound effects when introducing their guest. At the 1:30 mark when introducing their guest Mary Roach they use a ghost sound effect. Another echoing sound effect was applied to the voice of Roach at the 3:10 mark to make her voice sound like that of a ghost. Additionally ambient sound is often added in the background to make the story more appealing to the ears of listeners. After hearing just speech for a few minutes it is somewhat soothing to hear some music even if it is just in the background. I also realized the speed in which the speakers talk actually can convey a different message. Even without changing the words we can insert mood into speech by changing the rate of speech and the pauses. When the rate and pauses in speech arecoupled with spooky background music it sets the mood just as well as having a visual. We sometimes hear the voice of people who do not belong to either of the two people reporting live. The other person is implied to not be physically in the main conversation however their role still contributes to the story.

What choices did they make that impacted your understanding of and feelings about the story?

In many cases the way each line was delivered hugely impacted the way I felt about the story. For example in the anecdote about the man taking his own life at the 3:40 mark the speaker slows down for dramatic effect, she spaces each word out more and more and there is a spooky gas leak sound effect in the background. All of these elements work together to make for a really bone chilling ambiance.

What are the techniques from the references above that you may not have noticed before?

Having never really listened to audio stories before I did not know much about them. I noticed how important the narrator is to the progression of the story. Many audio stories rely on the narrator to carry the theme and plot – a role that is very different than occurs in most movies. The narrator not only recounts past events, but can also add commentary and perspective to the story. I also noticed that the dialogue is much richer in audio stories and is presented with much greater thought. In many movies the dialogue is not at the forefront of the production. In movies, the dialogue may be secondary or even tertiary to the visual effects that truly catch your attention.

Ira Glass Reflection

Words of Wisdom

It is interesting to hear Ira Glass describing how good stories are not like high school term papers or essays. He observes that high school papers are structured in a certain that include a topic sentence followed by a set of supporting arguments. In contrast, he tells us that an “anecdote” is a very important component of a great story because it immediately engages you as a listener. In addition to including a great anecdote, a great story will describe the circumstances and importantly the emotions surrounding the literal events. It is important that these two components, the anecdote and the emotional connection, work together. It is really important that the emotional elements add depth to the literal actions in a story to engage the listener’s imagination. The connected literal action and the emotional aspects are the two components that add suspense and make a story interesting.

In the first segment, Ira Glass provides an example of a story that simply recounts a person’s mundane morning in their home. However, we are told throughout each event that the house is extremely quiet. The simple fact that the house is very quiet builds suspense. It is a type of bait that pulls the listener into the story. The first time we hear that the house is “unearthly quiet,” we are engaged with the story because we want to learn more about why it is so quiet. Is it normally that quiet? Did something happen to make it that quiet? Is something wrong or is something going to happen? What makes it “unearthly quiet”? This foreshadowing insures that suspense is embedded in an otherwise unremarkable story.

Ira Glass also notes that in audio stories the content itself can be more important than the way it is presented. Great stories can sometimes tell themselves. He says that the majority of your time should be spent looking for and finding the best stories. This is very different from producing film in many cases. Many modern movies have meaningless storylines that are embellished by special effects, fast paced action scenes, or attractive actors and actresses. Action-packed car chase scenes appear in nearly every movie produced. In audio stories, in contrast, it is nearly impossible to hide a mediocre plot with special effects thus emphasizing that the storyline itself is a critical component of a great audio story. Ira Glass notes that a great story teller is like a detective searching through a large volume of boring material until just the write story is discovered. Finding great stories is a lot of work, but the diligent search is the critical element to producing a truly special story.

Ira Glass also makes the very interesting point that the rhythm and cadence of normal daily speech is very different from the way many people talk on the radio. He shows us an example in which a radio reporter is speaking using a emphasis on every third word, thinking this is adding suspense to the story when it is actually making the story seem unnatural. Additionally, Ira Glass directly exposed the triviality of much video content that is presented as if it were telling a great story. In this Ira Glass video, the actual video component is low quality, is highly pixelated, and the mundane backdrop is simply a broadcasting room. We can also note that Ira Glass is not wearing any fancy clothing. There is nothing in the video that appeals to the eye. I think this was done intentionally to demonstrate that video is not necessary to tell a great story or to teach a lesson well.

In the audio portion this week, we also have to tell stories with none to minimal visual aid.