Editing pattern – Alternate scale-ups (Part 1)

Successive (nested) cut-ins can make up a stunning editing pattern, but how about other scale-up techniques? In this page, we will see that alternating shots of characters moving towards the camera, as well as alternating zoom-ins, can make for another classic editing pattern: Alternate scale-ups.


Alternating move-to-foreground shots

When one shot shows a character moving towards the camera, and a reverse shot shows another character doing the same, we feel sandwiched between both characters, at the junction of their paths, and more importantly, at their destination point. This simple technique makes us feel the imminence of the meeting and leaves us no choice but to get out of the way when the characters eventually meet. In Sorcerer (W. Friedkin, 1977), this editing pattern is showcased at its simplest with only one alternation and a two-shot at the junction. A more dramatic example comes from Conan the Barbarian (J. Milius, 1982), where a long alternation of shots showing two characters rushing to the camera is capped with a two-shot at the junction.

Alternate shots of characters walking towards the camera can take various forms. For instance, a simple pan shot can replace the classic alternation with the same feel of imminent collision, as in music video Beat it (B. Giraldi, 1983), where two rival gangs are on their way to fight each other. Also, instead of waiting in the middle of the path for the characters to clash, the camera can alternate from each character’s POV as in Subway (L. Besson, 1985), when “The Rollerskater” and “The Drummer” cross in a subway corridor. In this case, subjective truck-ins reinforce the feeling we have watching characters walking to us, but we still have to eventually move aside to let the characters meet in a final two-shot. All those examples are variations of the same editing pattern.


Alternating zoom-in shots

Alternate zoom-ins can give the same feeling of multiple characters coming to us without having them to actually move. Because we get closer to both characters, we cast our feelings on them and feel as though the characters themselves were getting closer to each other. In The Shining (S. Kubrick, 1980), alternate zoom-ins on Danny and Hallorann gradually brings them closer and closer to each other, ‘uniting their minds’ as they start to communicate telepathically. At the same time, alternate zoom-ins emphasize both characters’ presence and emotions. In The Usual Suspects (B. Singer, 1995), the entire scene where a bodyguard tries to calm down an alleged drug dealer under attack is made of alternate zoom-ins, bringing out the contagion effect of fear between both characters.

As zoom-ins can have different meanings, alternating zoom-ins can be an efficient way to alternate between some of those. For instance, in The Usual Suspects (B. Singer, 1995), zoom-ins on a bulletin board — as a way to point to clues Kujan had overlooked — alternate with zoom-ins on the character — showing his growing awareness. In Run Lola Run (T. Tykwer, 1998), the same kind of alternation (i.e. pointing vs awareness) is accelerated to maximum speed (read more in Scaling up – Zoom in (Part 3)). Because no subjects actually move, this editing pattern (i.e. alternate zoom-ins) doesn’t have a use for a final two-shot where the subjects meet.


What’s up?

Alternate scale-ups is a very common way to make the audience anticipate a collision or a meeting. A side two-shot usually ends the sequence when the characters meet. The editing pattern is slightly different with zoom-ins as the characters don’t actually physically meet, but rather seem to get closer to each other on the mental/emotional level. In part 2, we will see alternate truck-ins — even mixes of different scale-up techniques — in action.


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