Split screen (video production)

In film and video production, split screen is the visible division of the screen, traditionally in half, but also in several simultaneous images, rupturing the illusion that the screen's frame is a seamless view of reality, similar to that of the human eye. There may or may not be an explicit borderline. Until the arrival of digital technology in the early 1990s, a split screen was accomplished by using an optical printer to combine two or more actions filmed separately by copying them onto the same negative, called the composite.

In filmmaking split screen is also a technique that allows one actor to appear twice in a scene. The simplest technique is to lock down the camera and shoot the scene twice, with one "version" of the actor appearing on the left side, and the other on the right side. The seam between the two splits is intended to be invisible, making the duplication seem realistic.[1][2][3]


Several studio-made films in the 1960s popularized the use of split screen. They include Indiscreet (1958), John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix (1966), Richard Fleischer's The Boston Strangler (1968), Norman Jewison's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Airport (1970), Woodstock (1970), The Andromeda Strain (1971), Carrie (1976) and More American Graffiti (1979).

In "Indiscreet" the technique was famously used to bypass the censors and allow Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman to be in bed together, and even to appear to pat her on the bottom.


An influential arena for the great split screen movies of the 1960s were two world's fairs - the 1964 New York World's Fair, where Ray and Charles Eames had a 17-screen film they created for IBM's "Think" Pavilion (it included sections with race car driving) and the 3-division film To Be Alive, by Francis Thompson, which won the Academy Award that year for Best Short. John Frankenheimer made Grand Prix after his visit to the 1964 New York World's Fair. The success of these pavilions further influenced the 1967 Universal exhibition in Montreal, commonly referred to as Expo 67, where multi-screen highlights included In the Labyrinth, hailed by Time magazine as a "stunning visual display," their review concluding: "such visual delights as Labyrinth ... suggest that cinema—the most typical of 20th century arts—has just begun to explore its boundaries and possibilities," as well as A Place to Stand, which displayed Christopher Chapman's pioneering "multi-dynamic image technique" of shifting multiple images. Directors Norman Jewison and Richard Fleischer conceived their ambitious split-screen films of 1968 after visiting Expo '67.[4]

It's also common to use this technique to simultaneously portray both participants in a telephone conversation, a long-standing convention which dates back to early silents, as in Lois Weber's triangular frames in her 1913 Suspense, and culminating in Pillow Talk, where Doris Day and Rock Hudson share a party line. So linked to this convention are the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies that Down With Love, the only slightly tongue-in-cheek homage, used split screen in several phone calls, explicitly parodying this use. In the 1971 Emmy Award winning TV movie "Brian's Song" which portrays the story of former Chicago Bears running backs Brian Piccolo and Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, it’s the night after Piccolo's second surgery and Piccolo (James Caan) is talking to Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) on the phone. There is a diagonal split screen from upper left corner to lower right corner (Piccolo on the right side and Sayers on the left). The BBC series Coupling made extensive use of split screen as one of several techniques that are unconventional for TV series, often to a humorous effect. One episode, 'Split', was even named after the use of the effect. The acclaimed Fox TV series 24 used split-screen extensively to depict the many simultaneous events, enhancing the show's real-time element as well as connecting its multiple storylines.

An unusual and revolutionary use of split screen as an extension to the cinematic vocabulary was invented by film director Roger Avary in The Rules of Attraction (2002) where two separate halves of a split screen are folded together into one seamless shot through the use of motion control photography. The much acclaimed shot was examined and detailed in Bravo Television's Anatomy of a Scene.

Digital technology

The arrival of digital video technology has made dividing the screen much easier to accomplish, and recent digital films and music videos have explored this possibility in depth. Sometimes the technique is used to show actions occurring simultaneously; Timecode (2000), by Mike Figgis, is a recent example where the combination is of four real time digital video cameras shown continuously for the duration of the film. Split-screen can also be used to the extent that it becomes part of the narrative structure of a film, as in The Boston Strangler.


In films

This technique has been used to portray twins in such films as Wonder Man (1945), The Dark Mirror (1946), The Parent Trap (both the 1961 original and the 1998 remake), and Adaptation (2002). In the 1961 version of The Parent Trap, conversations between the twins were simulated by filming the actress (Hayley Mills) as she stood at the left of the frame facing right, then filming her again, standing at the right and facing left. The negative of the first action was placed into a printer and copied onto another negative, the composite, but this other negative was masked so that only the right part of the original picture is copied. Then the composite was rewound and the negative of the second action was copied onto the right side of each frame. On this second pass, the left side was masked to prevent double exposure. This technique is then carefully hidden by background lines, such as windows, doors, etc. to disguise the split.

Hans Canosa's 2005 film Conversations with Other Women made extensive use of split screens. Conversations juxtaposed shot and reverse shot of two actors in the same take, captured with two cameras, for the entire movie. The film was designed to enlist the audience as perceptual editors, as they can choose to watch either character act and react in real time. While the shot/reverse shot function of split screen comprises most of the running time of the film, the filmmakers also used split screen for other spatial, temporal and emotional effects. Conversations' split screen sometimes showed flashbacks of the recent or distant past juxtaposed with the present; moments imagined or hoped by the characters juxtaposed with present reality; present experience fractured into more than one emotion for a given line or action, showing an actor performing the same moment in different ways; and present and near future actions juxtaposed to accelerate the narrative in temporal overlap.

By filmmakers

The visionary French director, Abel Gance, used the term "Polyvision" to describe his three-camera, three-projector technique for both widening and dividing the screen in his 1927 silent epic, Napoléon. The filmmaker Brian De Palma has incorporated split screens into many of his films, most notably in Sisters (1973) and they have since become synonymous with his filmmaking style (Specifically 1981's Blow Out and 1998's Snake Eyes).

In technology

The "Interactive Olaf" bonus feature from the DVD release of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events shows Jim Carrey's makeup tests from the movie in a four-way split-screen. Viewers can split the audio by selecting which one to listen to, then pressing "ENTER" on their DVD remote. The split screen has also been simulated in video games. Most notably Fahrenheit where it is used to allow a player to keep track of multiple simultaneous elements relevant to the gameplay.

In music video

A number of music videos have made creative use of split screen presentations. In Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video a number of freeze frames are shown in split screen. Video and film director Michel Gondry has made extensive use of split screen techniques in his videos. One notable example is "Sugar Water" - Cibo Matto (1996), where one side of the screen shows the video played normally, and the other side shows the same video played backwards. Through careful and creative staging the two sides appear to interact directly - passing objects from side to side and visually referencing each other. The music video for "Doo Wop (That Thing)" by Lauryn Hill was filmed using a split screen technique, the video features Hill, performing the song at block parties in two different eras: the mid-1960s (shown on the left of the video) and the late-1990s (shown on the right).

In television

The split screen has also been used extensively in television programs. Newscasts often show two reporters in a split screen frame. The sitcom That '70s Show, Nickelodeon teen sitcom Drake & Josh, Disney Channel teen sitcom Lizzie McGuire, USA Network's Burn Notice and Fox's 24 made extensive use of split screens. It is sometimes used in game shows to show two contestants simultaneously, and on cable news shows, when participants in a discussion are in different locations.

Split screens are frequently used in motor racing, especially during safety car pit stops in the IndyCar Series and NASCAR, where four way splits are used, most often with three leading cars or trucks' pit stops shown on the left and a shot of the pit exit (where restart order is determined after pit stops) on the right, with some featuring just four different cars or trucks making pit stops. Often these pit stops can change the entire outcome of a race. In sports, an instant replay, highlights package, or featurette on a specific subject relating to the play may be shown in a corner while the main play is happening.

Also, split screens are used during commercial breaks (ESPN calls this "Side-By-Side"), where one side of the screen shows race footage and the other shows advertising. This allows commercial breaks at the same time as viewers watch all the race action.

Split screens are also common in advertising, often to show comparison.

Notable uses of split-screen

Title Year Director Notes
Life of an American Fireman 1903 Edwin S. Porter
Suspense 1913 Lois Weber
Napoléon 1927 Abel Gance Presented with three projectors in Polyvision
Pillow Talk 1959 Michael Gordon
To Be Alive! 1964
Short film produced for the 1964 New York World's Fair, presented on multiple screens
Chelsea Girls 1966 Presented side-by-side with two projectors
Grand Prix 1966 John Frankenheimer
A Place to Stand 1967 Christopher Chapman Originally presented at Expo 67
In the Labyrinth 1967 Originally presented on multiple screens at Expo 67; later reissued in a single-screen format
Charly 1968 Ralph Nelson
The Thomas Crown Affair 1968 Norman Jewison
The Boston Strangler 1968 Richard Fleischer
Airport 1970 George Seaton
Dionysus in '69 1970 Brian De Palma
Multiple Sidosis 1970 Sid Lavarents Short film
Woodstock 1970 Michael Wadleigh Documentary of the Woodstock Festival
The Andromeda Strain 1971 Robert Wise
Sisters 1973 Brian De Palma
Wicked, Wicked 1973 Richard L. Bare
Phantom of the Paradise 1974 Brian De Palma
Carrie 1976 Brian De Palma
Dressed to Kill 1980 Brian De Palma
Blow Out 1981 Brian De Palma
Sammy and Rosie Get Laid 1987 Stephen Frears
Wall Street 1987 Oliver Stone
The Bonfire of the Vanities 1990 Brian De Palma
Boogie Nights 1997 Paul Thomas Anderson
Jackie Brown 1997 Quentin Tarantino
"Closing Time" 1998 Chris Applebaum Music video for the Semisonic song
Snake Eyes 1998 Brian De Palma
Run Lola Run - Lola Rennt 1998 Tom Tykwer
Triangle 1998 Chris Carter Episode of television series The X-Files
The Virgin Suicides 1999 Sofia Coppola
The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg 2000 Paul Driessen Animated short
Requiem for a Dream 2000 Darren Aronofsky
Snatch 2000 Guy Ritchie
Timecode 2000 Mike Figgis Screen is split into quadrants, each showing a different sequence
24 2001-10, 2014 Various Television series
Femme Fatale 2002 Brian De Palma
Adaptation 2002 Spike Jonze
The Rules of Attraction 2002 Roger Avary
Spooks 2002 Various Television series[5]
Down with Love 2003 Peyton Reed
Kill Bill 2003 Quentin Tarantino
Pretend 2003 Julie Talen
Hulk 2003 Ang Lee
Sexual Dependency 2003 Rodrigo Bellott
Sideways 2004 Alexander Payne
Conversations with Other Women 2005 Hans Canosa
The Tracey Fragments 2007 Bruce McDonald
(500) Days of Summer 2009 Marc Webb
127 Hours 2010 Danny Boyle
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 2010 Edgar Wright
Epic Rap Battles of History 2010- Dave McCary
Jackson Adams
Daniel M. Turcan
Peter Shukoff
Mike Betette
Forrest Whaley
YouTube video series featuring famous historical and pop culture figures, real and fictional, against one another in a rap battle. When the contenders (usually two) are shown at the same time, split-screen is used to separate each of their respective distinct backgrounds.
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions 2012 Tatsuya Ishihara Anime series[6]
Dhoom 3 2013 Vijay Krishna Acharya Hindi Film
R... Rajkumar 2013 Prabhu Deva One Scene / Hindi Film
Kalyeserye 2015present Bert de Leon, Poochie Rivera, Rich Ilustre A soap opera parody aired live during the "Juan for All, All for Juan" segment of Philippine noontime variety show Eat Bulaga! on GMA Network in the Philippines.[7]
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 2015 Guy Ritchie
Fargo 2015 Randall Einhorn Season 2

See also


  1. "Duplicating Actors with a Split-Screen". mediacollege.com. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  2. "Split Screen in After Effects – It’s like looking in a mirror!". ittrainingtips.iu.edu. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  3. Grossman, Paul M. "Double Vision". Digital Producer Magazine (digitalproducer.com). Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  4. "Cinema: Magic in Montreal: The Films of Expo". Time. July 07, 1967. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  5. "Film @ The Digital Fix - Spooks: Season One". Film @ The Digital Fix. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  6. Kestrel Swift (9 January 2014). "Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN Episode #01 Anime Review". The Fandom Post. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  7. Bayani San Diego Jr. "Split-screen TV fairy tale 'AlDub' hit in old, new media". inquirer.net. Retrieved 1 February 2016.

External links

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