Man, this has been bugging me for a time, and finally triggered by watching a trailer for Kin (new drama from AMC). The scene had these really pronounced, lopsided compositions - of a type that has seemed very common in more more modern works (like, I recall Mr Robot using them a lot). I see them a lot these days.
Anyone experienced in cinematography know what this composition is called, and what it's supposed to convey? I find their use a little irritating, especially when overused; all that wasted space in the top half of the screen, the actors' heads chopped off.
Haven't seen either of those shows you mentioned so I can't comment specifically but it could be the Quadrant System being used.
Does this make sense?
I’d say ‘negative space’ is a key word here. Both shots have a lot - an unusual amount - of negative space around the subject. It creates a sort of imbalance in the frame, designed to sort odd unnerve or throw the viewer off. Really depends on context - can everything from a way of implying power dynamics in a scene to simply a slick modernist flourish (you’d often see it combined with a cool, clinical palette or used to emphasise the architecture of the space).
I’ve only seen a few episode of Mr Robot so can’t say much about it, but here’s a piece which goes into these concepts a bit: https://ipoxstudios.com/mr-robot-creates-visual-tension-with-composition-techniques/
Thanks, @johnny_ultimate and @Passenger - to Johnny yes, "negative space" ... that's the term all right and would have known of it; should have guessed or twigged it was something along these lines. I guess it was more the overuse that was bugging me, and with Kin felt more like an empty stylish flourish than trying to convey emotion through framing or visual language .
It's not just the negative space but the way characters are often looking partly or completely away from it rather than into it, i.e. looking into the edge of the frame. As said, it can be an effective way to reflect a character's feeling of being cornered or off-balance. I think it's more common and acceptable in still photography as a way to give a greater perception of the world around the subject. In film it can easily become gimmicky and lose any effectiveness if overused. Reminds me of Fincher saying that close-ups should be used like punctation. If you film everything in close-up it's like having a full-stop after every word.
We watched Drive as our family film tonight, excellent film. Hadnt seen it before Cheers!
A belief in gender identity involves a level of faith as there is nothing tangible to prove its existence which, as something divorced from the physical body, is similar to the idea of a soul. - Colette Colfer
It works really well in something like Mr. Robot, where, as mentioned above, it's used to mirror a character's mood, set an atmosphere or convey something narratively. But the example from Kin above struck me too, it just seems (out of full context, tbf) to be bad framing for the sake of getting a pretty background into the shot, as opposed to a technique used with deliberate intent to visually inform the viewer. Might work better in context, of course, but it does jump out in a trailer.
For the sake of the conversation, here's the full clip from which I took the screenshot, and yeah; like you say I think it was done for the sake of it, rather than to add visual language to the dynamics of the scene. Maybe I'm a bad interpreter of these sort of compositions but I don't see anything in the scene that matches the concepts suggested by other posters here and the links they added - no sense of off-kilter emotions or see-sawing power dynamics. Just that hollow approach of "oh, what would make this scene look "cinematic"?"
Ugh even as a stylistic choice that seems cheap and garish. In fairness the show is presumedly pretty low budget with most of the money spent on the actors rather than the production values.
Yeah it looks pretty bad in motion. What I think makes it worse though is that there’s a little bit of give in the tripod and movement in the first shot from that angle as Gillen settles down. It’s as if the camera operator doesn’t quite know where to settle, and it feels jarring and a bit disorientating, which probably makes the mind pay extra attention to the odd framing.
In contrast, the shot of Gillen feels more natural, although I think the somewhat warmer colour palette helps there.
Jesus I didn't even notice the camera wobble as Gillen sits down. Yikes. You'd think someone would have spotted that.
I suppose to be kind, at least they're trying to make the scene more than just a flat approach of shot-reverse-shot, even if the style here is ultimately redundant.
I'm just glad I'm not mad, and this weird cutting off at the shoulders was a thing.
Two short examples of the same technique from Drive.
The first scene is conventional to a certain extent - a shot/reverse shot but using negative space instead of an over-the-shoulder with both characters on opposite sides of their respective frame. However both their eyelines are weirdly looking off the edge of the frame. Neither is looking where they should be. Notice what's in the negative space for both of them, the thing both have turned away from in order to speak to each other. It is very revealing of their characters and their relationship. This is really well done.
The second scene from later the film is quite similar but even more elaborate. It starts with a conversation between Gosling and Isaac. Gosling's eyelines are once again unconventionally focused off the edge of the frame with negative space on his right. However, unlike Gosling and Mullligan in the previous scene, Isaac is actually perfectly framed with his eyelines looking into the negative space, but he is mis-framed compared to Gosling who is on the same side in on the reverse-shot. Normally you would never shoot a conversation like this. Isaac and Gosling should be on opposite sides of their respective frames. But this works well because Gosling isn't paying attention to Isaac and the right side of the frame gets filled by the real focus of attention: Mulligan. But like the previous scene, they are still looking off the edge of the frame and away from the things they should be looking at.