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While watching Final Destination 3 I noticed a very characteristic camera shot. At a scene where the main character, Wendy, sits in her room at the computer (watching the supposedly foretelling fotos), her sister talks to her from the outside (asking if she can have the camera/fotos). There is a certain camera shot, where on the left side a frontal close-up of Wendy's face is shown, while on the right side you see her sister standing in full height inside the open door.

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This shot immediately struck me as being somehow characteristic and out of place and infused feelings to me of some kind of older Hitchcock or Brian De Palma thriller or something the like. I also think to remember of having seen this kind of shot or something similar used in Cape Fear (Scorsese's 1991 version), where Jessica Lange is shown in front of the dresser talking to Nick Nolte who stands in the door or father away.

I would like to know if this technique has a certain name or theory behind it and where its origins lie, or if there is any particular director or movie who made this famous. It may be even that Final Destination 3 uses this especially in reference to some director or movie.

  • I'm not totally sure about which tags are appropriate (since I'm usually not the one eager on technique-questions) and especially if this really deserves a final-destination-3 tag (since it isn't really about the movie). So feel free to adjust the tags if you see the need. – Napoleon Wilson Mar 1 '13 at 0:53
  • The question might not be about the plot of the movie, but because I think the fact that it is based on a scene from Final Destination 3 justifies the tag here. I took the liberty to add it. Interesting question btw, I hope someone comes up with some enlightening facts. – magnattic Mar 1 '13 at 1:22
  • @ChristianRau - With your comments and after reading your question again, I now realize that you are not asking for a term that describes the whole shebang of that scene, but only the very specific camera shot of "one person in the foreground, one in the background, standing in a backlit doorway". So I agree, since mise-en-scene is about the scene as a whole, it's not the right term for that particular camera shot. - I'll delete my current superfluous answer and see if I can dig up something else. – Oliver_C Mar 2 '13 at 13:32
  • @Oliver_C Well, you wouldn't have needed to delete that answer. It cotained some useful information. But I'm looking forward to your possible new one, anyway. – Napoleon Wilson Mar 2 '13 at 14:22
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This type of shot is most commonly known as a Deep Focus Shot.

From the wiki page:

Deep focus is a photographic and cinematographic technique using a large depth of field. Depth of field is the front-to-back range of focus in an image — that is, how much of it appears sharp and clear. Consequently, in deep focus the foreground, middle-ground and background are all in focus. This can be achieved through use of the hyperfocal distance of the camera lens.

When deep focus is used, filmmakers often combine it with deep space (also called deep staging). Deep space is a part of mise-en-scene, placing significant actors and props in different planes of the picture. Directors and cinematographers often use deep space without using deep focus, being either an artistic choice or because they don't have resources to create a deep focus look, or both

In the cinema Orson Welles and his cinematographer Gregg Toland were most responsible for popularizing deep focus. Their film Citizen Kane (1941) is a veritable textbook of possible uses of the technique.

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In the 70s, directors made frequent use of the split-focus diopter. With this invention it was possible to have one plane in focus in one part of the picture and a different plane in focus in the other half of the picture. This was and still is very useful for the anamorphic widescreen format, which has more depth of field.

A split diopter is half convex glass that attaches in front of the camera's main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. The lens can focus on a plane in the background and the diopter on a foreground. A split diopter does not create real deep focus, only the illusion of this. * (Nobby adds: this is why you sometimes see a thin, blurred line separating the foreground from the background)*

Nobby also adds: You rarely see deep focus shots being used in modern films as the advent of hand-held cinematography, along with the abandonment of established filming 'rules', has led to a desire for newer films to represent our way of seeing. We can't focus on two planes at once (unless from a great distance) and this is why 'shallow focus' (blurred backgrounds) are more prevalent. That said, the use of crash zooms has been creeping into shots lately, and this serves to draw the viewer out of the scene, as a zoom is the one thing the human eye cannot do.

  • In retrospect, the specific Brian DePalma feel I got from that scene might have been due to his penchant for split-screen compositions. – Napoleon Wilson Jan 15 '16 at 22:39
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First of all let me begin by saying that I am no expert in the field, just a film enthusiast, so I am not able to give more details or explain any better than has been made in the websites I've stumbled upon with a Google search.

The name of the cinematographic technique adopted should be Deep Focus (excerpt from Wikipedia):

"Deep focus is a photographic and cinematographic technique using a large depth of field. Depth of field is the front-to-back range of focus in an image — that is, how much of it appears sharp and clear. Consequently, in deep focus the foreground, middle-ground and background are all in focus. This can be achieved through use of the hyperfocal distance of the camera lens. Deep focus is achieved with large amounts of light and small aperture"

However ...

"It is also possible to achieve the illusion of deep focus with optical tricks (split focus diopter) or by compositing two pictures together"

Which seems to be case in the example you provided and (if I remember correctly, also in the one you quoted).

With specific regards to the "split focus diopter" technique, here's an interesting article specifically focused (pun intended) on (also) Brian De Palma's "Blow Out" with a few examples.

"A Split Focus Diopter is half convex glass that attaches in front of the camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. The lens can focus on a plane in the background and the diopter on a foreground element. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Brian De Palma championed the use of this tool to enhance the visual and emotional experience of his films"

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I believe this would simply be called a "two shot", since it is framed in order to show only two people.

Perhaps the real question you're asking is about the technique. It's done through the use of a device called a split field (or split focus) diopter. Brian De Palma also used them in Blow Out, Mission Impossible, and others.

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Essentially, it's an additional lens added on top of your primary lens, but it covers only half of it. By careful positioning of your subjects, you can achieve this unique look of having your foreground and background in focus without adjusting down your aperture to achieve true deep focus.

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