In 2000, Big Brother’s diary room (using a one way mirror) allowed contestants to speak directly to the audience. The growth of Reality TV and Vlogging has led to more confessional, eye contact footage.
Today, there’s a range of devices that make eye contact filming possible. Errol Morris’s second camera is no longer needed as most devices use a simpler method to capture the down the lens look.
There have been many documentaries with eye contact filming including The Imposter and The Zoo.
Gary Clarke, a cinematographer who worked on the 7/7 Survivor Stories says that ‘eye contact filming is used on documentaries where a more intimate relationship with the viewer is required’. Richard Farish, Director of Photography agrees that, ‘looking straight at the viewer really adds to the impact of what is being said’.
More and more directors are choosing this method of filming. Rob Lambie of Reef TV and director of Police Code Zero: Officers Under Attack says, ‘I wanted to create more of a connection with the audience, as if they were sat with the contributor in their front room talking through the incident’.
Lambie also recognises that the process can be enhanced so conversations captured are more open and intimate, ‘The interviewee can't see the lens, so any nervousness from being filmed disappears. The device also helps to create a space for the interviewee where they are 'cut off' from the crew, which reduces any embarrassment they might feel from recounting their story/experience. Having a full face to look at in the glass gives them a connection with the interviewer. The process is quick, simple and comfortable for the interviewee, which has meant the interviews being emotional and authentic.’
As a filmmaker I have become addicted to this style of filming, particularly because I enjoy the process. We make films on health and social care issues so our interviewees can be very nervous. Because our device hides the camera, they quickly relax and forget they are being filmed. This means that heartfelt, passionate and open interviews are a lot easier to achieve. Interviews end up feeling like natural conversations and the result is engaging and meaningful content.
Filming is relatively straightforward but before recording, it’s important to make sure the eye line is positioned so that the subject is looking directly into the lens. On our device, a simple way of doing this is for the interviewer to position their eye at the same level as the lens.
There are different devices on the market; ours (pictured) enables both interviewer and interviewee to see each other’s full face meaning the conversation is natural and fluid. The subject and interviewer sit at a 90-degree angle and a flag or light/reflector is used as a divider. Although at first this seems unusual, it quickly becomes an advantage, as the interviewee feels less exposed. The box itself frames both faces adding a captivating and almost confessional element.
Eye contact filming is being used more because the viewer wants to understand the subject in a way that makes them feel connected and empathetic. Increasingly, the interviewer is becoming less of a focus and more a vessel for the audience’s needs. Now that eye contact filming is easy to achieve, it will be interesting to see if it becomes more of the norm.