How Modern Baseball uses dolly-outs to create two senses of place

I’m deep, deep into the weeds of what each shot communicates. So deep, in fact, that I’m going to use the best video about being in a friend zone ever to demonstrate a concept.  That’s right, we’re going to use now-defunct Maryland pop punk band Modern Baseball’s “Your Graduation” video. It has it all: Shots with personality, a drummer screaming into a microphone while it precipitates around him, an opening shot of a pudgy guy laying in a bed.

Before we get into that — especially that last part — let’s talk about the role of a shot within a sequence. Or let’s start with the sequence. The sequence — a connection of linked shots, usually around an action — is a visual sentence.  In teaching video editing, we talk about five-shot sequences and we talk about three-shot sequences. I teach them as some combination of wides (which create context), tights (which drive the narrative and create character) and mediums (which combine context and character). But each shot serves its own purpose and I’ve been thinking more about that lately. For basic newscutting, we teach keeping motion in shots to a minimum: Only move when the shot needs to move. But as we get more advanced, it’s possible to use those shots to show character and setting — and to change both — with a little bit of movement.

Every time director Kyle Thrash introduces a new scene, it starts with a tight on our friend-zoned protagonist. He uses a simple enough shot, the dolly-out (a shot where the camera smoothly backs away), to create a sense of scene and character. It’s a combo shot. The tight at the beginning gives us character and the widening perspective of the dolly-out to a medium provides context.

If we divide the video into two stylistic choices — narrative and band shots — the narrative sections look like this:

  1. Tight on guy in bed. Camera dolly-out to show girl talking to him, though not sitting there.
  2. Tight on guy in car. Dolly-out to show girl talking to him in a car.
  3. Tight on guy at party on couch. Dolly-out to show girl talking to him on couch as couple makes out next to him.
  4. Tight on guy sitting on a swing. Dolly-out to show girl talking to him on adjoining swing.
  5. Tight on guy sitting on stairs at a Halloween party, dolly-out to girl talking to him.
  6. Tight on guy laying on snow. Dolly-out to girl laying next to him, then getting up.
  7. Tight on girl sitting on bench in graduation gown. Dolly-out to guy getting up and leaving.

The visual sentencing is so distinct and so structured in the video that you can’t avoid the symbolism of the switch at the end. But from a storytelling perspective, that dolly-out gives us the clues in every scene to understand the narrative.