on Shot Duration

I recently re-watched a few scenes from The Village. It is by far Shyamalan’s best film, in my opinion, and no small part is how well Roger Deakins’ cinematography perfectly captures the mood of the film. The shots are slow and purposeful, almost minimalist in the coverage. This works so well because of the film’s incredible cast and their fantastic performances.

The Village

The Village

My favorite scene in the film is the night Lucius finally, and eloquently, confesses his love for Ivy. It is a stirring romantic scene, yet Deakins uses only two shots. The first is a pan as Ivy walks out of the house and sits down next to Lucius and the second is a close two-shot behind the couple as they talk. Very simple, but very effective. The very soft, cool moonlight frames their faces gently and adds a subtle catchlight to Ivy. In this shot, all the viewer’s attention is on the performances, particularly on Lucius’ first strong display of emotion and affection and on the subtle changes in Ivy’s expression as she listens to him confess his love. It also places focus on the eyeline of each character. Ivy gazes straight at Lucius the entire scene, but he often shifts between her and the ground.

Viewing this moving scene again got me thinking about how important shot duration can be in the mood of a scene or an entire film. Careful composition and control of a single shot can sell a great performance so well. You’re always thinking coverage, coverage, coverage when setting up a scene, but sometimes thinking about how to best convey the moment may mean a careful minimalist approach.