3x3: split screen

Favorite uses of the split-screen technique in movies. This doesn’t just have to be a half split screen. It can be multiple screens in the frame.

We discuss our favorite instances of split-screen technique in movies at the 56-minute mark of the Qt3 Movie Podcast of Riddick.

Kelly Wand
3. Carrie
2. The Brady Bunch Movie

  1. Requiem for a Dream

Tom Chick
3. Down with Love
2. Kidnapped (Secuestrados)

  1. Timecode

3. Annie Hall
2. Requiem for a Dream

  1. Europa Report

Now please let us know yours. Discuss specific scenes if you can. If you want to reference the way a whole movie uses the technique, tell us why it works for you. As always, please listen to the podcast to find out our explanations and hear listener submissions. As the podcast went live early this week for logistical reasons, look to the front page comments for listener submissions we could not read on the air. On the air. I love that term.

Finally, listen to the podcast to find out what movies are leading in the pledge drive/listener’s choice lottery as Tom reads off the current contenders for the movie we do at the end of this month. Voting is still open. You could be the deciding factor in what movie ends up getting the Kelly Wand Opsis treatment. Don’t pass up that opportunity.

I’ve always loved the split screen in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. I’m sure they use it in the other films, but I don’t remember it being as effective. So much about that film is based on slickness and style, and they use the splitscreen not just for visual show-offery, but also to effortlessly show various aspects of the heist occurring simultaneously without a load of unnecessary cutting. I also love it when they show different shots of the same scene simultaneously: Clooney walks onto the screen from the left as a long panel unfolds at the bottom showing a close up of his walking feet. At the same time, another panel slides in from the right showing two people watching Clooney in the casino. It’s showy and a little overblown, but flashy and clever.

I kept thinking there were examples in that movie, but I could not think of specifics, and did not have time to watch the movie again this week.

Thanks for giving me an excuse to, as it’s a guilty pleasure.


500 Days of Summer: While this movie undoubtedly is flawed (Tom), I think a few standout scenes are nearly perfect. Midway through the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes to a party thrown by his ex-girlfriend Zooey Deschanel, and it is shown in splitscreen, Expectations vs Reality. In Expectations, she greets him warmly, they have a romantic evening, and sleep together. In reality, he is an ex-boyfriend party guest, and she shows off her engagement ring to another man. It would have been easy to film JLG going to a party where he is greeted coldly, but showing the gap between expectations and reality shows just how heartbreaking it is to him.

Run Lola Run has lots of cool visual elements, including the split screen effect. The one scene where Lola is trying to reach Manni in time to stop the robbery, while he’s looking at the clock, and we are looking at all three is pretty good. It’s an example of using split screen where it’s integrated into telling the story, not just used for visual interest. You have time, which is so important in this movie, presented as still(Manni), slowly moving forward(clock) and rushing forward(Lola).

That movie is the epitome of style (and style as substance), and it was my first thought as well.

There’s a nice bit at the beginning of Kill Bill Vol. 1 that builds the suspense.

MikeP and gameoverman have some great calls with 500 Days of Summer and Run Lola Run. Those were so imaginative and so well used. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet so this may have been covered, but:

Back in the '60s and '70s movies would use it when there is just so much cool stuff happening that the audience had to see it all at the same time. Not even a tightly edited montage sequence would do! The best of its usage was for documentaries when there really was so much raw, interesting footage to see, like Woodstock (1970). Check out all these rock gods on stage! Check out the hippies playing in the mud! Keep the running time shorter than three days of peace and music! A master craftsman could also use it to make kinetic sequences out of potentially boring technical insert shots. John Frankenheimer (and his editing team) used it to fine effect in Grand Prix (1966). Lots of cars zooming around! Closeups on their drivers! Closeups on speedometer needles and gas and clutch and brake pedals getting pressed! If I remember right, there would be something like 8 squares on the big screen, each telling their own little story. It’s a story about people using machines to go very fast, so that’s a great use of it.

Then, at some point, split screen and its bastard half-brother the slow dissolve shot would be used for cheesy dance numbers or lame songs at award shows. Bad editors would throw in a split-screen instead of making a choice between two lousy shots from the B-roll. Good editors and directors would follow the Lucasian adage of “Faster, more intense” but with a regular old non-split screen. And so the split screen descended into senility along with iris closes and intertitles.

Tim Burton made kind of a visual gag out of the split screen in Batman (1989). The Joker takes over the Mayor’s news conference by hijacking the airwaves. This manifests with a shot of multiple CRT screens in a news truck. At first, the mayor is on both screens. Then, the Joker appears on the right screen. After the mayor protests, Jack reaches up with his hand, pushes into the other screen, and wipes the mayor off the left screen and presumably the TV airwaves. This would make no sense to the Gotham viewing audience and no sense to the Mayor at the news conference, but it was pretty funny to eleven year old boys in the movie theater. Later, on pan-and-scan VHS, it once again made no sense.

In 1997, two movies picked up the split screen and bisected the dust off it. There is a gag in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery where a grumpy military man sees that Dr. Evil is returning from orbit. He barks out orders, and for each one a new screen appears. At the end we are seeing a NORAD tracking room, the grumpy military guy, the Big Boy rocket, a radar map, another military guy, the White House (file footage), a jet (file footage), an overnight bag, and a fishbowl filled with fish food. The screenplay notes that this is like The Thomas Crown Affair, but I haven’t seen that one so the reference can’t be trusted. Austin Powers takes the cheesiness of the old tool and embraces it. That may have been poorly worded, or considering the movie, well worded.

The other ‘97 movie was Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. The screen is only split into two halves, but the overall emotional and narrative effect could not have been reached any other way. Jackie Brown was just dropped off at her apartment by her bail bondsman, Max Cherry. The villain, Ordell, is hiding inside. We have just seen him coax his flunkie Beaumont into getting into a position where Ordell could cold-bloodedly shoot him. He will probably do the same thing to our heroine in just a few seconds. Meanwhile, the screen has split. We are also watching Max Cherry drive back to his office. Why are we seeing this? There is nothing interesting going on. Yet just at the point where we know that weaponless Jackie is going to be killed, she sticks a gun into Ordell. On the other screen, Max, having arrived at his office, reaches into the glove box where we know his pistol is…and it’s empty. Jackie has Max’s gun, and if anyone is going to be killed it will be Ordell. This narrative sequence is most effective in split screen. If we had a shot of Jackie taking Max’s gun when she got out of his car, we would know all along that she had it, and there wouldn’t be the suspense. If Tarantino had some kind of flashback when she points the gun at him, revealing where she got the gun, it would slow the movie down when we want to see what happens between Ordell and Jackie. If we follow Max’s story before Jackie’s, we get his confusion but then the movie is slowed down. The split-screen is the best choice here. Jackie Brown is also about Tarantino’s love of blaxplotation movies, so it’s not surprising that he dips back into the 70s’ filmmaking bag of tricks.

For some reason the first movie I thought of when I heard the topic was The Andromeda Strain (the 70’s version), where each character gets a weird kind of multi-screen montage thing that I guess is supposed to represent their internal mental process? Or something? It’s been a long time since I saw it, I don’t know why I thought of it.

Damn, that is an inspired pick, Mr. DJ South Carolina Man. Excellent call. Now I need to see Jackie Brown a couple more times.


Yeah, I kept thinking of The Andromeda Strain. But the first thing I thought of actually was Ang Lee’s The Hulk, since it used comic panels as a form of transition, but frequently carried off the action in multiple panels at the same time.

— Alan

Grand Prix - remember 70mm Cinerama? In addition to the multi-shots of the same scene, the story would be split at times into three vertical screen, using all that super-wide screen…well hell, easier to just provide a link:


Ooooo, forgot a young and hot Mallory Archer was in it (Jessica Walter).

How about Ang Lee’s Hulk? It’s not a good movie, but the split screens that look like comic book panels (3 or 4 simultaneously) are an excellent touch.

Oh man, they’re auctioning off the storyboards for this scene (and others). Even if I could afford it, I probably wouldn’t bid, but… I thought about it.