Some years ago, I directed a mostly-animated video about Adam Smith's concept he called "The Man of System". Outside of the animation, there was an interview that looked like this:
At the time, I was really stoked about it. The lighting is nice, the location was great, and our subject was right at home on camera. Even the flourescent lights in the auditorium, which I was concerned about being green in color against our daylight balanced lights, were a bonus. The green complimented his green tie beautifully!
So why am I no longer so stoked about it? Because he's looking off camera. Who's he looking at? Well, practically speaking, he's looking at our interviewer. But, in the grander sense the question has to be answered with another question. Who's he looking at? Exactly! Who IS he looking at?
Times have changed. Perhaps living in a technological era has driven us all to desire more immediate personal connection wherever we can get it. But regardless of the reasoning, more and more interviews now look like the one below from our documentary Of Dogs and Men.
It may seem like a subtle difference, but this subject is looking directly into the lens. As a viewer, he's looking at ME. This creates instant rapport, direct communication, and a better opportunity for the viewer to asses the subject. If the eyes are the window to the soul, we all want to see in that damn window!
Generally speaking, I'd love to see the former convention die off and leave us only with the latter. The exception would be in what I believe is the situation that started the whole trend in the first place: The face to face interview which traditionally includes a shot like this:
In this case, the subsequent single looks like this:
Again, he is looking off camera. But in this case it works. Why? Because we can ask the same question as before: Who is he looking at? Except this time we have an answer... the journalist! (I know, I know, he made up a bunch of stories. But at the time he was a journalist!)
So, because we have the two shot setting up the geography, the eyeline doesn't feel contrived like it does when looking at some disembodied form off camera.
So let's say you want to conduct an interview into camera. It can be intimidating for any subject to be interviewed on camera and asking them to recite their answers into a machine that feels like a sniper scope pointed at them is not going to cultivate on-camera comfort.
The solution? A teleprompter. Cheapies can be purchased these days and you just set a tablet on them to display the text. OR, what if you do a video call between your laptop and the tablet? The result is this:
You feel like you're looking at him, he feels like he's looking at you, and most importantly, your audience feels he is looking at them!
Let's end that tired off-camera eyeline so we can open more windows and see more souls!