In this article David Bordell explains why continuity has intensified in Hollywood cinema. Initially Hollywood cinema used wide angle shots, and had a long average shot length. The average lens used was around 35mm, this became the standard, because directors liked deep focus to get every part of the design of the scene in a single shot. Over the years Hollywood cinema has developed faster editing, and the use of narrow lenses.
“Singles allow the director to vary the scene’s pace in editing and to pick the best bits of each actor’s performance.” Initially cinematographers used a two shot sequence to film a movie. This slowly became replaced with the single shot. A single shot is usually a close up or medium shot that isolates one actor from another. This technique is used in common day film in conversation. There are two single shots on a subject and a wide shot on both subjects. The wide shot has not died, for editors still cut back to wide shots. The reasons for single shots were because editors wanted more shot variety to work with, and multi-camera shooting became more popular. An editor was able to have close-ups and a master shot sequence, so that he could express his own artistic style in picking which shot to use. Single shots also highlight the character’s acting and creates attention on the specific character on their dialogue or reaction. Single shot technique further develops the desire to create a relationship between characters and the audience.
“During the 1980s, the B camera was frequently a Steadicam, roaming the set for coverage, and the fluidity of its movement around static actors may have made circling shots and push-ins good candidates for inclusion in the final cut.” When Hollywood first began, only a single camera was used, and a scene would be reacted multiple times to get a variety of angles. Multiple camera shoots would only be used rarely, such as, when a building crumbled, or a crash sequence, where there would only be one shot to get the camera right. Steadicams then began to be introduced to create more movement in the film to grab the attention of the audience. Movement draws the eyes in more than a static shot. Over the years shooting has become more expensive, and the timelines have become shorter, that is why most films use a multi camera shoot. One director stated “one of them must be getting something good”.
“Interestingly, this more outré technique doesn’t prevent us form comprehending the story.” The unconventional technique of over narration does not prevent the audience’s understanding of the story, as initially thought. Close-up, narration, and fast cutting brings us closer to the characters. In this way the style of today has changed in its ability to further involve the audience. Close ups and movement interest the audience, and therefore create more interest in the story line. The audience enjoys being told the story, rather than from a narrative. This can be seen when breaking the 4th wall. The character is constantly giving information to the audience, which forces the audience to pay attention. The breaking of the fourth wall also creates a higher sense of linkage between the audience and the main character, for the audience is being addressed on a personal level. The popularity of today’s techniques are seen in short films, where the director must portray as much emotion and develop the plot as possible using fast cutting and close-up techniques.
The old film style has been lost with today’s style. The audience is told what to concentrate on with the use of close ups that isolate specific characters. There has become more involvement of the camera and less involvement of the actors. Isolating specific parts of the body can portray emotions. For example, a women tapping her fingers on a table can portray her as impatient and anxious.