LEFT TO RIGHT MEANS GOING AWAY; RIGHT TO LEFT MEANS COMING BACK
I kind of geek out on film grammar. Case in point, a grizzly bear cub.
Where is he going?
See what I did there? I presumed. implicit in the question I asked is the notion that he is going. Not returning.
This puffin, however, is on its way back, right?
You didn’t feel a disconnect because your brain did what just about everybody’s brain does: It came to a conclusion about the intention of the actor based on nothing more than the direction it’s moving within the frame. When something moves left to right, it’s going away. When something moves right to left, it’s coming back.
We don’t have to think about this. We just know that left to right = going away. We’ve all been taught –– repeatedly –– by hundreds of thousands of examples that support the proposition in the same way that we know to pronounce the word “the” with a soft U, unless it precedes a word that begins with a vowel.
What makes film grammar neat is that you can use it to make a point. You’d like an example, wouldn’t you? Okay, here’s a spot I recently finished.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “If it’s implicit, why should I bother thinking about it? I mean, my instincts are going to make it work, right?”
Sometimes no. Two of the scenes in the mattress spot didn’t allow me to shoot the woman traveling from left to right. Because of the composition I was going for in one and the background in the other, I was forced to have her walk left to right.
Those shots would have been fine in terms of composition and action, but if I’d used them the way they were, the story would have been undermined.
So I flopped the negative. (In digital terms, I flipped the scene 100% on its horizontal axis.) Voilà, she’s moving right to left. Of course, I had to be careful to shoot those shots in such a way that nothing in the scenes gave away that they’d been reversed, but hey, that’s what directors do.
That’s what I do, anyway.
Brian Belefant is a director who geeks out on film grammar so all you have to do is nod politely and pretend he’s being interesting. Give him a call at (503) 715 2852 or send an email to belefant (at) me (dot) com.