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Weekly Video Tip: What Is Eyeline Matching?

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By Stephen Schweickart

Today I want to introduce the first of a few videos that will cover what we call “shooting for the edit.” “But Stephen, aren’t you always shooting for the edit?” I’m glad you asked. Yes, technically if you’re shooting footage with the intention of editing then you could say you’re shooting for the edit. But there’s a difference between shooting then editing, and shooting for the edit. Observe our first concept, eyeline matching.

If you’re watching a movie, and a character is looking off screen at something, your natural expectation is to next see what that character is looking at, right? Well that’s almost always the case, but you can’t just get any old shot of whatever that character is looking at. You’re trying to sell the reality of the film, which means that when you cut to the shot of whatever your character is looking at, the audience needs to believe that they’re looking at it through the eyes of your character.

Here’s an example. Character A, or “Stephen,” we’ll call him. Stephen is deciding which pair of shoes to wear. In the shot, you can see that not only is Stephen looking off camera, he is looking down and off camera. So what should your next shot be? Your audience will expect to see a high angle shot looking down on whatever he is looking at, in this case his shoes, as if from Stephen’s point of view. In shot A you see the angle at which Stephen is looking—his eyeline, and in shot B you see what he is looking at from that same angle.

So eyeline matching isn’t just about seeing what the character is looking at, it’s about the angle at which they’re looking at it. It applies often to other characters, but also applies to anything that can be looked at. Soda cans, sweeping scenery, anything at all. But if you show your character looking at something, you better make sure your audience gets to see it too.

Stephen Schweickart is the co-founder of VScreen. For more information on this topic, visit VScreen’s site at http://www.vscreen.com/.

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