Using a wide angle lens when shooting dialogue allows you to position the camera between the actors. In his video essay Shot | Reverse Shot, Tony Zhou discusses why the Joel and Ethan Coen favour wide angle lenses when shooting dialogue scenes. Using a wide angle lens and positioning the camera between the actors creates a sense of presence, humour and makes the shot feel uncomfortable.
“One of the first things you notice about the Coens,” says Tony Zhou, “is that they like to film dialogue from inside the space of the conversation and that usually means that the camera is in-between the two characters so they each get separate shots.”
“It’s the same as your relationship in real life to somebody,” said cinematographer Roger Deakins in an interview for the film Cinematographer Style. “I’m sitting this close to you, I’m not seeing you from over there on a long lens.”
The wide angle lens not only puts the audience within the space of the conversation but it also exaggerates the gestures of actors. Dollying in to a wide angle close up will exaggerate and distort facial features.
Next time you’re shooting a conversation, think about how the position of the camera and lens choice will contribute to the tone of your scene. If you want to create an uncomfortable and humours scene, filming a wide angle medium shot might just work!