Camera Techniques and Visual Effects: Grey’s Anatomy S07 E16

Christina and Meredith have a serious conversation about shared bathrooms

Meredith: I leave toothpaste in the sink. Are you supposed to rinse it every time you brush?

Christina: Nobody parented you. It’s just to be expected.

To be honest, I really wasn’t paying attention to the plot of this episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It was a little tedious, although I did enjoy the brief interactions between Meredith and Christina. What I was watching, however, was the way the show is staged and shot.

Look at the still above. Meredith is in focus and Christina is blurry. Shots like this occur all the time on Grey’s, and when they’re wider, there’s often a moment of racked focus in which the camera’s lens is adjusted so that the focus shifts from a character in the background to a character in the foreground (or vice-versa) all in one shot. I rarely see this visual device outside of the melodrama genre. The technique tends to visually emphasize the presence of the character speaking or reacting, while maintaining a sense of  conversation between the two characters. It’s a fairly dramatic maneuver that also heightens our understanding of the conversation.

In reality, if we stood in the position of the camera, we’d be able to see both characters at once. Grey’s could shoot conversation scenes so that both characters are visible at the same time–they’d just have to be positioned at comparable distances from the camera–but instead this deliberate and noticeable choice is made. For me, this camera technique increases my feeling of being an outsider. There’s Meredith, in her own private world, and then there’s Christina, in a similarly solitary space, and finally there’s the camera–a stand-in for the viewer–whose attention must shift between these two separate realities.

Sorry if this post has been a little too Cinema Studies 101, but this was a really fucking boring episode of Grey’s. Stay tuned!

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