the Meaning of playback in the cinema


The sens reading corresponds to the path followed by the gaze in order to read an image.


What you need to know

In the west, we read texts from left to right. It is logical that we do the same for the reading of a picture or a plan. For the eastern countries, the reading direction of an image will be from right to left. The western spectator will read so naturally a movie clip according to the scheme below :


This sense of play is rich in information for filmmakers. Thus, for a very short period of a few seconds, the filmmaker will have any interest in placing its main subject on the left side, so that the audience understands immediately the significance of the image. If the plan lasts longer, the director will have more freedom because the spectator will have the time to browse through the rest of the image.

Whatever it is, except in very special cases, it is strongly recommended not to place the main subject in the centre of the plan. This will have the effect of inhibiting the playback of the other areas of the image.




The image above is taken from the movie Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino. The characters are placed ideally for a reading in Z. You can also see the scene in its entirety below :

Dance excerpt from ” Pulp Fiction

The vision of this sequence confirms that the main element of this image is the character of Mia : She is more mobile, more “visible” (Thanks to his white shirt) and more plans are consecrated to her.


To go further

The reading in Z is a direction of reading natural but nothing an obligation. This is mainly through reading. The respect is easier but you can innovate. It is just necessary to know how to overcome, entice the viewer to look differently.

Thus, the developer will be able to use many elements to guide the viewer’s gaze :

– Use the golden rule and the strong points of the image

– play with the light or colours to draw the eye to a specific point of the image

– Use the movements of the characters that will guide the viewer to what it should look

In addition, the director will be based on the prioritization of the elements constituting the plan or the sequence. Some components are perceived before others (and our gaze rest longer on these than on the others). We can prioritize according to the following classification :

1 – living beings : Humans, animals, aliens, monsters…

2 – The moving parts : Motor, water, smoke…

3 – The static components : Cabinet, tree, panels…


In the image above, extracted from the film Tetro by Francis Ford Coppola, the director used many of these technique to guide our reading. Thus, the construction of this plan encourages us to look at first the character located on the line of vertical force right. The white shirt and ram the latter also has the effect of drawing us towards him. Finally, we follow his gaze and find the second character in the background, getting closer. This one being in motion in this sequence, our eyes and our interest focused on him.

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