Champ-reverse shot

The field-shot is a technique and an aesthetic of shooting in movies, which consists of filming a scene at a given angle , then filming the same scene at an opposite angle, 180 ° from the first, or according to a symmetry axial or a symmetry with respect to a point , or to film separately two actions which, in reality, are confronted (face to face of two armies, or tennis match, for example). In the editing operation , the two shots, field and reverse shot, offer a wide choice of stage continuity solutions. Both plans can indeed be broken up and assembled according to the wishes of thedirector or the dramatic necessities of the story 1 .


James Williamson , a British filmmaker from the School of Brighton , was the first to use the field-counter-shot film in 1900 in his four-minute film Attack on a Chinese Mission (Attack on a Chinese) Mission) , of which only two minutes remain today. The story shows the assault of a band of Boxers (Chinese nationalist militants) to destroy an English evangelical mission , and the providential arrival of a troop of Blue Jackets who save the family and annihilate the band.

For this, James Williamson first filmed what is called a master-shot, showing the mission in outline. The pastor and his family walk peacefully in front of the entrance, a Chinese , brandishing a knife, appears in the field, the family comes back hurriedly, except the pastor who sacrifices himself by attacking the Chinese activist. Other Boxers pop up and try to get into the mission. The Blue Jackets arrive and fire. The pastor’s family is saved, the raid crushed.

Next, James Williamson filmed three more shots he included in the montage – something that was not done by any filmmaker at the time, except his colleague from the Brighton School, George Albert Smith . The first two shots are both counter-shots of the master plan: the Boxers forcing the park gate and heading for the mission, and the Blue Jackets arriving and firing in the direction of the mission. The third plan has disappeared, that of an officer on horseback who “burst into the garden at the exact moment when the Boxers, after setting fire to the house, dragged the pastor’s daughter. He saved her by hugging her and rushing on the spectators (the camera) like the locomotive of La Ciotat 2  ” , the film ofLouis Lumière . This assertion of the film historian Georges Sadoul is all the more likely that behind the Blue Jackets firing towards the mission, we can actually notice the presence of a rider whose mount piaffe. The use of shot-reverse-continues Georges Sadoul, is a “narrative style, typically film, which seems to have been unknown in 1900, out of England 3 . ”

James Williamson reiterates the field-shot in his film made in 1901, Fire! , where the shot filmed in the studio showing the victim of the fire, who derisively tries to extinguish the fire and then despairs, is followed by his back: the intervention of firefighters outside the building. The British colleague of the English filmmaker, Edwin Stanton Porter , realizes in 1903 Life of an American Fireman (The Life of an American Firefighter), inspired by the filmmaker himself of James Williamson’s film, but he does not know how to imitate him. It thus shows in extenso in a single plan the waiting of the victims, this time a mother and her daughter, seen in their room, the arrival by the window of the firemen and the two-step rescue of the mother and the little girl, then in extenso also, a second shot where the same scene is taken up point by point, seen from the outside of the building on fire. A repetition of the scene because Edwin Stanton Porter does not understand (yet) the process that invented James Williamson, and he respects the way of filming of the time: for each place, a single shot, and he does not think not that we can mix the two shots (“matcher”, as the editors say ) 4 .

The film Edwin Stanton Porter “will be a second release in 1930 after being recovered by breaking the two shots – external and internal – and alternating in a reverse shot at the time became a classic figure of mounting 5 . ” And enjoy a sound all the easier to perform that there is no dialogue.



In the era of silent film , the custom is to film the dialogue of two or three people in a single plane bringing together all the protagonists of the scene, a mid-middle plan half-body) n or American plane (mid-thighs), even medium shot (in foot), and to cut this plan by the replicas of each one, written on “cartons” ( intertitles ). The same plan, divided into two, three or more, can thus serve for all the dialogue. But in truth, the filmmakers of that time also used tighter plans on each of the characters, between which were arranged the intertitles corresponding to the one who was supposed to pronounce the reply.

A good example is given by the film which is misnamed “the first talking movie”, namely The Jazz Singer (1927).”This film is rather a singing film. The dialogues are always the classic intertitles, cartons of the silent cinema. So while Jack Robin (Al Jolson) sings, he looks gratefully and lovingly at his mother, who listens to her, moved and proud, with a family friend. This one, filmed in close-up, is addressed to the mother. “This is the son of his father, he sings with his heart!” We can read his remark through an intertitle, we do not hear him speak. The mother is also filmed in close-up, her eyes drowned in tears. She replies with another heading. “It’s his world, the scene … If it’s God who wanted it, He’ll keep it here.” While in the background, his son continues to whisper for him a pious hymn subsidiary, Mother of Mine ( My mother to me), accompanied by the orchestra. The sound cinema is still only half, when some sing, others can not speak, and vice versa 6 . ”

But the arrival of the sound recording will actually allow the direct recording of the dialogues, and their reconstitution spoken and not written any more. The filmmakers initiate a technique that will prevail until today: the dialogue in field-countermapping. According to George Sadoul, this figure of forced editing dates from the film The Front Page , where the director Lewis Milestone , relying on the nervous dialogues of Ben Hecht , whose film is the adaptation of his eponymous piece,”Organized a real camera dance around the actors. Innovation which created a cliché, in the “talkative” films, as the process which systematically broke up the division and was characterized by a pendulum cadence alternating field and counter-clock 7 . ”

To turn this type of dialogue to “pendulum rhythm”, the actors are filmed one after the other, those who are out of the field remain on the set to give a reply to their colleagues. “The editor or sometimes takes such a sentence on that character and the replica on the other character, sometimes rest on one of the characters who listens to the other, with all possible variants 8 . “The camera is each time moved to film each comedian face. When two characters are face to face, the camera films in field-countermeasures, in the strict sense of the term. But when there are three characters, if the camera moves to film each protagonist face-to-face, it is also a field-shot, although the flip of the camera is not for each of 180 °.

Let us add that in order to make the confrontation more palpable, the configuration of the field-counter-field must be supported by wider shots that show the real presence of the characters in the same place and facing each other. This plan is called, according to the critic and film historian André Bazin , the authentication plan. “The director is not allowed to retract by field-counterfeit two simultaneous aspects of an action 9 . ”

Arrangement of actors

In a counter-field, the arrangement of the actors in relation to the camera offers several solutions that do not have the same meaning or the same effect with regard to dramaturgy .

  • Comedians filmed from the front, camera look . The reversal field-counter is then an exemplary 180 °, but each time, the camera look brings a new meaning, since it is in fact a look towards the audience who feels caught, watched by each of the characters. This can bring both a gratifying feeling in the audience and a certain discomfort, the camera then making subjective plans .
  • Comedians filmed from ¾ . Most of the classical field-counterclaps are filmed with this arrangement of the actors, which eliminates the very particular effect of the camera and the subjective. The spectator is then in a more comfortable situation of accompaniment of each of the actors, or more simply of privileged witness, even of voyeur, these last postures being suggested by a “primer” of the second character, that is to say that we guess the other actor by the presence of his neck (blurred because closer to the camera) or his shoulder, or any other party which chooses him, hand, foot, except of course the face 10 .

This arrangement requires some precautions in the shooting, the first of which is named in a scholastic tone “rule of 180 °”. It is not, as one might think, to avoid filming the second camera that would film the backlight at the same time as the first film the field. Because this type of shooting is in most cases filmed with a single camera that is returned to backcompact when are successful shots on the field. We must imagine that the reversal of the axis of shooting is not only that of the camera, but also that of lighting, sound, sometimes a decorative element, etc.

It is a question of correctly rendering the confrontation, in field-contrast, of the glances of each actor. The camera must take each shot, field and reverse shot, being arranged in a sector determined by the line that passes from one actor to another. When she is in this sector to film the first and the second comedian, the eyes of the latter cross virtually, which corresponds to a situation of face to face. That is to say that the first character is looking from left to right on his partner placed off camera to the right of the camera, and the second character is looking from right to left on the first one who is placed outside the camera. field to the left of the camera. The reversal of the camera is no longer here 180 °, but a lower angle, which leaves it in the recommended area.11 .

In the television series New York Police Blues , the highly fragmented montage, based on shots taken with several cameras, beyond the visual embarrassment of a montage “à l’arraché”, testifies to the veracity of the characters and stories. The spectator has the impression that he is jostled in a place where theoretically he should not be present, that of a criminal investigation brigade in action, so in total confusion 12  ! ” In this series, the looks of the actors going in all directions, but logic and speed of action have such force that they authenticate the confrontation.

Because the field-shot is sometimes obtained by turning to two or even three cameras, the first two providing shooting on each of the two comedians, the third recording the two actors framed together (the plan “authentication” André Bazin). There is time saving and gain in the tone of the actors (filmed together, they are more incisive, while a comedian who plays off-field tends, despite all his good will, to play slightly behind). But the process is heavier and prohibits any camera movement, the risk being that a camera and its operator are filmed by the other camera.

  • Comedians arranged in profile, or side by side . The first configuration allows to film several cameras, they are installed parallel, without risk of filming each other, but is not, aesthetically speaking, very expressive. Jean-Luc Godard experiments in Le Mépris , such a provision: Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli , sitting on a long sofa, but he replaces the classic field-countermeasures by passing from one profile to another by means of a traveling shotside “accordion”, so a tracking shot-go-go, etc.
  • Comedians filmed through a mirror . This rich configuration allows to see all the actors of ¾ face during the whole scene, and their face to face is carried out in the reflection of the mirror. In films evoking the theater and its boxes, it has even become a cliche.
  • Broader scenes in field-countermeasures . The field-backscreen is not reserved for dialogue scenes, even if its use is queen in this kind of scenes, despite the frequent use of the sequence shot , which, creating a continuity in space, completely eliminates the figure of dialogue. field-counterfield style. But it is unavoidable, as opposed to physically opposing two enemy groups, for example, in a battle scene when two armies clash, or in an individual combat scene.

Field-Counter Edit

There are various ways to mount the field-to-field alternation, at the option of the director and his editor. The detective series Badge 714 a “sensation” in 1954, with an assembly that keeps systematically image the character speaking, including replicas as short as “yes” or “no 13  ” The character faces he who speaks and listens to it is never shown, it is only if he speaks himself. This mounting technique surprised at his appearance: “We particularly liked the seemingly realistic way she restored the strong character and the direct style of the police 13 . “It can nevertheless be considered as “hollow”  : its simplicity makes it neglect the complexity of the course of a conversation 13 . If someone looks at two people talking, it does not always look at the speaker, but also turn the head to detect what the listener thinks 13 . According to the American editor Walter Murch , who called this technique, simplistic although efficient, “the Dragnet 13 system  “[original title of the series], the montage of the field-counterfire must anticipate the reaction of the future audience, supposed to want to turn their head towards the character out of field, thus taking into account the changes of attention that have place in reality 13 . “The question then is:” When exactly do we turn our heads? ” 13  ” Indeed, the problem and the mystery of fittings remain. Walter Murch analyzes that a character cut to the image before the end of his line can for example seem more sincere, while if he remains in the image after the end of his text, the viewer is led to look in his look whether he says the truth or not 13 .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Henri Agel, “Cinema”, Tournai, Paris, Casterman, 1957, see page 57
  2. ↑ Georges Sadoul , history of world cinema from its origins to today , Paris, Flammarion ,, 719  p. p.  41-42
  3. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  42
  4. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  84
  5. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  86
  6. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  163
  7. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  235-236
  8. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  452
  9. ↑ André Bazin , What is cinema? , Paris, Editions du Cerf, coll.  “7th Art”,, 372  p. ( ISBN  2-204-02419-8 ) , “Prohibited editing”, p.  56
  10. ↑ Vincent Pinel , Technical dictionary of cinema , Paris, Armand Colin ,, 369  p. ( ISBN  978-2-200-35130-4 ) , p.  7
  11. ↑ Pinel 2012 , p.  43
  12. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  471
  13. ↑ a , b , c , d , e , f , g and h Murch ( trans.  Mathieu Le Roux and Marie-Mathilde Burdeau, pref.  , Francis Ford Coppola) In a nod: Past, Present and Future mounting [ “In the Blink of an Eye”], Nantes, Capricci ,, 170  p. ( ISBN 978-2-918040-30-9 ) , p.  82-85.

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