Medium – Edward Norton is sitting at his desk while his boss enters his office by wiping across the camera.
Low Medium – Norton’s boss starts reading to him what a strange document Norton left in the copier about the rules of fight club. While most of this scene is shot reverse-shot, the framing fluctuates to signal their power dynamic or the intensity of the conversation. By placing a camera at a low angle looking up, we establish that Norton’s boss has the power in this scene as he reads down to Norton.
Medium – Norton shifts in his seat, embarrassed that he left such a damning document for his boss to find.
Low Medium – Norton’s boss stops reading and starts interrogating about whether Norton wrote the document (rhetorically, conveying his annoyance with Norton’s behavior),
Medium – Norton plays dumb, trying to see if he can play it off.
Low Medium – Norton’s boss turns up the intensity, saying “Pretend you’re me. Make a managerial decision” referring to Norton’s erratic behavior in the office the last several months. With an implication that Norton has nearly reached the end of the line in regards to his boss’s patience for Norton’s behavior.
Medium – Suddenly, the tempo of the cuts shifts. This shot instead last several seconds instead of the few previous shot reverse-shot takes. Norton sits back in his seat, giving off less submissive body language as he starts to threaten that someone who would write a document about fight club is likely to be dangerous and shouldn’t be threatened.
Medium – This is still a medium shot, but slightly closer. We no longer need to know Norton is on the other side of the frame. Instead we see Norton’s boss change his expression as he realizes he’s being threatened.
Medium – Here the camera pans still at a medium shot from Norton’s boss’s position as Norton gets up from his desk to close the space between him and his boss. He ramps up the intensity of his threat and doesn’t break eye contact as he moves in.
Medium Close-Up – The dialog shot reverse-shot sequence now shifts to operate in medium close-up, strengthening the increased intensity of the conversation as we continue to hear Norton describe how a “potential dangerous coworker” might come into the office one day with an assault riffle “pumping round after round into coworkers.” And unlike the beginning of the scene, the boss is no longer towering over Norton. Norton is now towering over his boss as the power dynamic has flipped.
Medium Close-Up – Norton continues his threat and this shot reinforces the severity of his threat by showcasing his steely glare and unshifting face.
Medium Close-Up – We hold on his face for a moment to allow the threat to hang in the air for a moment and give Norton a chance to deliver a line of internal dialog.
Medium – An abrupt cut that is strengthened by a loud snatch as Norton rips the paper out of his boss’s hand. Like a thug making his victim flinch. The cut to medium after operating in medium close up reinforces the jarring nature of the cut.
Medium Close-Up – The abrupt jump then drops some of the tension from the scene, as Norton slowly begins to dismiss his boss and imply that the conversation is over. At the very end, Norton’s phone begins to ring.
Medium Close-Up – As Norton turns to pick up the phone, we cut to his bosses face. His stunned silence implies his compliance in Norton’s threat. The power dynamic has now completely inverted since the beginning of the scene.
Medium Close-Up – Norton answers the phone call, looking his boss in the eye, continuing the power play as he returns to a normal work function.
Long – With this shot we establish a scene change, specifically who’s on the other side of the phone: Marla Singer. The shot change from medium close-up to long strengthens this scene change.
Medium Close-Up – Norton dismisses his boss from his office by saying “Will you excuse me, I need to take this.” The casualness of his remarks following such an intense scene is jarring, It also strengths the now flipped power dynamic as it is Norton allowing his boss to exit the scene, not his boss dismissing Norton.
Medium Close-Up – Normally shot reverse-shot dialog sequences are used to show each characters response in dialog. In this shot, Norton’s boss doesn’t say a word. A response of compliance in itself.
Medium Long – We watch as Norton’s boss leaves the scene and enters back into the office. The shot change re-establishes the larger setting of the office and visually shows Norton’s boss leaving the scene.
This scene is a great way to showcase how you can use framing to help strengthen aspects of character relationships even in a very standard convention like shot reverse-shot. If you want to watch the scene for yourself, you can do so on