Editing – Multiple angles of the same subject

Editing together multiple angles of the same subject for the sake of cutting is usually not considered ‘best practice’…unless you do it repeatedly! Properly done, the result yields another powerful storytelling technique. But why would you need to stitch together multiple angles of the same subject in the first place?


Emphasizing weirdness

When dealing with some odd subject or situation, the audience naturally wants to figure out what is going on. Presenting them with different angles of that odd subject addresses their need by giving them a broad and comprehensive view of the configuration — even though it often ends up raising more questions. Here are two examples of this technique in action. In Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (J. Cameron, 1991), a local wind starts to come up and electric charges fill the air between two trucks for no apparent reason. In Resident Evil: Extinction (R. Mulcahy, 2007), the convoy wakes up surrounded by myriads of crows. In both examples, editing together multiple angles of the same situation takes the audience for a walk around the scene to help them try to figure out what is happening.


Emphasizing importance

Presenting the audience with different angles of the same subject exaggerates its importance. The audience is made to scrutinize it, which automatically makes it overly significant. For example, in Marnie (A. Hitchcock, 1964), overdramatizing the safe knob via a bunch of angles brings out its paramount importance to the character.

The same storytelling technique can be applied to characters to make them appear much more important than they really are, turning them into narcissistic personae. The more conspicuous the effect, the more they appear to show off, as is the case in the two following excerpts from The Departed (M. Scorsese, 2006) and Hard Boiled (J. Woo, 1992).

In 127 Hours (D. Boyle, 2010), Ralston — at death’s door — is so conscious of the immensity of his ego that he deliberately ridicules himself in an imaginary TV show where he appears to perform both the interviewer’s and the interviewee’s role in turn. This sequence — the whole film actually — exaggerates the YouTubesque self-centeredness of the character by displaying his face in an infinite variety of ‘selfies’.


Emphasizing mental instability & introspection

Mental instability is another good candidate for this technique. In Lenny (B. Fosse, 1974), multiple shots of Honey underline the mental imbalance of the character. The following example brings together two different excerpts from Strange Days (K. Bigelow, 1995), where the very same technique is used to underline the slyness of one character and the psychotic tendencies of another (in the second part, sound has been cut off to prevent spoiling the story).

Introspection — and all its derivatives — can equally take advantage of this technique. In Hard Boiled (J. Woo, 1992), the once proud-as-a-peacock character we saw earlier now blames himself for taking part in the murder of another character. Isn’t that amazing how editing together multiple angles of the same character in the same movie can bear completely different meanings? It is also worth noting that this technique can be used with multiple characters, as in Run Lola Run (T. Tykwer, 1998) where both characters suddenly find themselves in deep trouble, as Manni tells Lola he has lost a bag full of money.


Emphasizing pain, fear & anger

Deep emotions such as fear and anger could be considered extreme versions of introspection. In the TV series episode Sherlock – A Study in Pink (P. McGuigan, 2010), a bunch of shots centered on Watson’s face bring out how baffled and depressed the character feels as he wakes up from a chronic nightmare. In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (S. Spielberg, 1982), this effect is pushed to its limits as Elliott reacts to E.T.’s scary appearance (read more about jump cuts).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (D. Yates, 2007) showcases this technique twice in a row, firstly as Harry cries over the murder of a member of his family, and right after that as he chases the culprit and takes justice into his own hands. In a way, grief and anger are not all that dissimilar (i.e. highly emotional states), so both can be effectively supported by the same technique.


Panicking the audience

The emotional effect conveyed by this technique sheds new light on the first paragraph. To sum things up, not only does tossing the camera around the same subject makes the audience better figure out what is going on, but it also conveys a sense of instability and emergency. The two following excerpts from Max Payne (J. Moore, 2008) and Speed (J. de Bont, 1994) both provide a variety of angles and perspectives at fast pace, all focused on the same subject, to let the audience realize what is happening and push them around at the same time — and yes, to increase the duration of a short action on screen (read more about repetition to emphasize short actions).

Finally, note that this technique can be applied to very short events without breaking the general flow of the action, as when orcs burst open a door in The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (P. Jackson, 2001). The action — which only takes a split second — gets super-emphasized by a series of three different angles, just to shake the audience up.


What’s up?

Editing together multiple angles of the same subject helps the audience figure out what is going on, especially when dealing with short, unexpected or weird situations, but also overdramatizing the action by adding a feeling of instability and emergency to the scene. Thus, this technique is commonly used to emphasize the importance, narcissism, mental imbalance or highly-emotional state of a character. Or simply make the audience panic.

Next time, we will delve into a most-awaited topic: the montage sequence.


Recommended reading


Recommended watching