View Full Version : Basic Camera Setup: How do you shoot a hostile conversation in a restaurant table?

12 December 2004, 01:58 PM
Ok imagine this scene:

"A married couple is having a quiet dinner in a crowded restaurant.
Thhe conversation starts normaly with the normal chatter that couples that know each other well have.
But then she quietly drops a bomshell as she drinks some wine.

She tells the husband that she has found out about the affair he has been having."

How do you shoot it for maximum effect?
What would be the appropiate camera setups?

PS as I have some time Ill add some animatics on how I view this scene.

12 December 2004, 05:23 PM
First, I have to consider what genre the story is.

This can be an A/B-cam setup (locked cam) with an initial cam for establishing the scene. Since this is an emotional scene, I'll go for 2 shots medium, over the shoulder, CU and ECU. Maybe one vertigo shot for the husband (for saftey). No dollies and cranes; just cams on tripods.

Getting the maximum effect is actually done on the editing (imho).

p.s. Actually, I need a script for the dialogue. :D

12 December 2004, 10:33 PM
I think the important question i what kind of movie is this? Comedy? Drama? Thriller? That totally changes the way it's shot...

Compare Meet the Parents to...I dunno...Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something....

So, can we establish what kind of movie this is?

12 December 2004, 09:07 PM
Alrighty, here are some thoughts on setting up this scene...

Generally, if I have a scene and I need to come up with camera setups, I like to start out by thinking "what would everybody else do?" If this were a made-for-tv movie, what would it look like? No need to go deep here, but I just imagine your average film school student would do the following:

1) setup an establishing shot of the room. "Welcome to the scene. we're in a restaurant."
2) get a two shot of the entire conversation.
3) OTS shots of both actors.
4) CU shots of both actors

Now that you know what kind of shots everyone else would use, pretend someone has a gun aimed at your head and avoid using any of the shots listed above. ;-)

Years ago, my next step would've been to come up with something completely off the wall. "What's a shot that NOBODY would use?" Like shoot it from the POV of the clam chowder (chowder-cam) as the cuckolded woman ladles her spoon into it. Or maybe use a "can I refill your water glass" waiter-cam inside a water pitcher. Then, hopefully, you realize that those ideas are probably not the best choices. As much as I would like to see their world from the chowder-cam, the audience probably won't think my gimmicks are as clever as I think they are. :-)

So the next step in making your camera choices might be: "what's the STORY here, who are these people, what's going on in their head (or heart) at any point during this incident, and what's the best way to use the camera to (subtly) reinforce all of this in the audience's mind?"

My suggestion is to break the scene down into what each person (the man and wife, not the guy 2 tables over on the cell phone) is feeling and what their "internal conversation" might be. Figure out the notable story points in the scene as kind of an outline of how the scene needs to progress.

Note that this is also helpful as a director when you're discussing the scene with the actors before it's shot. Always good to have a well-thought-out, quality idea in mind before you show up on set...but be flexible in case someone else happens to have a better idea. :-D

the don

12 December 2004, 06:25 AM
3 shots, with one added action for the woman.

A longish-medium 2-shot of the two enjoying their dinner. Stay there until she picks up the wine glass just before she drops the bomb. Long lense, somewhat shallow focus to keep the world out of the moment. (why? We want to set up a shocker here. The key to impact is contrast. So we're going to set up the front side of this big contrast by playing it plain and even. We want to sell the couple as a couple, not as a two person dance that is implied in any OTS/CU edit sequence. Save that kind of editing for when the people are openly engaged in a negotiation. This moment here we want to show the absence of conflict. They are together on screen. We see them together, interacting. They have equal importance. In the visual statement, they are one and the same. This is a nice way to ease us into the benign sense of security that we need to sell the impact later.)
Medium close up of her delivering the coup de grace. Linger as she studies him for his reaction. Long lense, extremely shallow focal range. It's her and her only. (why? Cut only when you need to cut. The audience will know intuitively that something is up just by cutting here after staying with that open 2 shot for the entire scene so far. You the filmmakier are telling your audience "Get ready.". Second- Cinematically I think she has more to offer here, especially since you scripted her drinking the wine as she deals the blow. That one action says she's been planning this, she's set him up, she's in control. She lulled him to a comfortable vulnerability and now she's swinging the hammer into his cranium. After the accusation is given I think it best to resist the temptation to show the man.So we stay with her here- almost to the end of the long silent awkward moment as she eyes him over the rim of her glass. She wants to see how he reacts. By not showing the man, so does the audience. We're trying to guage his reaction on the mirror of her face. We're dying to know how he reacted. Pulls you right in.)
Back to the original 2 shot as she sets that glass down, stands and leaves the table without a word. No pan over or push in on the man who is lost here. Leave the table and her empty chair in the scene. Open up the focal range so the background is invited to come in some more, crowding the man. (why? We show the brokeness of the result. The man is left alone, we have no choice but to notice his reaction now. By leaving a large negative space where she once sat we put a strain on the image composition- the imbalance is screaming at us. It's almost like the heaviness of him will tilt the image like a see-saw with no partner . We feel he'll fall out of the picture any minute. The very camera that estabished the balance of their relationship now feels broken, out of place, uncomfortable. We'll want to reach up and adjust it or something, but we're powerless to do so as we sit and watch. Just like the man.)
So that's the idea. Set up the calm, shatter the calm, linger on the pieces falling around the one who shattered it, look at the broken scene thru the very same eyes that set the calm. It's the contrast that hits. No need for fancy MTV steady cam flash edits here. Save that stuff for when you're stuck with people who can't act. :D

Anyhow, that's how I'd try it.


12 December 2004, 07:00 AM
I'd shoot it stationary camera straight on and a little higher than table height. Framing the image so that just the forearms of the actors and the table are in view. The scenario seems so common-place that the actors really don't need identities. Just use their hands to tell the story.

But I suppose it depends on the rest of the situation or film. If this is the only scene you're going to show, then the above solution would work just fine. Keep it simple.

12 December 2004, 08:41 AM
Alot of "Days of Our Lives" type close up shots.

Keep the camera steady on the lady is she delievers her poison, Then quickly cut to the guy and slowly move in close on his face as his brains slowly restarts itself after an information overload and the information slowly sinks in and the sweat sinks out.

12 December 2004, 11:53 PM
I'd do one of three things...

1) From the view-point of another customer in the cafe. The camera would be "reading a newspaper". Sheepishly turning to look at the couple when they start to speak a little louder...Sharply when they snap at each other...

2) Locked camera shot of the whole thing. From the side of the table?

3) Bully the camera man to direct for me! :twisted:

12 December 2004, 09:05 PM
I'd be adventurous,
I would have 2 camera's revolving in a clockwise manner around the table, switching between the two, one should give a view of the actions and body language of the characters and the other giving a view of what all the people in the restraunt are witnessing.

Best thing of all to do is Experiment.


12 December 2004, 02:49 PM
Agreed with the CU but specifically it must be frontal, so the character will talk with the camera.

12 December 2004, 03:54 PM
I like the idea of a 2 camera rotation around the subjects. What I would suggest is two cameras on dolly tracks, one camera positioned about five tables away for an opening shot, and one camera to the left of the table positioned at a 55 degree angle. Open with the far shot, and then have a brief shot of the table from the 55 degree light. So we have two cameras circling around the table, and as the conversation gets more intense, make the shots more intense and bring the cameras in slightly with an imperceptible zoom. In between this tightening shot we have another shot from the 55 degree camera facing the guy. She drops the bomb and the camera lingers there for an uncomfortable amount of time, maybe 5 or six seconds of total silence. Continue the circling shot, then finally close with either a) a far shot from our opening table, b) a far shot from somewhere else, possibly the street if the restaurant has a window, or c) have the 55 degree camera brought in with a crane to the table level and have him walk out.

12 December 2004, 05:23 AM
Hey I don't know anything about cinematography, but as visiting this site have come to find it very interesting. So from a total viewer's point with no directing experience I wanted to see if I had anything to bring. First off I think that a question that needs to be asked is the emotion following. This is obviously gonna set it up, and is a milestone I presume. This may sound retarded, but if there is a rather violent reaction occurring later on like revenge, starting out with your basic head height 10 feet out from the open-end of the table up till the bombshell, and then with violent reactions have 2 over the shoulder cams that do a rapid pan alternately during the heated discussion, with a decent pause on the person left sitting there. Kind of crazy maybe, but as I said I know nothing lol. If it's more of an emotional thing, no violent response then I think there's already plenty of ideas offered.

12 December 2004, 02:02 PM
I think the important question i what kind of movie is this? Comedy? Drama? Thriller? That totally changes the way it's shot...

To all thanks for your replies so far.

And KungFu Hampster brings some Good points.

The conversation I had in mind was for a drama, but I am curious
on how would the shots could be shot in different manners
for other types of movies (as he said, Thriller, Comedy, Drama, Action Movie ).


01 January 2005, 08:40 PM
All these ideas would work pretty well, although as said before, some of them are the obvious shots to go for. The 'rotating camera' idea, although a good one, seems to be used quite a lot in the late 90's, with the action centering on the focused characters (the couple). This sometimes has the effect of making the audience feel a bit quesy (this could be your aim, however). Kirt's idea of "just the forearms" is a good one, it'd feel a bit fresher than perhaps the shot-reverse shot combination. Personally, i'd go for something a little bit unexpected, but, you'd have to give some more context etc..

ps: this forum rocks :buttrock:

01 January 2005, 01:50 PM
Ok I have created some basic objects to simulates the takes you guys have mentioned.
As soon as I have some time Ill do complete Quicktime animatic of your ideas.


01 January 2005, 01:53 PM
here is a image of the setup and some more takes.

01 January 2005, 04:18 PM

Dont ask questions that you only can answer. Your only boundary is your own imagination. I didnt read the whole forum beacuse everyone got their own ideas on how to setup a scene. If you want some expert advice on how to direct and setup your shots i suggest you read David Mamet on Directing Film (its small and very good).

Iam telling you this beacuse the possible ways of creating camera angles in a scene are endless. You can shot this situation in a conventional way but that depends on how the speactators or you would think at that given moment. Try to justify your decisions. With whom do you want the spectators to identify? Why it has to be only OTS, CU etc.. How Would you feel, What would you be looking if something like that happens. Would you look her in the eyes? Would she? Are they gonna break up after this? Do you want the audience to feel the distance between the characters? I could go on for days. Just try to think deeper.

Hope this helps. :)

01 January 2005, 01:36 PM
Hi Nucleo,
I am posting this thread as a Discussion piece.
It is always interesting to see the approach diferent filmakers have
to the fundamentals of film.


01 January 2005, 05:32 AM
As some of the folks have been saying, the decisions about the staging/shooting depend on your own answers to some basic questions regarding the dramatic intentions of the scene: what do we want the audience to feel, who should they identify with etc etc & then you choose your own methods to accomplish those goals. Maybe first identify the key moment ("the red dot" as Robert Zemeckis calls it, "the hinge" as Gore Verbinski calls it). Then work out how to get into it, how to get out of it. Maybe here it's the delivery of the bombshell....or maybe that's what everyone thinks!

The "what" of each scene dictates the "why" of the film making decisions.

It's like a visual symphony or score. Instead of musical motifs there are visual motifs that are set up and maybe returned to with different variations, instead of strings, wind, percussion - you have camera angle, lens, movement, composition, space (in the previz stage) & later light, colour etc etc. Editing give you tempo etc.

Take for example the great breakdown Keith has done - even if we all had the same exact breakdown of what we wanted to achieve, we would shoot if differently.

I'm now going to pretend the scene is the first scene of my film & the sequence is long enough & we have enough dialogue to cover the following:

I might try starting in a very wide profile 2-shot (man on left, women on right, two columns in FG, tables with people in FG & BG, L & R) establishing the couple as part of the world, then have the camera very slowly dolly in to isolate them from the rest of the world. At this point with both chars in profile we don't identify with one more than the other, but I want us to identify with the man, so that we feel the pain of the revelation later - so the camera continues in but now slowly moving around the woman's side of the table, losing her face & opening up the man's face to camera...our identification with the man is growing (picture Woddy Allen starting to get the hope that the girl is going to confess her undying love) - the camera finishes in a wide over-the-shoulder OTS from the women, the man is almost directly looking into the camera, into our eyes (very strong sense of indentification & we're in his world, his feelings).

In the FG we may plant some seeds of what is to come, maybe we push in over her shoulder to a single of the guy and as we do she reaches for the wine glass with her left hand (naughty I know but works for the setup). Maybe we rack focus to the reflection of her beautiful face distorted into ugliness by the glass in the FG....? Maybe not?

Then I might cut to a profile single shot of the women for some more dialogue (again I've decided that we stay off axis of the women to minimise our identification with her).
I might cut back to a CU of the man, he looks pathetically earnest. I might try an insert of a long lens CU of his hand on the table inching in little towards hers in hope. If I want to foreshadow the coming blow, maybe rack focus to the FG - her left hand gripping the wine glass till the knuckles go white...?

Cut back to profile of women as she lifts her head & delivers the coup de grace. Cut back to our wide OTS again as she turns into camera, gets up, wipes frame right to leave us staring into his eyes as they follow her moving away behind us, he numbly mumbles the words he'd never been brave enough to tell her. As he continues to stare into infinity we become uncomfortable with the intimacy of the moment so we re-track our first camera move & withdraw from from his eyeline around the table, he moves into profile, isolated from us & the world, the space the women shared is now empty, the frame, like his world is now unbalanced, we continue to pull back and leave him with his pain.

Maybe we continue to pull back past the columns & the back of another man is revealed as he peeks round to observe the now single man at the table. The FG char turns to camera & we rack focus to him & reveal the guy who we will later discover is our man's "best buddy" grinning & jauntily popping a cigar in his mouth & with a laugh calling for the waiter to get him a double scotch. The camera finishes where it began, this scene is complete.

Cut to exterior wide shot, it's the woman fruitlessly trying to hail a taxi in the rain, she drops her head in failure.
Cut in to CU. She lifts her head. She's crying....


So there's one possible interpretation of the dramatic setup of the scene and some ideas to get the audience to feel what I want them to feel....
Without the dramatic intentions there's no motivation for a particular shooting approach and we end up with home video!

Your mileage may vary.....

BTW great forum - I think I might hang out here a bit!


01 January 2005, 01:56 AM
Maybe first identify the key moment ("the red dot" as Robert Zemeckis calls it, "the hinge" as Gore Verbinski calls it). Then work out how to get into it, how to get out of it. Maybe here it's the delivery of the bombshell....or maybe that's what everyone thinks!
Hi bblackbourn

What do You mean by these two terms. Are they some kind of technique? Do uknow where can i get more info on this?

Thanks :)

01 January 2005, 03:32 AM
Hey Nucleo,

no - those two phrases are just different directors' names for the absolute key moment of a given sequence.

If there was one single shot, one single moment, even a single frame that defines what the sequence is about - that's your red dot or hinge or whatever name your prefer. If there isn't one, question whether the sequence should be cut.

If you were putting together a storyboard with only one picture for each sequence of your film, this would probably be the drawing you'd choose...

Again this is an approach that applies more to mainstream, "hollywood", continiuity style film-making not so much to say traditional european or japanese filmaking.


01 January 2005, 08:06 AM
Instead of telling youwhat to do right off the bat, I'd first like to make a note of something that you should stay away from: the ping-pong effect. When shooting a two-person dialog, often times the final product ends up bouncing back and forth between ots shots, with the bounce happening immediately when the person talks. Instead, give your cuts time, don't bounce, ride out the shots a little. It lets the viewer absorb reactions from the listener, while still hearing what the speaker has to say. You get the convenience of conveying two characters' acting at once: the body motion of the listener and the vocal inflections of the speaker.

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