In my previous post, I examined how in 95 seconds a camera can reveal character, establish conflict, and tell an entire story. Before moving onto a different topic and movie, I wanted to pause and examine the incredible subtlety this director uses in switching from Act I to Act II in the scene.
One film technique that helps us lose ourselves in the movie is called an Eyeline Match. When two characters are talking, one will look slightly right, the other slightly left, and BOOM! Our brains connect the dots and figure out that both characters are facing each other, even though we only see one at a time.
In Act I from Catching Fire, Katniss sits screen left, looking right; Peeta sits screen right, looking left.
During the transition to Act II, though, the angle of Katniss’ face changes dramatically. Her change necessitates a change from Peeta, because switching between these two shots would look weird.
Take a second and compare both pairs of shots. The first pair works. It’s natural. The second feels wrong.
Because their eyelines no longer match up in the second pair, our brains struggle creating the geography of the scene. We’re confused, unsettled, and are “taken out” of the film.
So the director has to change Peeta’s angle in order to create an eyeline match with Katniss.
He does this by subconsciously reorienting our understanding of Peeta’s position. As soon as Peeta introduces Act II by asking about Katniss, his head shifts slightly to profile.
We don’t notice Peeta’s slight head turn because our attention is focused on Katniss. But our minds catch it, which subconsciously begins the reorientation of geographical space.
The set-up makes the following cut more natural. Peeta’s head in the next shot is the exact same angle as the dark blur in the previous.
Peeta can’t stay this way, however, because the dynamic of Act II calls for us to see Peeta’s full face. So Peeta delivers each line mostly facing the camera, only to turn back to Katniss at the very end of each shot. Every shot of Peeta in Act II repeats this pattern.
In the end, we’re left with a perfect eyeline match.