Pull, push, and point across a cut

In document An attentional theory of continuity editing (Page 64-68)

Chapter 3: Hiding a Cut

3.2 Expecting a visual change

3.2.3 Pull, push, and point across a cut

Other events can be used as deictic cues but none have the ability to push attention in the same reflexive manner as gaze. Instead they either have to be located where attention is to be drawn to (i.e. pull attention) or indicate a direction in which the viewer could choose to distribute their attention (i.e. point attention). A visual example of a pull cue is the sudden head turn by a character not currently fixated (Block, 2001; Dmytryk, 1986; Pepperman, 2004; Reisz & Millar, 1953). This is often seen to attract attention in film (Faraday & Sutcliffe, 1997) and can be used to hide a cut to a closer shot of the character. However, it is limited to directing attention within the space of the scene already on screen. By comparison, the push of a glance breaks out of the frame by directing attention into a space not currently depicted. This creates the perceptual question: “What are they looking at?”. By comparison, a head turn poses no question as the target is already known (i.e. the character who attracted attention has already been seen)28.

The best example of a pull cue that poses a perceptual question is a spatialized sound. A sudden sound generated so that it sounds as if it is coming from a space beyond the screen edge (e.g. with a surround sound system or in a cinema) automatically attracts attention (Pashler, 1998). This can be a very useful technique for eliciting a perceptual question in the viewer (e.g. “What was that noise?”) but should be used sparingly as there is the chance that the sound’s attention capturing powers might be too effective and actually direct the viewer’s attention away from the screen. The best way to use spatialized sound is to direct viewer’s attention to a character just out of shot. If a character speaks just out of shot, a quick cut can be made that relocates them onto the screen before the viewer has had chance to saccade

28 The head turns referred to here are performed by characters that are not currently fixated. Therefore the head turn will capture attention, moving the viewer’s eyes to the turning head. If the character performing the head turn was being fixated at the time and the head turn was seen as indicating a change in gaze direction then the head turn might push attention in the direction of the character’s gaze.

64 off the screen. This technique of using sound to lead attention across a cut is a very powerful editing tool (Dmytryk, 1986)29.

The other types of deictic cues are point cues. The most obvious example of a point cue is an outstretched arm or finger pointing to something off-screen (Dmytryk, 1986). Experimental studies using arrow cues show that pointing cues viewed at fixation do not involuntarily direct attention in the way that gaze does (Jonides, 1981). However, there is evidence that pointing does influence where a viewer’s eyes will move to (Klin et al., 2002a) and where they believe the pointer’s attention to be focussed (Langton & Bruce, 2000; Langton, O'Malley, & Bruce, 1996). For the target of the pointing finger to be attributed the most chance of capturing a viewer’s attention it should also be the target of the pointer’s gaze, head and body orientation (Langton et al., 2000). Whilst the successful comprehension of a pointing gesture is of less significance than gaze, an inability to successful appreciate the intention of a pointing gesture can be seen as another indication of social incapacity. This is also clearly seen in autism (Klin et al., 2002a).

In film, pointing gestures whether made by a character, action (e.g. a punch), or an object (e.g. a gun) are used to attract attention, create a perceptual question (e.g. “What is he pointing at?”), and form a spatial and causal link across cuts. Their ability to attract attention is principally due to their accompanied motion (e.g. a finger is usually pointed, a punch thrown, and a gun drawn). Editors understand the

29 A quick survey of the editing literature will lead you to the conclusion that sound is a hugely important component of editing (Dmytryk, 1986; Murch, 2001; Pepperman, 2004; Reisz & Millar, 1953). In fact, some editors believe the key to good editing to lie in the harmonious (or disharmonious) marriage of sound and image (Murch, 2001). However, synchronised sound developed after the majority of the visual conventions of continuity editing had already entered mainstream use (Bordwell et al., 1985). As such, it is the belief of the author of this thesis that a survey of continuity editing is permitted to discuss only the visual components as these were the original foundations of the medium. Also, audio events effect factors such as attention and the perception of time and rhythm (which will become important later, see chapter 6) in different ways to visual events. As such a discussion of continuity editing must first consider the visual foundations of film before discussing their interaction with sound.

65 power of changes in motion to attract attention and, as indicated by Dmytryk’s quote (see 3.2.1) use it across all cuts where they want continuity except for those already using sound to lead attention (Block, 2001; Dmytryk, 1986; Pepperman, 2004; Reisz & Millar, 1953). Capturing attention by using motion is useful for hiding edits but it does not do so by creating a perceptual question answered by a cut. As such, further discussion of this will be left for a dedicated section (see 3.3.1). Also, the spatial and causal connectives created by the point cues (and pull cues such as spatialized sound) are of most importance to the successful creation of a cohesive causal and spatial perception of events. Discussion of this will also be saved for a later chapter (see chapter 5).

3.2.4 Summary

Expectation provides an attentional and conceptual bridge across changes in viewpoint. In reality, a viewer’s perceptual inquiry is answered by a reorienting of their senses. In film, the same change of viewpoint is accomplished by editing. The importance of associative, and specifically deictic cues in the continuity style indicates that film editors are aware of the need to answer a viewer’s perceptual inquiry. If a viewer expects a certain type of visual event they will adopt the appropriate attentional set for this event. When the visual scene then changes it will be this visual event that captures their attention. Unlike unexpected attentional capture, capture by an expected stimulus allows the viewer to form a conceptual bridge across the viewpoints e.g. a question and answer, cause and effect, or a simple spatiotemporal relationship. These expectations occur, not as artificial constructs of the ‘cinematic language’ but as natural by-products of social/cultural perception. Changes in gaze, head and body orientation as well as directional cues such as pointing, motion, or projected events (e.g. a gun shot), direct attention both across the screen and across the cut via the creation of perceptual questions. If this question is answered by the new shot in the expected fashion (e.g. the target object is in the expected location on the screen) attention will move seamlessly from the old focal object to the new. Evidence for this seamless transference of attention across a cut will be presented in section

66 What is currently not known about matching expectation across cuts is what kind of perceptual representation this results in. A viewer’s expectations may be validated by the content of the new shot but the way that it was presented does not match any ecologically valid way of acquiring the information. For example, in reality when following a character’s gaze to find its target a viewer would have to perform a saccadic eye movement and possibly even a head turn to locate the target. In film, the target would probably be collocated with the gaze across a cut requiring no saccade and no head turn. The film presentation roughly matches the information projected on to the viewer’s retina after the target located but their experience of how it was acquired is completely different. It is assumed that the use of deictic cues leads to the accurate perception of the spatial relationship between shots (Bordwell et al., 1985; Dmytryk, 1986) but this cannot be the case if information about how the viewpoints were acquired is incorporated in the representation. This issue will be discussed in more detail in chapters 5 and 6.


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