How to manage the line of action in an interview

I was recently asked whether there was a line of action in an interview when the interviewee is interacting with an object in front of them.  The short answer is that yes, there is.

“Always follow the 180-degree rule”

The line of action is between your interviewee and the object, until the interviewee then looks up again to speak to the interviewer, when the line will move to run between the interviewer and interviewee.

Even if the interviewer is never seen in the finished film, there is still a line of action that you must observe in order not to cross the line.  For example, notice how I have made sure that I have stayed on the left side of the line in this sequence where the woman and man are using their tablets.  I made sure to shoot over their left shoulders for each shot, so that the line would be preserved.

These days, with cameras being so cheap and ubiquitous, it is very common for all interviews to be shot with 2 cameras.  It is extremely useful to have the second camera, as it makes compressing interviews and removing fluffs so much easier.  However, a very common problem as a result is that the second camera is frequently accidentally placed on the wrong side of the line, as shown in the floorplan in Figure 1.

How not to place the cameras in a 2-camera interview

Figure 1 – A typical mistake when shooting a 2-camera interview

I see this mistake made in countless videos all the time.  These two cameras will not cut together well.  For example, look at how they have crossed the line in this interview with Paul Greengrass and how it really jars.  (Of course, it is possible that they have crossed the line deliberately as a reference to the fact that he likes to cross the line a lot in his own films, such as ‘United 93’.)

To ensure you can cut between your cameras “invisibly”, you need to follow a camera floorplan such as in Figure 2 below to ensure that you don’t end up making the same mistake in your videos.

A better floorplan, using just the green cameras

Figure 2 – A better floorplan, using just the green cameras

If you stick to just the green cameras, you’ll be able to cut smoothly to any camera at any point in the interview – assuming that your interviewee sits relatively still!

However, to my personal taste, I don’t like the profile close-up style, so I use the Figure 3 floorplan for my interviews.  I feel this is an improvement on Figure 2.  However, it is really fiddly to get the cameras physically close enough together to achieve this coverage, so if you’re in a hurry, the plan in Figure 2 will work.

My preferred interview floorplan

Figure 3 – My preferred interview floorplan

If you do want to try this coverage, another common mistake that I see with it is that many people will place the wider shot closer to the line of action – they’ll effectively swap Camera A and B.  It’s important to have the wider shot on the outside edge, as the close-up looks so much better when it’s closer to the line of action.

 

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