Crappy Directing = EXTREME CLOSE-UP MANIA!

An old adage for screenwriters is don’t direct on the page — leave out camera angles, pans, zooms and CLOSE UP. Instead, describe your scene and actions in visual ways that convey how you “see” it played out on the big screen. Lately though, I feel like TV and movie directors are reading only the character names because it seems like every other shot in some films and a lot of TV series, are EXTREME CLOSE UPS of talking heads. In the Feb. 4 episode of The Following, sometimes half the screen was filled with shots of the BACK of Kevin Bacon’s head, unflattering profile shots of him, and more ECUs of some fat guy’s face.

When my wife and I went to see Les Miserables in a theater, it was because we expected to see an epic widescreen adaptation that brought the songs to life by showing us what it looked and felt like to be in that period of French history. During filming, actors on the set talked about the stench of rotting fish, which was part of the set designer’s efforts to make the movie as authentic as possible. So I had high hopes for the director’s vision… until I actually saw the movie. Between the silly handheld shaky cam effects and EXTREME CLOSE UPS, I actually got a headache and found myself closing my eyes so I could just listen to the music. On the rare occasions where we could see wide angle shots of the streets and city or characters interacting, we got a glimpse of the big screen experience Les Miz could have been. Alas, those moments were few and far between.

You might shrug it off as a matter of personal taste. As a writer, I disagree. If you write a scene that sets up conflict between characters, you want the audience to see the interplay and reactions — not just one head saying a line, followed by a cut to another head replying, with all the acting consisting of furrowed eyebrows, gritted teeth and other facial tics. I swear, when you watch Hawaii Five-O or The Following, the characters could be filmed in separate cities and spliced together without you even noticing — even when the two characters are supposed to be in the SAME CAR at the same time. What film school did these directors go to?!

In both of those TV series, the vast majority of shots are from the shoulder up. About the only time you see the characters’ legs is when they are running after someone or in fight scenes. Which is unfortunate, because good acting involves using the entire body. How a character moves or holds himself, their posture, fidgeting, can tell us a lot about who they are and what they’re really thinking or feeling. But the younger generation of directors (and writers, I think) believe it’s all about facial expressions and spouting snarky lines that are meant to show off the writer’s wit — not the character’s. It’s literally in-your-face, all surface, instant reactions. There are no bodies in their body of work, which makes their scenes as forgettable as the GIANT FACES that keep flashing on the screen.

Look at any of the classic films or TV series — especially comedies and sitcoms — that have stood the test of time, and you’ll hardly see any close-ups of talking heads, unless it is a particularly important or dramatic moment. That’s what used to make close-ups special. Now it’s just arbitrary. And unforgiving, especially for older or less attractive actors, thanks to high definition coupled with huge widescreen TVs in millions of homes these days. Moreover, the audiences are missing out on potentially funny or interesting bits of business they could be seeing. Watch some episodes from Seinfeld, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, M*A*S*H, any Hitchcock movie, and you’ll notice the subtle interplay of supporting characters… or even things in the rooms or setting that are interesting. Then turn on The Following or Hawaii Five-O and you’ll get to count nose hairs and moles on BIG HEAD SHOTS instead.

Anyhow, just wanted to get that off my chest. I wish more critics and viewers would publicly complain via Twitter and Facebook sites connected to movies and TV shows. It’s like people who SEND EMAILS AND WRITE FACEBOOK POSTS IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. Gets kind of annoying, doesn’t it?

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2 Comments on “Crappy Directing = EXTREME CLOSE-UP MANIA!”


  1. It’s bad enough about the close ups, but there are also a lot of actors with either big or lots of moles on their necks and faces, something that was never allowed in old Hollywood, and even on TV until it became politically incorrect to deny someone with a huge mole on their nose the opportunity to become a sportscaster. I have missed parts of movies staring at the moles. As for The Following, it doesn’t have the energy I expected so I am very disappointed in it. The only thing I like about it is the Poe references.

  2. richfigel Says:

    Speaking of old Hollywood movies, filming in black and white made a difference too. They used a lot of soft focus. A single mole was okay though, like Marilyn’s “beauty mark.” Ever since I started doing my own local TV show, I’ve become very conscious of close ups because we shoot in high def and most non-actors/models don’t have flawless skin. For some reason, camera guys keep wanting to push in, and I could see every acne scar or pock mark on our subjects’ faces… so now, I keep reminding the cameramen to remember what we shoot is going to be blown up on TV screens that are 3 to 5 feet wide. I think they forget because they’re staring at a small viewfinder when we film… or maybe they’re thinking of how it will look on smart phones and iPads?


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