Positioning an actor with their back to the camera is one way to create a sense of mystery and drama. As filmmakers we often become fixated on the emotion expressed by an actor’s face. In some cases, it can be much more dramatic and evocative to film an actor with their back to the camera. Don’t believe me? Check out this mesmerising master cut of shots with actors who have their back to the camera.
This shot shows both the actor and what they are looking at. It can show characters entering a new or dangerous world. It can also imply that a character is overwhelmed, something as simple as an audience of people or something as intimidating as an approaching army.
Examples of back to the camera
In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, director Andrew Dominik created an iconic shot at the beginning of the film as Jesse James (Brad Pitt) stares down an approaching steam train.
In his commentary for Stir of Echoes, director David Koepp – talking about a scene in which Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) has an difficult conversation with his wife – suggests that filming an actor with their back to the camera can sometimes be more mysterious and evocative than cutting to a close up.
Is your character entering a new world or facing something overwhelming? Instead of going for that close up, consider filming your actor with their back to the camera instead!