Negative Space is a technique used within film that helps the director control how an audience reacts and feels towards the action on screen. Negative space can give audiences a sense of isolation, an idea of scale and can be used to convey tension.
“…how much, negative space you employ depends upon what tale you’re telling and how best to fill the frame.” – Lee Moyer [Cassidy.K ,2013] Link: Effectively using Negative Space
Examples of Negative Space in film:
A New Hope: Binary Sunset
From the clip above as Luke longingly looks out over the space and vast desert of Tatooine the audience gets a sense of scale and isolation – we get a sense of just how vast and open Tatooine is compared to the size of Luke within the frame. When the camera cuts to a closer shot of Luke we see him longingly looking out into the direction of the sunset with most of the negative space to his right, informing the audience that he looking into the future, he is dreaming of another place where things are busier. This is also a hint at what is to come throughout the movie, the long journey that is ahead of him, creating a transition from Act I to Act II.
When the audience has not seen what the character is looking out at the negative space can create a sense of mystery and drama, they start to guess what the character is looking at, or looking for.
Open Water is a film consisting entirely of negative space, within horror films when the audience sees negative space or an empty part of the frame that is the direction the danger will come from – eg. Halloween: Jamie Lee Curtis’ character thinks she has escaped the killer however director John Carpenter has put the character in the very front left of the film opening up the space behind her… this is where the killer will enter from and fill the void that has been created – a natural expectation that the audience will have.
However by placing the characters in the middle of the ocean means that the danger can come from any angle and any direction. The wide and vast shots used also convey the scale of the situation to the audience, reminding us just how small we are – creating a sense of isolation and tension, there is water as far as the eye can see and the danger is literally all around them keeping the audience on the edge of their seat the entire time.
Another environment in film that is made up of a majority of negative space is Space itself.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity: As George Clooney’s character helplessly drifts into space the audience are shown how tiny and isolated the characters are in this vast environment, causing the audience to react and feel for both characters as they watch him drift away.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey
Again the negative space employed throughout the film, through long shots of the spaceship surrounded by the vast and empty environment of space remind the audience just how isolated and alone the crew are, the distances they have travelled to achieve their goals. However Kubrick also uses this technique as a means to set the tone and pace for the film as well as a way of showing a futuristic world.
…”His great use of negative space in interiors showed a future where things are simple, elegant, unhurried, and slightly different but obviously advanced.” [Cassidy.K ,2013] Link: Effectively using Negative Space
Western films are also a great source of negative space, that typical extreme wide shot of a tiny cowboy riding across a vast landscape whereby after a couple of minutes the character has only made it 20% across the screen. This conveys to the audience the loneliness of the hero, they are isolated in this vast environment.
The King’s Speech, Cinematography
Lead Room is a technique whereby “vacant space in a shot leading the audiences’ eyes to action not captured, or about to be captured. In fairness, the film also uses a great deal of head room, often used with lead room; however, the lead room is richer. Generally, the film embraces the space to the left and right of frames to convey meaning more strikingly than space at the top.” [Bellmore. K, 2011] Link: King’s speech cinematography
Within the opening scene we see Bertie waiting to deliver his first speech, the character is off centre with a huge amount of vacant space. This vacant space is used to bring the off screen action to the audience’s attention but it also shows the state of mind the main character is in – he is uncomfortable with giving speeches, this discomfort is felt by the audience through the positioning of his character as for the duration of this scene he is rarely placed exactly centre frame.
The vacant space above is filled with an extravagant wallpaper which is a “visual representation of what’s going on inside the head of Colin’s character.” -Danny Cohen [Marchant.B 2011] Link: Cinematographer Danny Cohen and the King’s Speech
Negative space could influence our project as a way of unsettling the audience, to let them know that something with this world isn’t right. As she is walking back through the forest it may make sense to have her slightly left or right of frame to create a sense of negative space which would subsequently be where the danger comes from – in these areas the audience would be introduced firstly, to the crow and then to the jeep.
Negative space would also help to portray how small our lead character is in this vast forest, she is alone and isolated from her father, also allowing us to build a sense of tension – the audience will expect something to fill that empty space, forcing them to ask the question, what or who.
The cinematography of The King’s Speech may be useful during the meeting of the girl and the stranger and the introduction of lead room. Our main character is deaf so we would need a way of showing what is going on in her mind as the camera flips between her and the stranger. Lead room would direct the audiences attention to the action off screen, aka the stranger talking but would also help to unsettle the audience as to whether or not this man is a friendly man.
However a technique that may be of more use is Shortsighting, used extensively by Tod Campbell in Mr. Robot.
“In more conventional filmmaking, conversations are cut with the characters looking at each other from opposite ends of the frame, leaving what’s known as “leading room” between their faces that helps convey the physical space they occupy. Mr. Robot inverses the norm by “shortsighting” the characters, positioning their faces at the edge of the frame closest toward the person to whom they’re speaking.” [Collins.S, 2015] Link: Striking cinematography of Mr.Robot
The scene below taken from Inception shows an example of leading room within film:
Below is an example of shortsighting taken from Mr.Robot,
This technique helps to isolate characters and unnerve the audience. Our main character is isolated in terms of her environment but she’s also deaf which isolates her in a very different way, shortsighting might help us convey this isolation to the audience before the big reveal at the end (the sign language). It would also help to create a sense of tension/suspense and discord between our characters as the stranger tries to hide his secret by charming her…
“Without the usual pattern to help us intuit spatial relationships, these scenes create the sense that the characters don’t know where they stand in relation to one another.” [Collins.S, 2015]
Examples of the rules of composition being broken by Mr.Robot:
We need to have a build up of suspense as the audience watch the stranger reach for his gun whilst the little girl in holding him at gunpoint.
The video below contains 10 scenes that Cinefix consider to be the best scenes of all time. Obviously not all of the scenes mentioned below are relevant to our project but a few are.
Number ten, the Russian Roulette scene from Deer Hunter is a good example of a tense scene between two or more characters, such as the scene inside the jeep between the little girl and the stranger within our short. Deer Hunter has used a few close ups and over the shoulder shots to show the relationship that is happening between the prisoner and his captors. This may be useful for the camera movements between our two characters within this scene: having over the shoulder shots will help our scene read better, it will give the characters more of a relationship and allow the audience to be aware of the tension building up as it is combined with the close up shots of the guns being drawn.
Number six, the coin toss from No Country for Old Men delivers a tense scene through the subtle camera push in as the coin is tossed, which most audience members won’t be aware of due to the dialogue distracting them. The final shot of the wrapper sitting on the counter lingers just long enough to convey the threatening nature of the visitor, who cuts off the cashier’s attempt to say no to a wager that he doesn’t even understand. These slow, subtle and lingering camera moves would fit perfectly within our piece as it itself is slow moving.
Another example that is mentioned in the video but not shown is the farmhouse scene form Inglorious Basterds, the slow push of the camera into extreme close ups of the actors builds the tension brilliantly throughout the scene.
The bridge scene from Sicario is one of my favourite scenes, Denis Villeneuve has realised that the build up before the action is much more important than the action itself and has brilliantly built up the suspense and tension within this scene by taking his time.
Before setting out to Cartel land the characters and audience are warned that the Cartel would make their move on the border, already we have been promised violence and as the cars arrive to the border the tension is already building as we patiently wait for the attack that doesn’t come. Throughout there are diversions and distractions which cause yet even more tension to build until the cars arrive back at the border and at this point the audience knows the violence is near.
The video below went through a breakdown of the stages that builds the tension which I have taken note of below:
- We arrive at a gridlock, it’s bumper to bumper, the danger is literally all around. “We don’t know where they are”
- A window is rolled down and we wait: this task is mundane yet lethal
- We can’t leave the car until they do (rules of engagement)
- We cut to inside their car, audience has to wait as they build enough courage to exit
- They get out
- We try to de-escalate the situation
- Thinking and decision making, ‘Do you want to die?’
Thirteen minutes of build up and only nine seconds of action.
Below is a tension map taken from the guys at Cinefix showing the repeating pattern of the action [https://www.flickr.com/gp/146717963@N02/617JzW] the slow push in shots as they try to deescalate the situation, the quick movement of the cartel that prompts the shooting and the 4 regimented shots resulting in their death… after which we cut back to Kate to see her reaction: this is repeated three times before the scene ends.
The pattern that happens before each of the red section of action is repeated exactly each time, there is a slow long shot that pushes in on the Cartel as the tension builds, followed by two shorter, quicker shots as the music creschendo’s, next the enemy makes a move that prompts the shooting, 5 gunshots in 3 seconds, slow shot to show the action is done and then we cut back to Kate.
Villneuve is a genius. The pacing, the repeated pattern, he’s spent a whole act building up tension to an uncomfortable level. This technique of repetition could be used effectively within our short to build up to the girl pulling a gun on the stranger, to unnerve the audience and hint at the fact all is not as it seems, it’s not just a young girl wandering through the forest, she isn’t quite as innocent as she appears.
Top 10 Animated Films
I’ve included the video above as it purely looks at the visuals of animated film. Roger Deakins (cinematographer) was brought on as a lighting consultant to emulate real world lighting in the number nine pick, Wall-e and number two, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Wall-e is also relevant research for our own film due to the post apocalyptic world that Wall-e lives on, it is vast, plain and of the same colour palette. Deakins also advised that the visual team work to emulate the imperfections of filming with a real world camera, taking into consideration the Depth of Field, Barrel Distortions and Lens Aberrations : something that we are considering using is a real world camera rig to recreate the cinematic movement of cameras used within film.
Deakins has worked on a number of films that we see as an influence to our own including, Sicario and Fargo.
“And in WALL•E‘s introductory scenes, what helped sell the idea that this Pixar film was actually set in the real world was cutting back on the number of lights that they were using to light these scenes,” Roger explained. “The real world, the natural world that we live in just isn’t as well-lit as your typical animated world is. There are shadows here. Areas in half-light over there. And if you can take that into account as you’re planning your camera movements on a CG production, make those sorts of necessary adjustments to light levels as you’re composing your shots, you’ll then wind up with scenes that look much more naturalistic when they’re up there on the big screen.” R. Deakins [Hill.J, 2013] Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-hill/roger-deakins_b_3268900.html
I’ve included this video on camera movements due to the fact that last year our camera’s were fixed so this may come in handy. In particular the slow push in, as explained by the video below this movement asks the audience to look harder, there’s something else in this scene that they need to notice – all is not as it seems… this may be suitable for when we are introduced to our stranger, perhaps a slow push in on the clues that hint to the fact he’s eaten someone, or, it could be used to emphasise the fact that the girl has a gun on the side of her backpack – something that most of the audience won’t notice until it has attention drawn to it, using a slow push on her character would encourage the audience to look more closely at the screen, all the information they need about the story is presented to them from the beginning.
There is an eerie atmosphere created within the short below, it’s director wanted to show the beauty of simplicity in film within the complex industry of CGI today,
“What’s the smallest amount of information you can have in a scene and still create drama and emotion?” Matt Pyke (Stinson.L, 2016) Link: https://www.wired.com/2016/10/eerie-short-film-celebrates-beauty-simplicity/
I was drawn to this short because within our own the information the audience receives is limited due to the young girl’s hearing difficulty – how much information do we need to give the audience so that they understand she is in fact deaf without giving away too much? we don’t want to have to hand hold the audience throughout.
Fargo is a great source of reference for environments and how the environment itself can become a character.
The article below talks about the juxtaposition between the interior and exterior spaces, with the interior being seen as a refuge and the exterior a cruel and unforgiving character.
In some ways this can be said for our short. The exterior is quite similar, Fargo has vast, white and endless stretches of landscape, ours is also white and vast as it is set in an apocalyptic world. The interior of the jeep can be seen as a refuge for the stranger after all he takes his shoes off before entering the jeep showing that he holds some respect for where he lives. The interiors of Fargo are quiet and quaint with a collection of simple comforts such as a steaming cup of coffee or car keys on a lampside table, simple comforts is an aspect we could develop for inside the jeep?
Below is a video essay on Fargo and the inside vs outside by Indiewire: http://www.indiewire.com/2015/11/watch-fargos-blank-interiors-and-crushing-exteriors-131901/