What Are You Looking At???
Okay, so there's no way I'm going to be able to do this the justice it deserves. David Bordwell recently posted a blog entry written by researcher Tim Smith, about some experiments he's done with There Will Be Blood. Tim hooked up some special head gear to his test subjects, and was able to track their eye movements as they watched a scene from the film. He then superimposed his data over the original video clip, so we can see where everyone was looking at any given moment.
There are two video clips that he posted- the first shows the center of a viewers attention as a green circle on the screen. The second replaces the circles with a "peekthrough heatmap," and the rest of the image is black. You'll only see what the guinea pigs saw.
What's striking is how all of the viewers tend to look at the same things within the scene. We're very interested in people's faces and hands, as well as sudden movements and bright spots of light.
Tim compared his findings with what DB wrote here, and what do you know, they match pretty well. Bordwell argues that the staging of actors within a shot will help direct our attention to what's most important: When Daniel Plainview turns his back to us, it cues us to look somewhere else.
I particularly enjoyed the extended conversation at the beginning of the clip, when the audience bounced from Daniel to Paul and back, as if they were looking at a sequence of shot-reverse-shots. Cutting from close-up to close-up would have added nothing.
Not only that, but I find shooting nothing but a string of faces really boring and tedious. Plus, a few carefully planned longer takes are faster to shoot and cheaper than hours and hours of coverage.
If you're really interested in this, I highly recommend reading what Tim says over on the blog. He can explain all of this more clearly and in more detail than I ever could.
I think the next step for research like this is clear: More movies. Lots of them. Fast movies, slow movies. The Bourne Ultimatum. Lemon. Anything. Yes- even pornography. On second thought, maybe that would be too much information... for all parties involved.