Using a frame within a frame is a great way to draw your audience’s attention to part of the frame. It’s also aesthetically pleasing, creating a sense of depth by distinguishing between the foreground and background.
When you’re blocking a scene, consider the way the location can be used to create a frame within a frame. Doorways, windows, furniture, props and actors are a great way to frame up a subject. A frame within a frame doesn’t necessarily have to be rectangular, any object that can isolate part of the shot can be used to achieve this effect.
In True Grit (2010), Joel and Ethan Coen use a frame within a frame when Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) fires off a shot into a mineshaft while searching for Ned “Lucky” Pepper. Standing in the entrance, Cogburn’s silhouette is framed by the opening of the mineshaft.
In Duel (1971), director Steven Spielberg uses the door of a coin laundry tumble dryer to frame up David Mann (Denis Weaver) as he has a telephone conversation with his wife. He uses this style of foreground framing much later in his career in Minority Report (2002), framing two characters using a headset held by one of the characters in the foreground.
Start thinking about how you can create a frame within a frame using what’s available on location!