On the Fringe
Complete Shot-List Observations
Published: November 13, 2010
by Laura Joy Perales
Overview: Fringe Season 3 Episode 6
I catalogued 28:02 minutes of one of my husband and my favorite shows, Fringe. This is a particularly interesting show with which to complete this assignment, as there is a lot to learn about pacing in a movie. In nearly thirty minutes, there were a total of 505 shots. Excluding the 19 fades in and out during the review of the previous episode, there were only two fade outs used during the actual episode. To emphasize this point, there were 477 cuts made during this portion of the show. In fact, I was surprised to see that there were so few fade transitions used; I had assumed that when moving to and from commercial breaks, fades would be natural, but I was incorrect. Most of our other favorite shows are J.J. Abrams productions as well, and I found the use of transitions, or lack thereof, to be a consistency between his shows.
While it may not be the most tantalizing information, I’ve included a scene by scene breakdown of shots and transitions below. This is anything but meaningless. You can look at the number of shots given in a specific time frame to determine the purpose or intensity of that scene. For example, in the review of the previous episode, there are 28 shots in 44 seconds, laced together with a series of fade outs and ins. There’s less than a 2 second average for each shot, indicating the purpose of the review scene is to condense all pertinent prior information and present it in the fastest way possible, building suspense by the black screen between sets of frames.
The first scene uses the lowest shot per second ratio. This is our establishing scene. It moves slowly by using longer shots for all three sequences. Consider the first sequence: only eight shots are made in a minute and a half. Does the lack of shots negatively affect the sequence? No, in fact, it is quite on the contrary. These shots are not simple point-and-film. The cameras are moving in and out, following the action, pulling back and revealing more of the surroundings. Something you can learn from this is that you can have a shot last ten seconds without it becoming monotonous – the key is in the shot composition and camera movement.
Scenes 3 and 4 have a much higher shot per second ratio, meaning at first glance there’s a shot about every three seconds. However, if you look at the sequences contained in these scenes, you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how many shots make up the whole scene, but rather how many shots make up a sequence. Sequence 1 of Scene 4 is comprised of 52 shots in just over a minute. This sequence features an unknown criminal constructing a device of some kind. The camera moves quickly through the scene, never lingering on anything for more than two seconds. It’s a fast paced scene, and it should be to build suspense. We don’t get a good look at anything more than just the criminal’s hands as he works.
In Sequence 2 of Scene 5, the filmmaker used more shots in the sequence to show the various people in the scene and what materials they were using in action. When a tool is requested, the camera moves to the location of the tool, then back to the speaker. In Sequence 3 of Scene 7, dialogue is the focus. Those 30 shots are almost entirely reverse shots of the previous frames. Abrams favors the Over the Shoulder Shot when using dialogue. As conversation progresses, each actor has more or less equal face (and shoulder) time. The cuts are not always made when an actor finishes saying his or her line – more often, we see a character say his line and witness him hearing the beginning of the other character’s line before switching back.
So how does the editing style enhance the story? The narrative is never interrupted with distracting transitions. What is filmed is there for a purpose. Every frame has significance. Each shot departing from the action has a reason for doing so. In this particular episode, a great way of explaining this would be that one of our main characters, Olivia, is actually a double from an alternate universe. There are four times in this episode where we “catch” her breaking cover, but we only do so because of the filmmaking. The real Olivia has a photographic memory, so quoting off a series of numbers she’s seen only once is automatic. When asked to recall a numerical sequence, this double Olivia hesitated. The camera takes three extra shots to show Olivia hesitating, Peter’s reaction to her hesitating, and her attempted recovery. Were it not for those extra shots, we would all miss out on the key detail indicating this Olivia is a fake… like Peter does.
In this episode, the double Olivia makes a mistake of memory or character with four actors, and each sequence plays out like the one aforementioned. In each, suspense and frustration build in accordance to dramatic irony. The audience knows she’s a fake, but each time she slips up, we’re looking to the other characters to catch her in her lies. Or rather, the editing forces the audience to see the whole picture as well as the tainted perspectives of the other characters. We see in full, but the actors see only in part. Were one actor privy to all four mistakes, Olivia would certainly be discovered as a double. The editing style makes Fringe intense, suspenseful, and engaging. I loved the show before, but now I can’t wait for next week’s episode! Creating this shot list has made me appreciate the techniques employed and how they relate to form and function in a dramatic show. Passively watching Fringe was a great pastime for me, but that’s changed. When you pay attention to the shots used to create a sequence or the sequences used to create a scene, you not only get a richer viewing experience, but you pick up on techniques to improve your own filmmaking!
Author: Laura Joy Perales
Published: November 13, 2010 in Perception
Volume 1: Issue 8