Alternating truck-ins and truck-outs

It might seem counterintuitive to truck in then truck out (or vice versa) in the same shot, or series of shots. But like zoom-ins and zoom-outs, truck-ins and truck-outs have a whole range of meanings which, put in a specific order, can have a number of applications in movie storytelling.


All in one shot

What prevents both moves from colliding with each other is that they carry more than one meaning. In Dances with Wolves (K. Costner, 1990), the camera trucks in on Dunbar, then trucks out as he — and we — discover the remnants of the deserted Fort Sedgwick. We move towards the character to point to his face as he becomes aware of something out of frame. We then move rearwards to reveal what causes the character’s concern. Now the other way round: In Contact (R. Zemeckis, 1997), the camera trucks out on Ellie as she takes action upon hearing extra-terrestrial signals in her headphones, then trucks in on her face as she drives off giving orders to her staff over a walkie-talkie. We move backwards to create space around the character and get a broader view on the action. We then move inwards to better see the character’s facial expression — thus switching from a physical to a mental shot scale — as she makes a call. In both cases, those ‘back and forth’ movements don’t say the same thing in reverse, they bear totally different meanings.

Sequential truck-ins and truck-outs can also focus on different subjects in the same shot, making for elaborate stagings. In Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, 1990), the camera trucks out from a wad of notes to encompass the action, then trucks in as Paulie joins Henry and Jimmy in the midground. This ‘back and forth’ movement feels natural simply because it draws our attention on different subjects. In The Lost World – Jurassic Park (S. Spielberg, 1997), the camera moves backwards from a helicopter in the background to let Ludlow enter the frame. As baby T-Rex’s cries are heard, the camera suddenly trucks in on the character’s face to draw our attention on his reaction. Again, the truck-out doesn’t point to the same subject as the truck-in, so using both in the same shot makes perfect sense.


Alternate shots

Consecutive truck-in and truck-out shots can be made to look like a single shot, as in Scarface (B. De Palma, 1983), when the camera trucks in on a clock on the wall only to truck out back in position — a smart way to bring out that time has passed. In Gandhi (R. Attenborough, 1982), the same effect is used, only in this case we switch from a present event to newsreel footage, suggesting that both time and space have changed.

Not all duos of truck shots are designed as conspicuous storytelling effects. In The War of the Worlds (S. Spielberg, 2005), a truck-in shot of Ray crawling back on the ground cuts to a truck-out reverse shot of the character standing up and hiding behind the open door of a car. This truck-in/truck-out alternation works fine because both shots seem to be part of the same move, as though the camera had momentum tracking the character from both sides. This continuity of movement makes us go with the flow in a very organic way.


Scene design

Entire scenes can be based on truck-ins and truck-outs, letting the camera move back and forth freely, making for an ethereal feel. In Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Q. Tarantino, 2003), the camera dances a choreography with the Bride as she prepares to fight, swinging back and forth in sync with the characters’ moves. In Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, 1990), Henri’s and Karen’s first meeting is filled with truck-ins and truck-outs, as though the camera was coming in and out depending on the characters’ attitudes and thoughts.

Even sequence shots can be made of alternations of truck-ins and truck-outs, as in You Only Live Once (F. Lang, 1937), when the camera trucks out to reveal an editor of a newspaper waiting for a court to deliver Taylor’s sentence, then trucks in as he receives a phone call and again when he selects the next front page. All those moves carry different meanings, which make the wealth and intensity of the scene (read more in Scaling up – Truck in and Scaling down – Truck out).


What’s up?

Even though alternating truck-ins and truck-outs in the same shot, or series of shots, might seem counterintuitive, it can prove natural and efficient as long as those moves don’t say the same thing in reverse. The momentum generated by alternating truck-ins and truck-outs allows for continuity of movement across a scene. In fact, entire scenes or sequence shots can be based on those apparently conflicting moves for great results.

Now zoom-ins and zoom-outs have a lot in common with truck-ins and truck-outs. In next article, we will see how those techniques can co-operate to power up their respective effects.


Recommended reading


Recommended watching