Let’s talk about space. The current trend in Eurovision stages is to be big. Almost impossibly big. And then add a catwalk and a satellite stage on top of that. Standing in the middle of that space makes an artist objectively small. Yet we ask them to fill our screens and our hearts when the time comes to vote.
Dealing with that empty space is one of the key artistic decisions in any performance at the Eurovision Song Contest. How can the smart use of space create a better emotional connection to viewers?
Why Can Space Make A Difference?
Empty space has a physicality when used correctly. Think of the number of Eurovision ballads where you have a singer looking into an empty space beside them in longing, facing away from the space in anger, and moving into or out of that space to show an emotional jury.
Duets can have the same effect, with the individual singers able to convey their feelings through position, there facing, and their relation to the other. Watching a duet with only one of the singers on screen can amplify the emotion.
And of course all of this work happens primarily in the camera.
Create Your Own Space
As with any tool, it’s easy to make a space in a camera shot. How you use that space is where the magic lies.
To take one example familiar to many, your Eurovision ballad. Everyone knows the standard staging of starting on opposite sides of the stage, and moving towards the centre to nee reunited. Watch out for the singer on the left side of the stage being framed with an empty space on her right. Left of the stage, left of the screen. And as the song progresses that frame brings the singer closer to the centre. And vice versa.
Movement can be much faster, especially when you look at the bops and bangers that we have this year. Songs typified as having energy typically have more sweeping shots, pushing in from the back of the theatre, bringing the performers into the framing space, but also creating movement through that space which is far faster than any performer could get by moving themselves. Eden Alene’s strut out on the catwalk is magnified not just by the dancer’s movements around her, but by the camera tracking in the opposite direction as it zooms in.
The space you have on screen can also be altered. A number of acts are using split-screen technology to not only find empty space, but to create new spaces for performs with more restriction and boundaries.
There’s also some subtle space changes going on with a handful of acts. Both Estonia and Austria have moved away from the 16:9 ratio that is the common broadcast standard to a more cinematic look of 2.35:1 – the classic bars at the top and bottom are there. Not only does that create more relative space when working close in with the performers, but it also allows for grander sweeps from side to side that offer more movement to the eye, increasing the ‘epic-ness’ of the performance.
Vincent does little more than walk forward on a raised walkway in ‘Amen’, but it’s one of the most kinetic camera performances of the year.
Portugal are taking it the other way. the Black Mamba’s nostalgia tined ‘Love Is On My Side’ starts out with two features suggesting we are looking back at a bygone era – we’re treated to a black and white view of the song opening in a 4:3 ratio window beloved of early cinema and television, before pushing in to create more space on the screen as well as creating a visual moment of time travel.
Build Your Own Space
Another way to creating interesting spaces is in the use of props. Some years at the Contest you have legendary props; think of the light boxes used by Ani Lorak to create a crowd of space to move through as well as negative spaces through silhouetting; Do Re Dos’ stage wall that literally created performance spaces through the opening and closing of the various doors; and how can you not include Kate Miller-Heidke using as much space (and movement) as possible during ‘Gravity’.
Rotterdam 2021 looks to be a prop-light year so far, and I do wonder if there has been a quiet agreement between the delegations to keep things small this year to help with social distancing and reducing the number of awkward and delicate surfaces that would need to be sanitised. Nevertheless the props are there, and I want to pick out two.
The first is Ukraine. Go_A have managed to replicate the look and feel of their video with a stylised petrified forest for the band to perform in. What’s worth watching is how the vision mixes the close in views of the band that keeps the space feeling open albeit restricted, while the longer shots are able to enhance the isolation. Two visual elements of contrast that also match the mix of traditional and modern you can here in the music.
When it all comes together in the audio, the visuals release Go_A into the future.
It’s also worth noting the entire prop is mounted on a single stage block which can quickly be wheeled on and off the stage. I suspect the stage hands appreciate this quick-to-rig approach.
Going one step beyond props is to ignore all of the staging elements and fancy lighting rigs that have been provided by the host broadcaster to create your own space this year. Hooverphonic’s approach this year is one of the smartest, with the band creating their own rehearsal space around lead singer Geike Armaert. Outside of our hipster-improvised rehearsal space you have upward throws of lights keeping the grandeur of the Ahoy Theatre as far away as possible.
Yes the back wall is used for some video, video that is noticeably restricted and fighting to break out in the full size of the screen, but in essence Hooverphonic have turned their back on the norms of the Song Contest to go with something that suits their style and visual language.
Miniatures and Models
Ireland is doing something pretty ambitious around not just space, but also scale. Shooting through miniatures with physically moving scenic elements, Lesley Roy is bringing an utterly unique look to the screen and how the camera and the environment interacts with the singer.
I’m looking forward to really analysing the final look of ‘Maps’ when we get to the live shows.
What To Watch For
Camerawork at the Eurovision Song Contest is just as varied and diverse as the musical genres that take to the stage. No matter the genre, it’s easy to pick out musical motifs and moments that connect with the audience and help tell the story (and thanks to Fire Saga we all know the speorg note). It’s harder to pick out camera styles and visual language being used, but they are there.
As the rehearsals continue, with more footage published soon the official Youtube channel, and into the live shows next week, by all means pay attention to the artists, but pay attention to the spaces around them as well.