Filmmaker Tricks: How Perspective Affects Our Mood
On a very broad scale, filmmakers use psychology to connect better with the viewer, to make them not only observers of the story, but make them really feel what is happening in the plot. The backbone of how this is achieved is a strong script, something that is not overly complex, not to simple, and relatable; without a good writer, a film will not connect with the viewer on a deeper level. Beyond the script there are countless more tricks and techniques that help the viewer become immersed in the plot.
Every film that you watch can typically be broken up into 3 acts, while each act can be broken into multiple scenes. Inside every scene, usually there are a variety of individual camera shots that act as the smallest building block of the visual aspect of a movie. Every single shot is meticulously planned out to add to the element the director wants to make you feel, be it surprise, excitement, or fear.
When You Feel Normal
To make us feel normal, or maybe it is better to say not feel anything specific at all, the camera will be placed at about eye level with the subject. The reason that this works out is because when we are in the real world, we are typically viewing people on a relatively equal plane, eye to eye. This is by far the most common position for a camera to be because most movies have a lot of "normal" scenes that they need to work in.
Here we have a shot of Jim Caviezel in the action/drama "Person of Interest." In this shot, he is just talking to some guy at a table, there is nothing that we need to over-exaggerate about his appearance so an eye-level camera angle is appropriate. If the camera was placed somewhere that was to low or to high it would probably cause more of a distraction to the plot than adding anything to the show. Most dialog and pretty much any other "normal" things will be shot using this technique. I would also like to tell you that the show "Person of Interest" is pretty awesome, you should totally give it a watch if you haven't yet.
When You Feel Big
When the camera is placed above the eye level of a subject it gives the illusion that they are smaller and less powerful. These shots are used sparingly because they typically lack a sense of depth because the ground is taking up the majority of the screen. It is very common to dolly out from one of these shots to have an epic conclusion to a movie. As per suggested by a friend of mine, this scene is taken from the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" where Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is finally getting freedom. The higher angle can make us feel like the just "barely made it" and will make the escape all the more thrilling. These shots are usually utilized when the subject is being portrayed as weaker than something/someone or running from danger.
There is is great example in the movie "The Fugitive" (that I can't find!) where Tommy Lee Jones is chasing Harrison Ford down the stairs of a hospital. Tommy Lee shouts Ford's character's name and Ford looks up at him from a few stories down with a "deer in the headlights" look. The high angle from Tommy Lee's perspective gives us a clear view of who is the more dominant player.
When You Feel Small
It would makes sense then that if the viewer feels big when the camera is high, he will feel teeny tiny when the camera is looking up at someone. This makes sense because the subject will naturally take up more of the frame in a shot like this, making them feel huge and intimidating. This example is taken from "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" starring Neil Patrick Harris. He looks extra menacing with his freeze ray from this angle than he would from a neutral shot or high angle.
A lot of times this shot is used to introduce the "bad guy" of a scene to make him look like a more formidable opponent to our hero or like a completely dominating opponent to anyone else.
Like this guy: