Play Ja Ja Ding Dong

By Oana-Maria Mazilu and Dr Ann-Marie Fleming

In the Eurovision episode, Maria and Ann-Marie discuss comedic elements and cinematography in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (David Dobkin, 2020). During this conversation, they stumbled on a pertinent question: are Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams shot differently?

Much like the repeated song, Ja Ja Ding Dong, the filmmakers have preferred shots, and the debaters assumed that this would be a mid-shot. However, during this same discussion, it was clear that both Ann-Marie and Maria felt more aligned and sympathetic to McAdam’s character. This raised more questions, such as: are there more close ups of McAdams and is this driving our alignment and understanding of her character’s perspective?

The contributors sat down to watch the film again, but this time counting the different shots. Parameters were set, for example, they would not count shots when the stars were on-screen together or count shot-reverse-shots. This was due to the stars sharing the screen, and thus our sole attention is not on the star and their performance. Instead, they looked at the moments where an audience’s attention would be on a singular star. Additionally, duration of shots were not counted. For example, if a McAdams shot was 30 seconds in length, but a Ferrell shot was 40 seconds in length. Overall, the contributors felt that McAdams and Ferrell’s screen time was of equal length, and thus the length of shots was not as pertinent as the type of shots. Lastly, as a disclaimer, although every effort has been made to be accurate, some scenes were edited at a quicker pace than others, so some allowance should be made for human error.

The findings were as follows:

Rachel McAdams

Close-up 141
Mid-shot 86
Wide-shot 30

Will Ferrell

Close-up 110
Mid-shot 122
Wide-shot 40

Overall, there was not a huge discrepancy between shot choices. However, the slight difference does suggest that the filming of Ferrell differs to that of McAdams.
In Writing the Comedy Movie (2015), Marc Blake asserts that the preferred shot in a comedy movie is the mid-shot, especially if the performance is a ‘comedian comedy’ (51-58). The mid-shot is chosen for comedians because comedy itself is an art form that relies on the physicality and skills of the performer. Therefore, the mid-shot acts as a way to showcase and enhance a comedic performance because it allows bodily movement, but is close enough to also highlight facial expressions. Our findings show that the mid-shot is the preferred method for the filmmakers of Fire Saga, at least when discussing Ferrell.

Whilst there are more mid-shots of Ferrell, there are more close-ups of McAdams. Close-ups are used in all films, most notably in dramas and melodramas during a highly emotive scene. This is because the shot allows for a detailed view of facial expressions to communicate a diverse array of feelings. Close-ups also allow you to feel near to a star, becoming physically closer than you would to most of your friends’ faces. Place that face on a large cinema screen so that it is larger than life or close to you in your front room, and it gives the audience a level of intimacy with the star. This intimacy, this feeling like you know or understand a star/the character, is superficially constructed, but it nevertheless helps an audience member sympathise/empathise with the character. Used often enough, an audience member may align with that character’s desires, in essence, root for them. After viewing the film, both contributors said they connected more to McAdam’s character. This may be in part that her character is far more relatable and three-dimensional, however, the cinematography would also suggest that we would feel more connected to her because of the presence of close-ups in comparison to both Ferrell and the rest of the shot choices for her character.

Another point of consideration is that McAdams is often reactionary to Ferrell. For example, he organises the set without her, she arrives and we see her reaction to it. In this way, she is passive as things are done/said to her and she reacts to them. This is historically common in comedy films, particularly with a male star (think of the films of Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell). The reactionary shot, therefore, may be better suited to a close up. Contrasting Ferrell’s outlandish behaviour with McAdam’s confusion. Indeed, Ferrell et al. would not be as funny without a reactionary shot to reflect the audience’s reaction. In this case, the close-up is functionary in that it supports the performance of Ferrell.

Overall, the analysis suggests the male and female star are filmed slightly differently. Whether this is to serve Ferrell’s performance, to connect to McAdam’s relatively sensible character, or both, is still up for debate.

Blake, Marc (2015). Writing the Comedy Movie. Bloomsbury: London.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: