Before planning any video shoot, it's important to have a good understanding of how the footage is going to be edited as this can make a big difference in how you approach the shoot.  There's a big difference between shooting and then editing versus shooting for the edit.  Ideally you'll always be shooting for the edit as it leads to a more efficient production when you know who will be editing, what equipment is needed, what shots are required for continuity, etc...

On this week's Reel Rebel video production tip episode, Stephen explains an important concept to nail down when shooting for the edit called "eyeline matching."

What is Eyeline Matching? Continuity Editing

Eyeline matching is a film editing technique associated with continuity editing to help establish a logical coherence between shots and make the storytelling smooth, logical and continuous. Eyeline matching is one of the basic building blocks of movie making for a narrative film or story.  Eyeline, as you might guess, refers to the trajectory of the looking eye.  Eyeline matching isn’t just about seeing what the character is looking at, it’s about the angle at which they’re looking at it.  It applies often to other characters, but also applies to anything that can be looked at.

This technique is based on the premise that the viewers will want to see what the character they are watching on the screen is viewing.  This means there will be a cut to show what is being looked at by the character on screen.  It can be:

  • An object
  • A view
  • Another character

The eyeline match will begin with a character looking at something off-screen.  It is then followed by a cut to the object or person at which he is looking.  For instance, a man is looking off-screen to his left, and then the film cuts to a television that he is watching, a character he is looking at, etc.

If you’re watching a movie, and a character is looking off screen at something, your natural expectation is to next see what that character is looking at.  That’s almost always the case, but you can’t just get any old shot of whatever that character is looking at.  You are trying to sell the reality of the film.  This means that when you cut to the shot of whatever you’re character is looking at, the audience needs to believe that they’re looking at it through the eyes of your character.

Examples of Eyeline Matching

For example, Character A, is clearly the star of the show.  Let’s say he’s deciding which pair of shoes to wear.  In the shot, you can see that not only is Character A looking off camera, he is looking DOWN and off camera.  Your audience will expect to see a high angle shot looking down on whatever he is looking at, in this case his shoes, as if from Character A’s point of view.  In shot A you see the angle at which Character A, is looking.  This is his “eyeline.”  In shot B you see what he is looking at from that same angle.

Alfred Hitchcock's “Rear Window,” is one example of a film that makes frequent use of eyeline matches.  The main character is confined to his apartment.  He looks out its rear window often at events in the buildings across from him.  Hitchcock frequently cuts from the character looking off-screen to the focus of his gaze.

Here's an example from The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Italy,1996) where the Director, Dario Argento has his protagonist Anna looking at Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (c1485).

 The Importance of Eyeline Matching for Smooth Video Storytelling: Shooting for the Edit [Reel Rebel #23]

The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Italy,1996)

The term “eyeline match” can also refer to the practice of setting off-camera eyelines for single shots of characters within a scene.  They are shot so that when these shots are cut together, each of the characters appear to be looking at the correct character, without any confusion. Factors influencing the position of the off-camera eyeline are usually placed off camera, but sometimes are by giving the on-camera actor a mark to look at.  These factors include the 180 degree rule, camera lens/height/distance to subject and geography of the set.  For example, you take matching close-ups of two actors in a scene.  They are shot on the same lens with the camera placed at matching heights.

The eyeline match creates order and meaning in cinematic space.  It gives the viewer what they want and are expecting to see and it can really bring a story to life for the viewer.