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Film Study #2: Camera Setups & Simplicity

Scene reference for this post: Andor: Season 1 Episode 7. The full scene can be viewed here but has voice over. The original scene can be viewed in all of its glory on Disney+ and takes place at 32:37 in S1E7 of Andor.


"I show you the stone in my hand, you miss the knife at your throat." - Mon Mothma

Key Characters

Tay Kolma (Mon's oldest friend)

Mon Mothma (Senator)

Perrin Fertha (Mon's Spying Husband)


Context

Mon Mothma is seeking financial support from an old friend to help her continue secretly funding a rebel alliance.


First off, I want to mention this scene is a masterclass in dialogue. The discourse between the characters feels natural and you get everything you need to know in as little as possible.


The last part of the scene is what I will focus on but it's worth watching the entire sequence so you get additional exposition, character dynamics and to see how the scene is established.


Another great way to elevate your film studies is by trying to figure out how many camera setups there are in a scene. A camera setup is essentially a shot but the important thing to count is how many times does the scene jump back to the same camera for multiple shots. Dialogue scenes between two characters are great examples where you have two camera setups (one camera on each actor). You can capture coverage of actors' performances and then in the edit bay cut between the two camera setups. Two camera setups, multiple shots.


This specific scene in Andor is a prime example how to utilize simple and very few camera setups to deliver a scene. At the start of the scene we have wide shots showing Mon and Tay standing together and typically separate from the other guests at the party. The scene is about them, their old friendship and Mon's dire need to raise money. These wider shots also help establish the layout of the party and provide some brevity for the audience before the conversation becomes more secretive and intimate.


The following images show a breakdown of some of the opening shots to the whole sequence. These shots are meant to establish the party, the other characters in the scene (Empirical, Spying Husband, guests). The staging of characters in these shots really help sell their opposition posing pressure on them in the great narrative. Apologies for the low quality images, I couldn't find the whole scene on YouTube with the quality I wanted.


Mon and Tay eventually make their way to the living room. In one shot they re-establish where they are in space which helps not confuse the audience. On top of that we see where Mon's husband is in relation to her and Tay. This is another great example of having multiple 'thoughts' in one shot.


Mon explains to Tay that her current name and life is a front for something else. This is a turning point in the conversation in which Mon begins to ask Tay for what she really needs. The 180 rule is broken in this cut, however, it works to help establish the rest of the room and signify the shift in conversation.


There is a reverse shot that shows Mon and Tay walking down the steps into the living room. This is probably done to stay closer to them as they continue talking.


The following shots are done with three camera setups. One Wide and two over the shoulder shots. This is a great example of a classic dialogue conversation, it's affective and simple. The wide shot helps remind the audience where they are and the spying husband is clearly visible framed in the doorway. The over the shoulder shots allow the characters to remain in frame together and the long focal lens of the cameras provides an intimate feeling. The conversation has also escalated to this point so having the camera closer on the characters feels natural as the audience really wants to hear what they are saying. If you haven't noticed by now, from the moment Tay is introduced to the time Mon leaves the couch they are both in frame together. This is common practice to show two characters are allies by having them together in the same frame. Marcos Mateu-Mestre has some great examples of how to convey tension between characters in his Framed Ink Series.



When Mon eludes to her charitable organizations as irritations she turns to look back at the doorway threshold to her husband which motivates the camera to go to the wide to show what she is looking at. This brings us back to camera setup 1. This is a great example of camera motivation as well. When a character looks at something, you owe the audience a shot of what they are looking at.


If they had three cameras, they probably shot the scene with the three cameras and got coverage of the actors playing out the whole scene. If you don't have the budget for three cameras then you can shoot the scene three times, one for each camera setup, then cut it together in the edit. When it comes to storyboarding, it's really important to think in terms of camera setups. Part of the job is to plan how you would actually shoot something (regardless of the medium) so it's not just about telling a story, it's also a matter of how we shoot the story. If you don't take this into consideration then your storyboards can quickly reduce in value.



When Mon's husband comes to interrupt their conversation, he stands in the middle of the frame, dividing Tay and Mon. The husband is shot on a single after that with Mon and Tay are both in frame again as the conversation comes to an end between them.


This scene is a great example of on how to use the same camera setups effectively. There is no need to have low angle camera setups for a dialogue scene. A lot of newer storyboard artists tend to shoot low angle for 'cinematic' flare but it's not commonly used. Low angles should typically be reserved for 'hero' shots. Imagine yourself setting up a tripod on set and then lowering the camera and crouching down to look through the viewport. That'll get tiring real quick so practice keeping the camera eye level and shoot with longer lenses for dialogue scenes. Longer lenses are used for portrait photography because they help flatten people's face which makes them more appealing (i.e. your smartphone face camera is not an appealing lens choice).


Here are some other dialogue scenes worth studying:


All the images in this blog were used for educational purposes.

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