Features and Columns · Movies

The Terrifying, Humorous, and Thematic Potential of Off-Screen Space

“There is always an out-of-sight just as there is always an off-screen” – Victor Perkins
Shaun Of The Dead Off Screen Space
StudioCanal
By  · Published on July 30th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on how different directors make use of off-screen space.


One of the most interesting things about the movies is what we don’t see on-screen. And no, we’re not talking about the time-intensive labor that goes into costuming and makeup or careful, coordinated stuntwork. No, we literally mean what’s off-screen.

Unlike other forms of art (like, say, painting), viewers understand that a movie’s camera is pointed at something in the real world. Even if a movie is entirely shot on a green screen, that green screen exists and has limits of its own. In this way, off-screen space — what exists outside of what is visible in a given frame — is a medium-specific condition unique to movies. If cameras are an analogy between our eyes and the world, we understand instinctually that there’s always the existence of something more just out of view.

But, (and this is where things get spicy) off-screen space can also serve as an aesthetic technique. It can offer opportunities for rule-breaking comedy — jutting hands, emerging unexpectedly from just out of frame. It can suggest and emphasize shocking or violent action in horror films and thrillers. And it can violate our perceptual expectations in surprising and meaningful ways.

The video essay below touches on some of the ways in which filmmakers use off-screen space to create distinctly cinematic ways of communication. The essay focuses in particular on Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956), a historical prison escape film that uses off-screen space not just as a technique, but as a theme.

Watch “What is Off-Screen Space?”:

Who made this?

This video essay about off-screen space is by Jordan Schonig, who holds a Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago. They are a Film Studies lecturer and make video essays on, what else, film. You can subscribe to Schonig on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).