Outtakes: Split Screen

Split screens setting up plot and character in 127 Hours  

WHAT it is…

Division of the film screen into two or more segments in which each of the sub-frames constitutes a separate shot. Outside of cinema, Split Screens are used extensively in news broadcasts (screen split between news reader and reporter), sports shows (commentator and the game) and video conferences (between the speakers/audience). Music videos employ the technique very frequently as well.

WHY it is special...

The Split Screen enables scenes unfolding on multiple, unrelated spaces to coexist in a single timeline. In other words, by presenting two otherwise unrelated shots side by side, the technique can depict two concurrent actions simultaneously. As a result, the perspective of the camera is multiplied and the illusion that it is merely a window into the world is broken.

WHEN it is deployed...

Since the technique diverts the viewer’s attention from the story to itself, it is, nowadays more than ever, brazenly displayed as a deliberate stylistic choice. In other words, the Split Screen has moved from being a narrative technique to a composition used chiefly for its visceral powers. In their superhero movies, Edgar Wright and Ang Lee have used it heavily to recreate comic book-like imagery on screen.

WHERE to find it...

In Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997), the director uses the Split Screen to show the lead character bringing out a pistol out of nowhere and the actual owner of the pistol discovering – elsewhere – that his weapon is missing. This presentation of a surprise moment right alongside its explanation evokes a singular mixture of excitement and revelation that wouldn’t have been possible had the events been revealed in successive shots.

HOW it is used…

Shot/Reverse Shot

In order to preserve the momentum of a scene, directors sometimes avoid cutting back and forth between the speakers in a conversation, especially when it is over a telephone, and opt to split the frame (though today’s sound-mixing conventions have outmoded this use to a large extent). Split Screens are also used to illustrate the points of view of many characters simultaneously, or to present a shot and its reverse shot without a cut.

Split Personalities

The Split Screen is also used conceptually by some filmmakers. One such scenario would be the portrayal of split personalities, in which a character’s psychological split is mirrored in the splintering of the film frame. For instance, Danny Boyle uses the Split Screen generously in 127 Hours (2010) in a manner that suggests both the physical and mental fragmentation of the protagonist. Similarly, the technique can be used, akin to montage, to counterpoint the two shots that comprise the screen.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 5:53:58 PM |

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