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class="style5" Client Tastes In Compositions

>Published : 27th Sept. 2005

>I just got an angry phone call from a client who, as it turns out, has a different taste in composition for me. I prefer my subject's eyes to be more upper third than middle. This means that sometimes the head may be cut off, but that suits me fine - I quite like nicely done cropping. It turns out that they (as a collective they) likes seeing all the head in shot... even in close ups (which is pretty hard when you're in a tight CU). Thankfully, I can reframe for one project (its CD-ROM delivery)

>Now I can understand why they may prefer all the head in wider shots, but not in close ups. Sometimes, something's gotta give.

>I tried to explain to them that headroom is a subjective taste but they would have none of it - "we all think its too cut off".

>Anyway... how many people have had these experiences? And how have you resolved them? Do you just shoot conservatively unless they ask for something 'edgy' - or do you explicitly ask them what they prefer?

>Stuart Willis
Director/Editor
Sydney, Australia


class="Paragraph">>Anyway... how many people have had these experiences? And how >have you resolved them? Do you just shoot conservatively unless they >ask for something 'edgy' - or do you explicitly ask them what they >prefer?

>Sometimes there just isn't enough time to discuss all the aspects of a planned shoot.

>This is not on my end, it's almost always on "their end".

>I try to stress the importance of style and art direction in my very first meetings with a prospective client, and if it looks as if that first meeting is probably going to be the only significant one, I try to stress the subject doubly.

>I ask pointed questions as to what sort of "look, feel, style, emotion" they want the piece to convey. If the client uses words like "in your face", that (to me) sounds like a "license" to go for the crushing close-ups. But STILL I persist in being cautious...

>I still politely try to offer test shots during the production for the perusal of the client, knowing full well that my sugar might be their salt. With some business clients it is hard to get five minutes alone with them and since I do a lot of business communications pieces I am almost always suffering from a lack of input.

>The old joke about the boss setting up his "Gen-X" nephew from Shipping and Receiving as the Assistant Director for a training video is actually closer to the truth than many realize.

>Respectfully,

>Jeffery Haas
freelance editor, camera operator
Dallas, Texas


>I like to draw an eyeline (starting with the wide shot, usually a 3/4 shot) across the monitor with a grease pencil. Then when it's time to shoot the close-ups I put the eye's right on that line... wallah - Classic framing 101 for any producer, client or wanna-be video village director! It also work quite well for conversations and POV's!

>Richard W. Gretzinger
Director of Photography
www.richgretz.com


>Stuart says :

class="Paragraph">>I prefer my subject's eyes to be more upper third than middle. This >means that sometimes the head may be cut off.

>To me this is just standard practice, and I wouldn't even call it "edgy." That's how it's done. Put the eyes one-third from the top of the screen at any focal length and it always looks appropriate. Have them watch any televised feature interview for examples of this. Now I could see if you were doing whip-pans into the frame, or constantly using shaky-cam, but this sounds like politics to me.

>They could argue that the close-up is in too tight, perhaps, but to have the person's eyes on the centre line – THAT would be "edgy."

>Gordon T. Highland
Multimedia Designer
eMedia Solutions
Sprint University of Excellence


>Stuart wrote

class="Paragraph">>I just got an angry phone call from a client who, as it turns out, has a >different taste in composition for me.

>I'm not sure how you work - on your own or with a director. As a freelancer in Canada, I service many clients including people coming in to do a single interview to be included in a show that could include other interviews from all over (the BBC, for instance). In this case, I usually ask what interview style the want to fit in with the rest - lighting, framing, eye line etc and I deliver what they want.

>I usually work with a director / interviewer who knows what they want and I think it's my job to service what they need. If they leave it up to me I'll decide or offer up some options.

>Of course, this will result in framing I might not like or agree with, but usually the person calling the shots is responsible to or closely connected to who is paying my invoice!

>Most of the time I find this arrangement is acceptable. Recently I worked with a VERY young director from New York who didn't like the way I had the person on one side of the frame - she insisted I centre the head (therefore the eyes start looking out - too close to the frame edge). At that point I gave up on any discussion on "Framing 101". I didn't care to waste my time convincing someone who was never properly trained anyway (and there was no time for a post-mortem chat anyway). These young kids need more apprenticeship training in their craft or maybe they should just watch TV and see what the common denominators in interview content are!

>Richard Stringer
Toronto head shooter


>Stuart Willis writes:

class="Paragraph">> I just got an angry phone call from a client who, as it turns out, has a >different taste in composition for me. I prefer my subject's eyes to be >more upper third than middle.

>Just in case you haven't considered this: are you absolutely certain that they are seeing what you shot? That is, are you certain that their monitor or TV is not overscanning. It doesn't take much to turn a very nice CU into a caricature.

>Brian "been there" Heller
IA 600 DP


class="Paragraph">>but to have the person's eyes on the centre line -- THAT would be >"edgy."

>Don’t ask me why this was so important to me as a small child, but I remember being "irritated" by all the "wasted space" at the top of the screen. A talking head would be reading the news and I swear on everything that's holy, the eyeline WAS in the centre of the screen. That was the old days and as time went on, I gradually noticed a subtle change toward putting the eyeline in the upper-third.

>Was this done because of the huge amount of overscan in the early model TV sets?

>Jeffery Haas
freelance editor, camera operator
Dallas


> Brian "been there" Heller

class="Paragraph">>Just in case you haven't considered this: are you absolutely certain that >they are seeing what you shot? That is, are you certain that their monitor >or TV is not overscanning. It doesn't take much to turn a very nice CU >into a caricature.

>HD down converts lose approx. 10% of the image, so you've got to be careful to make 'em a little looser than you might want... just experienced this.

>Nick Hoffman 600DP


>Ooh.... This discussion yanks my crank because generally I don't use a formula. Every type of face, hairdo, clothing and background tends to affect my preferred composition in one way or another. Sometimes I'll frame for the face because framing for the head just doesn't feel right; sometimes it's the other way 'round. Maybe that's because my earliest training was in the verite' tradition, where you often zoom a lot during takes and have to maintain a good composition as you zoom and as your POV shifts.

>I'm currently shooting a Mini-DV doc that may end up on the big screen, so I'm tending to keep my compositions a tad on the tight side, which itself influences how I frame talking heads, and tends to push me more toward cutting off the tops of heads. But some faces just want to have more headroom -- I can't explain it objectively.

>I recently shot a fun little DV short in 4x3 but protected for 16x9. At first the extra headroom felt uncomfortable... but then for some reason I ended up with compositions that seemed pleasing to me and still do. Was that only because I knew I was protecting for widescreen, or did they really look good on their own? Maybe it's because the film is full of over-the-shoulder 2-shots, which let you cut off the foreground head with impunity while still protecting for widescreen.

>(Go to homepage.mac.com/dandrasin and click on "Like, Totally..." to see this 00:02:17 Magnum Opus for yourselves)

>Brian "been there" Heller writes :

class="Paragraph">>are you certain that their monitor or TV is not overscanning. It doesn't >take much to turn a very nice CU into a caricature

>Death, taxes and overscan. That's certainly one reason to frame conservatively (i.e. to err a bit on the side of centeredness) when at all in doubt.

>Richard Stringer writes :

class="Paragraph">>Recently I worked with a VERY young director from New York who ... >insisted I centre the head. ...

>I feel your pain, Richard. Have worked with a number of media-ambitious-but-non-savvy nonprofits and have had to wrangle with the same kind of frustration too many times. No doubt the phrase "no good deed goes unpunished" was invented to describe this kind of situation.

>Alas, I've found that asking them to watch TV does little good if they haven't first had some training in visual composition, because otherwise they just don't know what to look for and remember none of it. Some people do seem to have a natural feel for it... but others might as well be taking passport photos.

>This discussion reminds me of one of my favourite cartoons, in which a sobbing, overwrought woman stands in front of a chaotic, ugly assemblage of boards and nails. Facing her is a fellow in overalls and tool belt, who explains to her: "I'm a carpenter, ma'am. You want anything PARTICULAR built, you call an ARCHITECT."

>Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


>Nicholas Hoffman writes:

class="Paragraph">>HD down converts lose approx. 10% of the image, so you've got to be >careful to make 'em a little looser than you might want... just >experienced this

>What system is your post house using? Or are you talking about real-time downconverts in the field?

>Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


class="Paragraph">>Sometimes I'll frame for the face because framing for the head just >doesn't feel right;

>I've noticed that some heads you can frame with shoulders and they look fine; others want a haircut; others just don't work in extreme close-up.

>It's all by taste.

>I have a client that wants everything wide and close to centre on interviews. Booooorrrriing! The problem is that my corporate clients don't seem to be very sophisticated: they want big and bright, as if they've never noticed that every single time they turn on their TV they are seeing nothing but varying degrees of contrast.

>I constantly try to bring new things to the table but they simply aren't educated enough to understand what I'm trying to show them. I have a couple of clients who are very hip and they are a JOY to work for, but most scare easily. I'd love to alternate between very wide and very tight shots on interviews but no one will go for that.

>I just shot a series of regional spots with a corporate producer/director.

>It'll be interesting to see if I hear anything from post about how the close-ups are too tight or the interviews are framed too far off to one side. They wanted a look, I gave them a look! (It wasn't much of a look, but on a low budget schedule it's difficult to finesse. When you show up for work the first day and THEN discuss a look then the look probably isn't going to be too sophisticated.)

>Still, it's all about the client being happy. I just get frustrated when I try to bring my clients up a level and they resist so strongly. I'd love to give them a better product, but most won't let me.

>Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"
http://www.artadams.net/
Local resources : http://www.artadams.net/local


>Art Adams writes :

class="Paragraph">>I'd love to alternate between very wide and very tight shots on interviews >but no one will go for that.

>That’s a tough call, especially when shooting docs, where you may not know how the interview will be edited. Leaving the editor with no choice but to cut from an ECU to a very wide shot just as the subject arrives at the climax of their statement would probably not increase your popularity with said editor.

>With a more moderate zoom range, at least any such damage would be minimized.

>My 2c.

>Cheers....

>Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


>Howdy'all,

>Thanks for your comments everyone - too many to address individually.

>I should point out that I directed both shoots, but didn't DP them. I wouldn't blame my DP for this situation either. The reason I'm there as a Director is (as my client pointed out) to take responsibility for every frame of footage shot.

>FWIW, the client is the 'educational subsidiary' of an ad agency.

>Normally, I get work through the agency itself and get aesthetic briefs from the art director... on this project, there was no Art Director - so I guess someone is unhappy and we get pushed the blame...

>Regardless of the merits of cropping headshots (and I certainly pushed the boundaries with one project) -- the bigger issue is that I misinterpreted their taste. I guess the rule of thumb is, as Jeffery pointed out, to shoot conservatively. You're very unlikely to get in trouble for using standard framing, and keeping everything in MSes - even if you feel that actually doesn't help their cause. I changed framing throughout the video - ending up in CU's - because its very 'content heavy' and I wanted to keep it visually interesting so the audience wouldn't lose interest in the copy. Sadly, I think those kinds of aesthetic choices are harder to judge for lay people.... and they just see the surface ("Why are the heads cut off?"). I did what Art Adams wants to do - change shot sizes - and I got in trouble for it!

>Ah well. I'm still young, best to learn these things now.

>Ta,

>Stu Willis
Director + Editor
Sydney, Australia


class="Paragraph">>I did what Art Adams wants to do - change shot sizes - and got in >trouble for it!

>Oh, I could still get that phone call later this week. I shot some stuff for the same client a while back where I got really tight--and it looked great!--but they freaked out. I don't think I went that tight this time, but still... they see it on TV every day and they never notice it.

>Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"


>Well, the copywriter on this particular project said she has been watching TV for the last two weeks trying to see if they do chop off heads... and she said she couldn't see any.

>In a way, she's right. Most TV shows, at least in Australia, particularly news and current affairs, pretty much stay with an MS. I like going tighter than an MS for talking heads... Unless you're a particularly animated speaker, an MS is kinda dull imnsho.

>Another issue is that we shot 16x9 - and I think that naturally lends MCU’s to have 'haircuts'.... and we broadcast 4x3 for most things. Watch a BBC program, OTH, and it goes in for 'haircutted' MCU’s.

>For non-broadcast work, its a good reason to shoot 4x3 and later matte to 16x9. The flexibility in framing is useful - I don't mind if a client prefers a different compositional style to me... what I do mind is being asked to change it in post!

>Oh well, I just hope neither of us lose clients over this.

>Stuart Willis
Director/Editor
Sydney, Australia


>Were the clients present during the shoot? Why didn’t they say something then? Clients sometimes just need to feel that they something bout something.. They stick on some silly-assed issue and press it..

>I line the eyes up on the 1/3 line and keep em there.. Just assumed it was the right thing to do, until I heard it confirmed by so many on this list!

>Now I know I've been right all these years..!

Bobby Stone


>Bobby Stone writes :

class="Paragraph">>Were the clients present during the shoot? Why didn’t they say >something then?

>That’s standard operating procedure, as far as I'm concerned.

>Aside from the main split for the DP, I make sure both the agency and their clients have their own individual splits, and I also get them a wireless feed from the sound mix. I try to avoid these problems as much as possible. and keep clients in the loop.. but that doesn't mean they know what to look for. These are all important lessons for me, so I appreciate the dialogue I've been having with you much more seasoned professionals.

>OTH, I spoke to the Client this morning. She was happy with the video and *apologised* - she saw a couple of documentaries over the last week which had tight cropped shots and said they worked well for emphasis.

>Wow. That's a first!

>Cheers,

>Stuart Willis


class="Paragraph">>OTH, I spoke to the Client this morning. She was happy with the video >and *apologised* - she saw a couple of documentaries over the last >week which had tight cropped shots and said they worked well for >emphasis.

>Wow. Hang on to that client!

>Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"


class="Paragraph">>OTH, I spoke to the Client this morning. She was happy with the video >and *apologised* - she saw a couple of documentaries over the last >week which had tight cropped shots and said they worked well for >emphasis.

>Isn't that typical. They don't believe it coming from you.. But getting from another source and it's legit. Aaargghh..

>Bobby Stone


>Bobby Stone writes:

class="Paragraph">>They don't believe it coming from you.. But getting from another source >and it's legit. Aaargghh... Boo-hooooooooo..... Awoooooooooooooo!!!!! >weep, gnash, thrash....

>Ain't it the truth!

>Dan "Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaak!!" Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


>Bobby Stone writes :

class="Paragraph">>Isn't that typical. They don't believe it coming from you.. But getting from >another source and it's legit. Aaargghh..

>True. But I'm kinda used to it. The whole crew is under 25... and occasionally that raises questions with brand managers etc. So I'm quite happy to not be believed at this stage, as long as I still get work. If I was in my 30s, it'd be a very different story.

>Stu Willis
Director/Editor
Sydney, Australia


class="Paragraph">>They don't believe it coming from you.. But getting from another source >and it's legit. Aaargghh...

>But you can use that. If I have an idea, and the director is a bit "difficult," I'll say something like "I happened to read an article about how a big-time commercial DP did blah blah blah... maybe we should think about trying the same thing." That works a lot better than "I just had this hair-brained idea that might just be a stroke of genius..."

>An ASC member passed on this trick: He listens carefully to the director, nods, and says, "I like that idea. Let me embellish it a bit." Then he does his own thing and the director loves the implementation of the director's idea.

>I do a lot of the former, not so much of the latter.

>Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"