Unlike in real life, the person on the other end of a Zoom or Teams call is stuck with whatever view of ourselves we offer them. Therefore, it pays to think like a movie director, who ‘sets up the shot’ to create the correct relationship between the character on screen and the audience. When we’re on a video call, how might we set up our own shots to create the ideal relationship with our clients or colleagues?
In Part 1 of this series I looked at the length of shot – the distance between camera and character. A movie director also chooses the angle from which to shoot the character. Different angles create different status relationships between audience and character on screen.
For the low-angle shot above, the camera is below the character, looking up at him. The character has power and can seem threatening. The audience’s status is lowered. We feel in awe or intimidated.
If you put your phone or laptop on the desk, you will need to angle the camera up towards you to get yourself into shot. By doing so, you are requiring others on the call to look up at you. Would you place yourself above your audience in real life?
Here, the high-angle shot, with the camera looking down on the character from above, has the opposite effect. The character seems humble or vulnerable. The audience is superior and feels concern or pity. Would you want to create this status relationship on an online call?
The third shot (above) is the eye-level shot. Character and viewer meet directly, face-to-face. We recommend this for an online call. People can work together without an imbalance in status creating tension and interference. To achieve the same effect on a video call, position your webcam/phone/laptop level with your face. You might need to use a stand or prop it up on some books. There should be as little tilt as possible.
We are naturally drawn to other people’s eyelines. When someone we are focussed on looks elsewhere, our attention goes there as well. Movie directors make extensive use of this aspect of human nature to tell a story or create atmosphere.
When speaking or presenting online, we want to keep the audience’s focus on us. We do this by maintaining focus on them (i.e., by looking into our webcam). If our focus goes elsewhere – into our notes, slides or script – we will lose their focus.
Therefore, try to place any visual prompts in such a way that you remain present for your audience. Slide them up to the top of your screen, close to your webcam. Alternatively, print them out and stick them to the wall behind your webcam. Avoid getting stuck in screenshare and marooning everyone there with you. Make regular reconnections with your audience by coming out of the screenshare.
Stay tuned! Still to come, further insights from Hollywood on lighting and how we can make best use of hand gestures and props. In the meantime, don’t forget to have a look at the first blog in this series.
All stills are from The Spy Who Loved Me (directed by Lewis Gilbert), Eon Productions, 1977. retrieved from https://movie-screencaps.com/.