Wildest Dreams (2015) – Visual Separation and Axis Breakage

WILDEST DREAMS (2015)

Starring Taylor Swift and Scott Eastwood. Directed by the experienced Joseph Kahn.

First of all, watch the video:

Second of all, learn about the 180 Degree Rule in filmmaking — this photo does a good job of explaining it:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 5.48.32 AM

If you desire more on the rule, read here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/180-degree_rule

The rule basically ensures that, in conversations, one character is looking off camera the left and the other one is looking off camera to the right. This way it feels like a conversation where the characters are facing each other.

Towards the end of the Wildest Dreams video, Taylor and Scott’s characters are sitting in the theater at the premiere of the film in which they are co-stars.

A number of visual techniques combine to create a very strong sense of impossibility and disconnect between these two people.

Here is the shot of Scott’s character:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 5.44.07 AM

And the next shot of Taylor:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 5.44.30 AM

Here is my breakdown of the visual choices Kahn and his cinematographer, Chris Probst, enact in order to make this mini-scene effective:

1.) Most importantly, this shot/reverse-shot BREAKS the 180 Degree Rule. If we were to draw a line between Scott and Taylor, assuming they’re sitting in the same row, or a nearby row, Taylor’s shot is from the front of their bodies, whereas Scott’s shot is behind him. Breakage of the axis disorients viewers and leads to less of a strong visual connection between Taylor and Scott. We don’t feel as though they’re facing each other, even though I believe they are supposed to be.

2.) Scott is framed from behind to underscore his elusiveness. Taylor’s face is framed up close and in person because, first of all the video is from her POV so we should be experiencing her emotions and, second of all, she is the more desperate/attached one here because she is single and Scott is married.

BUT

3.) Usually, the frame leaves space in the direction in which a character is looking. In Scott’s shot, the frame ends almost right after his face, creating the sense that he’s boxed in. He’s trapped. So maybe this heightens his desperation as well.

4.) Taylor is framed alone (besides the foreground dude out of focus) while Scott is framed with his wife in the shot. This, combined with point 2 that Taylor and Scott are framed from totally different angles, separates them further.

5.) On an unrelated note, I think it was a very strong visual choice on Kahn’s part to frame Taylor and Scott kissing on-screen in between a real-life Scott and his real-life wife. Great stuff.

In case you’re interested, regarding the last shot:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 6.08.33 AM

The car presses on forward while the camera pulls back. The tension/contrast in the directionality of camera movement vs. car movement underscores the increasing separation between Taylor and Scott, physically and emotionally, as the frame expands forward and backwards all at the same time. This technique (camera going against subject motion) is used a lot in particular in the 2014 Darren Aronofsky movie Noah, starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.

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