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"In Spin (1995) George H. W. Bush talks to Larry King about Halcion—all presuming they are off-camera."--Sholem Stein

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The terms offscreen, off camera, and offstage refer to fictional events in theatre, television, or film which are not seen on stage or in frame, but are merely heard by the audience, or described (or implied) by the characters or narrator. Offscreen action often leaves much to the audience's imagination. As a narrative mode and stylistic device, it may be used for a number of dramatic effects. It may also be used to save time in storytelling, to circumvent technical or financial constraints of a production, or to meet content rating standards.


In ancient Greek drama, events were often recounted to the audience by a narrator, rather than being depicted on the stage. Offscreen voice-over narration continues to be a common tool for conveying information authoritatively.

Charlie Chaplin made use of offscreen action to humorous effect. In The Kid (1921), his character of The Tramp is asked the name of his baby. He quickly ducks into a nearby building, emerges seconds later smoothing the child's blankets, and announces, "John". The implication is that he had not even determined the child's sex, much less given it a name until that moment. In City Lights (1931), Chaplin's Tramp is preparing for a boxing match. He asks another boxer a question which the audience is not privy to, then follows the man's direction off screen, presumably looking for a bathroom. However, he returns moments later, and asks the man to help him remove his boxing gloves. Later, it's shown that he was merely looking for a water fountain. In a deleted scene in Shoulder Arms (1918), Chaplin's character is berated by an abusive wife who is never seen on camera; her presence is merely implied by household objects hurled in Chaplin's direction.

In the horror genre, placing action offstage or offscreen often serves to heighten the dramatic force of a scene. The Grand Guignol theatre in Paris made much use of this technique; in 1901's Au tėlėphone, the violence is presented at the remove of a telephone connection. In 1931's Dracula, director Tod Browning uses offscreen action to avoid showing scenes of murder, and obscures the action of Dracula rising from his grave. While this served to meet Motion Picture Production Code standards, which dictated that "brutal killings are not to be shown in detail", Browning's offscreen action also maintains the macabre mood of the film. The choice of what the audience is shown in place of the elided action can also contribute to the sense of horror through its symbolic value. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), during the murder of Ivy Pierson, director Rouben Mamoulian focuses his camera on a statuette of Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, which acts as an ironic commentary on the action.

Offscreen action may also be used when a scene would otherwise require costly costumes or makeup, sets, locations, or special effects to present convincingly.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Offscreen" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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