On Camera Angles and Debates

Posted on October 16, 2012

The MOU between the two campaigns was released last night with regard to the rules of the debate. It’s an attempt to script the unknown and leave nothing to chance. There’s been a lot of hoopla about tonight with regards to the role of the moderator, or ‘moderator,’ Candy Crowley. They just want someone to play referee and not ask followup questions to the question posed by an audience member (in fact the rules go all O’Reilly with instructions to cut the microphone as soon as the question is asked, or if the audience member goes off script).

Thankfully Crowley has said she will ask follow up questions – you know, stuff a debate moderator should be doing. Seems like they got scared from the kick-ass job Raddatz did.

From a camera coverage point of view, here’s the most interesting stipulation:

“There will be no TV cut-aways to any candidate who is not responding to a question while another candidate is answering a question…”

Pretty much every broadcast has not followed this rule as the debates have been broadcasted split screen. But not all. For the first debate I watched it over Xbox (kudos to Xbox btw for streaming the debate live) and they did not do a split screen broadcast. I still got the impression that Romney did better, but Obama looking down and taking notes did not seem as big a deal to me because I hardly saw it. But that became one of the main talking points about that debate. Same can be said for Biden’s laughs and reactions to Ryan when answering questions.

Split screen has really shaped the perception of the debate. You’re not just on while answering the question. You’re always on.

Another interesting thing about tonight is the candidates have a designated area they’re not supposed to leave, and they don’t overlap. I suppose this is to prevent another wandering McCain (though maybe they also had their own zones and McCain just forgot).

 Tonight I’ll probably watch the debate on CNN.com, but have the Xbox on in the background, to compare the coverage. 

The 2012 Debates – Memorandum of Understanding Between the Obama and Romney Campaigns

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  1. In the film world, the left side is the known powerful, demanding, or dominant spot when shooting at eye-level. The right is vulnerable. This has been the standard since DW Griffith.

    I’m not political or follow the debates. But I suggest you keep that in mind while watching to see if you can see how the shooting and editing is structured.

    Are the shots full frontal, or are they profile shots? Full frontal is personal and relatable, profile and shots from behind are considered uninvolved/detached or impersonal.

    To put it into perspective, imagine a colorful smile from the front of either candidate. Now immediately picture the opposite candidate from the side doing nothing at all. Which Which has the upper hand?

  2. I agree that screen side plays a role, but I think you’re backwards there. Right side more dominant than left (for Western cultures).


    But it’s definitely a factor that both parties are aware of. Another point in that MOU was a coin toss to determine who gets what side.

  3. Yes. The power of photography is unbelievable, and it is no doubt used in politics.

    (We read Left to Right. The first thing you see is on the left (that is why it is a power position). Read up on Griffith, John Ford, Welles and Hitchcock, that will help you if you want to know more.)

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