Film – It’s All About the Shots

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On set for “Collision Envisage” (photo from author’s collection)

Introduction

A “shot” represents the most elemental part of recording the information contained in a script to a persistent medium, such as film or digital. For ease of description, I will use the word “film” henceforth. A shot represents a continuous recording of film from “action” to “cut”.  A “shooting script” captures the information required for the camera to transform words into film.

I am incorporating some of my observations working on-set into this post.

This narrative is certainly not all-inclusive, but a general overview.

Scene Script

The precursor to a shooting script is a “scene script”. The scene script (sometimes simply called the script) is divided into scenes. A script is composed of multiple scenes. The location of each scene is identified as to being internal or external; and day or night.   A description of the scene is provided, stage directions, and of course the dialog. In addition, the transition from one scene to another is indicated, such as “dissolve”, fade out/fade in”. I think of each scene as a self-contained object, allowing for the possibility and likelihood that scenes can be filmed out of sequence.

Shooting Script

I recently attended a production meeting for filmmaker Sharrie Mccain’s “Collision Envisage”, where the attendees were presented with a “shooting script”.

The shooting script augments the scene script, with the addition of camera information and possibly audio information such as sound effects. This post concentrates on the camera information.

In general, each scene consists of multiple shots. Each shot has its own camera information, including field size, camera placement, and camera movements.   The director and director of photography will work together in this effort.

Field size is described by terms such as the long shot, full shot, medium shot, and close-up. The camera distance from the subject varies as well as how much is seen to the left and right of the subject.

Camera placement refers to camera angles (aerial, bird’s eye view, angle), over the shoulder, point of view, and reverse.

An angle shot either looks up towards or down towards the subject.

Point of view is where the camera represents a person looking at the action.

An over the shoulder shot is, as the name implies, the camera shooting over the shoulder of a person looking at the action.

A reverse shot looks in the 180-degree opposite direction as compared to the immediately previous view.

The camera could be static or moving during the shot.

Often shots overlap from a time perspective. For example, the same conversation among people in a scene could be shot from different angles, field size and camera placement. These shots are combined during post production, and the final product will show different people or different angles during the course of the conversation. In effect, not all footage from a shot will make it into the final result.

Composition of a shot can be used to establish the mood of a film.  A long-duration shot can make a scene seem more relaxed and slower paced whereas a short-duration shot can make a scene seem urgent and faster paced.  Film editing, combining the shots into the final product, is a subject for another post.

Conclusion

The entire look and feel of a film is governed by the shots.  I have learned from my on-set experience, that getting the right shots is just one reason why filming even a short scene is very time-consuming.

To learn more, see Additional Information.

Additional Information

Robert B. Musburger Gorham Kindem, Introduction to Media Production – The Path to Digital Media Production, 4th Edition, 2009, Focal Press

Wikipedia – Shot (filmmaking)


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