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I am watching Mr. Robot on Amazon Video and I have observed that the actors are often placed close to the border. This placement does not follow the rule of thirds, golden cut or anything else I know and seems to be rather the opposite of that. It happens so often during the film, that this cannot be an accident.

As an example, I have posted an image where the main actor is sitting on the sofa, almost getting cropped by the edge of the screen.

Image from series 1, part 7, 07:11

Mr Robot 1-7, 07:11 Rule of thirds

In other scenes, actors are placed at the top, almost cropping the heads of the people sitting around the table (series 1, part 7, 08:39).

Mr Robot 1-7, 08:39 Rule of thirds

What effect/impression does this cause and does it have a name? A reference to a short description would be nice.

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    Not specifically a graphic design question. Without knowing what the director was specifically aiming for, all I can suggest is that they were aiming to create "distance" between characters as well as creating the feeling of emptiness inside of the spaces. – bemdesign Dec 6 '15 at 14:00
  • Maybe you should ask this one in movies.stackexchange.com - although I disagree about the rule of thirds; in the top scene you can divide the screen in 3 columns, and in the bottom scene the characters occupy the top third of the screen. – Luciano Feb 15 '16 at 13:44
  • @Luciano: thanks, I think I'll try there. IMHO the rule of thirds does not apply. I have changed the question to include the visual indication of the rule of thirds. There is nothing interesting at the red crossing points. – Thomas Weller Feb 15 '16 at 16:46
  • @Luciano: compare to a "good" rule of thirds image like i.stack.imgur.com/BoFin.png – Thomas Weller Feb 15 '16 at 16:56
  • .. to subtly convey to the viewer that something may be happening in the periphery -- giving them a sense that there are "hidden" aspects they may not be seeing. – Scott Feb 15 '16 at 20:50
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Mr. Robot makes very purposeful (and relatively unconventional) use of headroom. The first frame you show gives substantial headroom for the characters which conveys a thoughtfulness, a sense of isolation, and a weight of their situations. There are lots of examples of its use in Mr. Robot.

This large amount of headroom is primarily used in moments of "epiphany, contemplation, or decision" as this Reddit post comments. For example, in the frame below, Tyrell is mentally preparing himself for his meeting to propose the idea of him being CTO.

enter image description here

The second shot you give has almost no headroom, conveying a sense of fear, being trapped, and angst caused by Angela's situation and attempted negotiation.


Combined with heavy use of the quadrant system and "shortsighting" (all irregular ways of framing), Mr. Robot forces the viewer to be unnerved, alienated, and contemplate the huge decisions that the characters (primarily Elliot) face, which helps place the viewer in the same situation. Shortsighting also makes most of the rest of the frame out of focus which leaves only the subject, conveying a sense of floating and disconnection with all the world around. This article talks about the use of shortsighting in Mr. Robot in more detail.

Altogether, the framing really helps show the internal dialogue that Elliot continually has.

enter image description here

An example of shortsighting the subjects.

This makes it so that shots which use more conventional framing rules (like characters being in the middle of the frame or following the rule of thirds) to really stand out from the rest. They are only used in the most impactful moments.

  • While I was watching the series, I kept being struck at how Kubrickian all the photography and acting were. – Voxwoman Feb 15 '16 at 20:00
  • I'd love to hear the reasoning behind the downvote! :) – Zach Saucier Feb 15 '16 at 20:15
  • @ZachSaucier: me too. While the question can be answered opinion based (which was a reason for the close vote), your answer does not randomly describe anything. The quadrant and shortsighting makes perfect sense to me and don't seems to be far-fetched. – Thomas Weller Feb 15 '16 at 21:25

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