EyeDirect - It’s Personal

September 27, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Why are visual media content creators and, especially, documentarians still conducting off-camera interviews with invisible hosts? I ask this rhetorical question out of annoyance with the often unchallenged conventions and ‘standard practices’ used that are neither motivated by common sense nor objectivity.

The off-camera news-style interview so commonly used accomplishes two basic things; it provides an opportunity to include a host, reporter or interviewer into the visual story conversation; and it supports the illusion of an invisible imaginary wall separating actors from the audience —a performance convention known as the ‘Fourth Wall.’ Conventionally, it is deemed unacceptable for an actor or most subjects appearing on-camera to look directly at the camera lens (thus breaking the Fourth Wall), for fear of this illusion being destroyed.

However, in non-scripted drama, or especially when this technique is used in interview situations that are of a deeply personal, revealing nature —or when there is no chance of the audience ever seeing who is actually conducting the interviews, I find it to be extremely ineffective and annoying.

Haven’t you ever wondered why someone you were watching onscreen was speaking to a person offscreen who was never mentioned or seen, and not directly to you? It feels unnatural and impersonal, right? The logical alternative to this would be to get the subjects to look and speak directly to the camera lens. However, this is much easier said than done, as inexperienced non-actor/subjects get noticeably uncomfortable revealing their most personal, intimate thoughts to you while looking into the psychological abyss of a glass lens.

Enter the “Interrotron” —a two-way teleprompter-based interviewing device that transplants an interviewer’s face directly in front of the camera lens, first employed effectively by filmmaker Errol Morris’ in 1997 on his Oscar-Winning documentary THE FOG OF WAR. This new technique was innovative and, in a sense, revolutionary. However, the physical set-up added a new layer of complexity and was cumbersome, as it required the use of an additional camera, two teleprompters, cabling and power.

Fast forward several years to another filmmaker-inspired incarnation of the Interrotron —the EyeDirect. This simple and uncomplicated device does just what the Interrotron does, but in a smaller, more portable package. Utilizing a mirror box and prism instead of an additional camera, teleprompters et al, setup time is reduced considerably and ease of use enhanced.

The effective use of this technique is extremely powerful —one that I personally feel should be used far more frequently than it is. Finally, there can be a direct and personal connection between the subject and audience, as this example demonstrates.

Full disclosure: I am an owner-operator of the EyeDirect system.

~ Brent


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