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What is the Offscreen Space in Film?

In a film, there is an entire narrative world which represents all that is taking place or which has taken place within the story that is created by the filmmaker. The idea of offscreen space in film represents that which is not physically present within the frame, but which is part of the scene in some other way. A filmmaker must understand the importance of offscreen space in film as it applies to creating a stronger sense of awareness of something outside the visual realm of the scene as this adds depth and value to the story.

Videographer Prepping Camera Gear 192

What is Offscreen Space in Film?

When filming a scene it’s important to think about what the audience will see but also what they cannot see.

The elements of a story that are understood to be present. But which cannot be see are considered to be part of the offscreen space in film.

The offscreen space represents the area of the scene which is present and part of the scene. But which cannot be seen on the screen.

For Example

There are multiple areas of offscreen space in film in which it is understood that elements of the scene may be employed without the audience actually seeing them there.

For instance, there could be sounds or offscreen elements of the visual world taking place just off the screen.

On-screen, characters and other elements of the story can be seen. But what about the characters you hear speaking from another room, behind a closed door, or from behind the camera?

These are offscreen elements. They are generally a part of the diegesis, and therefore are part of the fictional world created by the filmmaker.

6 Areas of Offscreen Space

When it comes to defining the areas of offscreen space there are 6 distinct areas offscreen.

These offscreen space locations are important to identify as they represent where an element “is” and what it is doing within the story.

The following 6 offscreen areas exist:

  • Area to the left of the frame.
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  • The area to the right of the frame.
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  • Area above the frame.
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  • The area below the frame.
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  • Area behind the film set.
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  • The area behind the camera
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  • Mise-en-Scene and Offscreen Space in Film

Offscreen Diegesis

Within the mise-en-scene there is frequently offscreen space that is part of the diegesis. But which is not physically present within the frame and is therefore not visible on the screen.

This doesn’t mean that these elements do not exist or that they are not part of the fictional world created by the filmmaker.

But that they are simply in an area offscreen in which they cannot immediately be seen by the audience.

Active Engagement

Elements of offscreen space in film and mise-en-scene are important for the filmmaker to consider. Because they can build up audience awareness and boost character arcs.

While building depth to the story. As the viewer becomes more aware of what is taking place offscreen, they stay actively engaged in the film and are more aware.

Just as there is diegetic sound, and non-diegetic sound in film there is equally events, characters, and other elements which can be on-screen or offscreen.

Which apply to the mise-en-scene of the film and which inform the viewer of what’s happening or about to happen within the story.

Why is Offscreen Space Important in Film?

Offscreen space is important in filmmaking for a variety of reasons.

Mostly, by employing the use of offscreen space the filmmaker is able to create a stronger connection among the audience with which the world they’re watching is unfolding.

This helps to create boundaries, as well as to break the typical boundaries, between the audience and the characters.

In Essence

Directors that employ the use of onscreen and offscreen space in film convey more information to the viewer and are able to create stronger, more engaging stories.

By employing onscreen and offscreen space in film the filmmaker sheds light onto the reality that exists outside the world of the camera.

And beyond the scene to draw the audience in, create elements of surprise or to reveal hidden details that make the story more realistic and engaging.