In my last two blogs I explained why if you can learn to identify those moments in the script when it makes sense dramatically for your actors to walking and talking side-by-side coming toward the camera, you are well on your way to understanding how to design the best moving shot for a scene.
A great way to acquire this skill is to learn when the converse is true; when this money shot – the side-by-side two shot – does not make sense. For example look at either clip below from Jerry Maguire and notice when Rod or Jerry stop and face each other or when Avery turns and faces Jerry while walking backwards in front of him. When this happens the side-by-side two shot falls apart. You must cut. Why? Because when we are in conflict with someone we want to get in their face and to do this we must stand in front of them (even if, like Avery, you have to walk backwards to do so). And when two actors are face to face, the best way to get two eyes on each of them is to shoot a close up or an over-the-shoulder shot on one and intercut it with the reverse close up or over-the-shoulder on the other. Yes, if you let them turn into a 50-50 profile shot you do not have to cut, but this in an inferior shot for telling the story because you can only see one of each actor’s eyes. The shot-reverse-shot configuration is the best way to tell most of the story in a movie because drama is conflict, and people who are in conflict with each other face each other. The center of the story is in the eyes of the person who is talking. When they stop talking the best way to put both eyes of the person they are talking to up on the screen is with a cut.
So when reduced to its simplest terms – the key to shooting with a moving camera is breaking down the scene and identifying which parts of the scene can be shot with both actors facing the camera and which moments must be shot with them facing each other in a shot/reverse/shot configuration. To begin to get a sense of how this is done look at the entire “Play with Heart” clip from Jerry Maguire starting from the very beginning of the scene when Jerry meets Rod outside the locker room. Cameron Crowe astutely has them in the side-by-side two shot, backing the camera up in front of them, at those moments when the conflict and the drama are least intense: (1) at very beginning of the scene when Rod is bitching about the quarterback and why he doesn’t have the 10 million dollar contract, which he thinks he deserves and (2) when Jerry gets Rod to assure him that “they both have their friend’s hats on” so he can hit Rod with the hard truth about his being “a paycheck player”. To be sure, there is conflict between Rod and Jerry at these moments. Without some conflict you do not have drama. But both of these moments are essentially the prelude to the two beats of peak confrontation, on which the plot turns. First, when Rod asks Jerry, “so why did you get married?” And then laughs derisively at Jerry’s lame answer: “Because she was loyal.” And immediately after this when Jerry, stung by Rod’s derision, tells him: “You’re a paycheck player. You play with your head. Not your heart.” Crowe gets it just right as to when Jerry and Rod need to be facing each other and when they do not. Learn to do the same and you are well on your way to learning how to shoot with a moving camera.