Eye-to-eye Contact
And Close Ups?

By Patrick Tucker

Eye-to-eye contact - don’t you love it when film actors do it?

We all want to show the truth, don’t we? So let us get our actors to look each other sincerely in the eye when they speak to each other. Magic happens, when they can "play off each other", doesn’t it? We must not have any cheating on the set – all the work must have the actors relating to each other by holding good eye-to-eye contact.

All the above is NOT true.

Going round any art gallery reveals that artists do not paint what is true, they paint what they want us to feel and understand. So visiting the National Gallery in London, for example, you will mostly see everyone’s face in any picture – and more than that, when two people are talking or "relating" to each other, you will see both their faces; see both sets of eyes. This must mean that  they themselves (or the models who posed for the pictures) were NOT looking each other in the eye, for if this were the case, the Gallery would be full of pictures of profiles (or even of the backs of heads) – just like the bad productions we suffer in the theatre, and the not so good films that we watch.

Hands On Film Directing The Close Up.

When the actors do look at each other and the director is cross-cutting, however sincere they are being, the results are not always as revealing what we hoped for.

We spend a lot of our early years being told what NOT to do, and some of the main ones are: "Don’t let them see you are afraid"; "Don’t let them see you’re laughing at them"; or "Don’t let him/her see how much you fancy them". Our real lives could not exist if we always put on our faces what our real thoughts were – would we show the traffic policman exactly how we feel about being pulled over for speeding? would we show our Boss how we feel about his/her latest outburst? Yet if we were making a film of the above two examples, the audience want – no, they demand that they know how we really feel, not just get what we would do in real life, which is to put a polite expression on our faces.

Luckily the film world has a tremendous advantage over some of the other arts, and that is the joy and use of the CLOSE UP. When an audience sees an actor in Close Up, they think they are the only people who can see it, so if an actor puts an expression of disgust on their face, and then quickly replaces it with a polite little smile, the audience think that the other people in the scene would not have noticed the disgust – that it was a private secret moment for those watching the film. In other words, when in a Close Up the actor can (and should) put the sub-text onto their face – the very thing we do NOT do in real life.

The Romanian actor Anamaria Marinca put it best, when she said that on camera it is as if the public mask we all wear is removed, so the private life and emotions can be seen and understood by the audience: "I think acting is about being much more real than in real life. It’s about forgetting the mask that we constantly put on to go out and face the world. I’m much more real when I’m playing a character, I’m more vulnerable, and you can see me more than maybe meeting me on the street."

It works very well for her, and it will work well for you and the actors in your film.

Eye-to-eye contact: realise that you should NOT love it – learn instead to love the secrets behind the Close Up!







Can we see how they really feel?
Study the old masters! No backs of the heads, and full eyes!

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About The Author

Patrick TuckerPatrick Tucker is an internationally acclaimed stage and screen director with over 150 screen drama credits (including one feature film), over 100 stage credits and the founder of the innovative Original Shakespeare Company. He is the author of seven books, including the award-winning Secrets of Screen Acting (now in its 2nd edition) and The Actor's Survival Handbook, and is into his 15th year of presenting "Workshops for Raindance."

Hear Patrick in action on podcast.

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Eye To Eye And Closeups