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SHOT DESIGN

Shots are the smallest unit of dramatic action in the movie and serve as building blocks of
scenes. Each shot must have a purpose in the scene, otherwise it should not be used.
Once the shot's purpose is achieved, it's time to cut to the next shot.
Shots are the building blocks of scenes.
Shots are designed by the director, whose chief concerns are subject size, angle,
perspective and movement:
Subject Size
Subject size is the size of the subject as it appears in the frame. The most common sizes
are the wide shot, medium shot and close shot. At the far ends of the spectrum are
theextreme wide shot and extreme close shot. The main function of subject size is to
convey story information byorienting the audience and emphasizing (or de-
emphasizing)the subject.
Subject size helps to:
orient the audience
emphasize the subject
Wide Shot - The wide shot is primarily used to establish location and is often referred to
as anestablishing shot. Since objects appear small in the frame, the wide shot can be
used for de-emphasis and is ideal for conveying a character's isolation. The following
shot from Vertigoaccomplishes both of these goals:

Close Shot - The close shot is the exact opposite of the wide shot in that the subject is
very large in the frame. Consequently, it is used for emphasis. When the subject is an
actor, anything closer than mid-chest is considered a close shot, or close-up. Here, the
actor's head dominates the composition.

Medium Shot - As the name indicates, the medium shot falls between the close shot and
wide shot. When the subject is an actor, the upper body dominates the frame, usually the
from the thighs up. Films are primarily constructed of medium shots, with wide shots and
close shots used for orientation and emphasis, respectively.
Multiple Sizes - A composition can have multiple subject sizes. For example, one actor
can be shown in close-up, while another is in full shot. This enables the audience to
follow action in the foreground and the background simultaneously. The technique,
called deep focus, was pioneered by Orson Welles in his landmark film Citizen Kane.
The following shot shows actors in close, medium and full shot:

Variable Size - The size of a subject can be varied during a shot by moving the camera
and/or subject. For example, an actor in medium shot can move away from the camera
into wide shot or toward the camera into close up. This dolly shot from Shadow of a
Doubt moves from a medium shot to an extreme close shot:

Cutting Heights - There must be a clear understanding between director and


cinematographer as to where frame lines cut off the actor's body. These designations are
calledcutting heights:

A rule in cutting heights is that frame lines should not cut through an actor's primary
joints, since this has a strange look on screen. Primary joints include the neck, waist,
knees and ankles.
Angle
Angle is the horizontal and vertical position of the camera in relation to the subject.
Through the use of angle, the director positions the subject within the frame. It has a great
impact on how the audience perceives both the subject and the action.
Vertical Angle - The camera's vertical angle can be used to affect the
perceived dominance andspeed of the subject. Low camera angles-- looking up at the
subject-- tend to increases the subject's dominance and speed. High camera angles--
looking down at the subject-- tend to decrease the subject's dominance and speed.

Horizontal Angle - The camera's horizontal angle is used to affect the perceived depth of
the subject. Horizontal angles include full front, 3/4 front, side, full rear and 3/4 rear. 3/4
angles shows two sides of the subject, so they maximize depth. The side angle yields a
rather flat image and should be avoided unless such a look is desired.

Oblique Angle - The oblique angle is when the image appears tilted in the frame. It is
achieved by vertically slanting the camera. The screened image is not level and appears
unnatural to the eye, so it can be used to convey a character's bizarre environment or
mental state. The creation scene in The Bride of Frankenstein made wonderful use of
oblique angles. The approach is highly stylized and not often used.

Oblique Angle
Perspective
Perspective has several meanings in moviemaking. In terms of directing, perspective is
the psychological position of the camera as it records the action. There are three
perspectives: objective, subjective and point of view (POV).
Objective Shot - In an objective shot, the camera is placed in a neutral position and does
not take the perspective of any character within the scene. It gives the audience the best,
unbiased view of the action.
Objective Shot
Subjective Shot - A subjective shot is a view of the action through the eyes of a specific
character. It is a specialized shot because the audience is put directly in the position of a
character. The results can range from awkward to highly stylized, depending upon how
well it is executed.

Subjective Shot
Point of View Shot - A point of view shot is from the perspective of a specific character,
but not directly through the eyes of that character. It is midway between an objective and
subjective shot. The purpose of the POV shot, as it is called, is to increase the audience's
involvement without "making" them a character. It is the most frequently used of the
three perspectives.

Point of View Shot


A variation of the POV shot is the over-the-shoulder shot. As the name indicates, this
shot views the action from over a character's shoulder.

Over-the-Shoulder Shot
Movement
Movement in a shot is a powerful tool for screen storytelling for two reasons. First, it
helps generate energy and tension through the action of the movement. Second, it allows
you to change or maintain subject size during a shot, rather than cut to a new
shot. Movement is created using the actor and/or the camera.
Movement of in the frame:
helps generate energy and tension
allows subject size to be changed or
maintained
Actor Movement - Actor movement toward or away from the camera is, in
effect, recomposingthe frame. The results can be visually dynamic when properly
motivated by the scene. The drawback is that all elements (i.e. size, angle, perspective,
pace, etc.,) are fixed within the shot and can't be changed during editing. This can be
problematic if the shot does not play as the director intended. Consequently, many
directors like to shoot enough coverage to fix potential problems. When a shot must
unconditionally run without cutting, careful planning is required.
Camera Movement - Camera movement can take many forms:
Pan and Tilt - A pan and tilt involves pivoting of the camera on its axis. Pans are
horizontal pivots, while tilts are vertical pivots. These simple camera moves are
used to cover action that is too broad for a stationary camera. They are also used
to relate one subject to another during a shot.
Dolly - A dolly is the physical movement of the camera on a wheeled platform
called a dolly. Dollies come in all shapes and sizes, from simple medical
wheelchairs to heavy-duty devices with hydraulic lifts and seating for the director,
camera operator and camera assistant. Dollies are probably the most common
method of moving the camera.
Boom - A boom involves a short vertical movement of the camera, usually up to
12 feet. It is accomplished with a jib arm, which attaches directly to tripod or
dolly. The jib arm is essentially a lever with the camera attached to one end.

Jib Arm (Ez Fx Jib)


Crane - A crane is similar to a boom except that the distance traveled is much
greater. It is not uncommon for a camera to be raised or lowered 30 feet or more
during a crane shot. Crane shots must be justified within the shot, otherwise they
will call attention to themselves.
A rising crane shots conveys a sense of revelation as more and more of the scene
becomes visible. A descending crane shots conveys a sense of surveillance as the camera
closes in on a specific point of interest. A stunning example is found in
Hitchcocks Notorious, where the camera traverses the breadth of a ballroom to settle on
a key in Alicia's hand.
Handheld - As the name implies, a handheld camera move is when the operator
holds the camera in his hands and moves with it. Despite being associated with a
rough, low budget look, handheld shots can be surprisingly smooth in the hands
of a skilled cameraperson, using a wide angle lens to minimize shake. They are an
acceptable alternative to more costly, time consuming camera moves.
Steadicam - This is similar to a handheld shot in that the cameraperson carries the
camera. The difference is that the camera is mounted on a shock absorbing
apparatus called a Steadicam. The Steadicam can be used to follow an actor just
about anywhere with amazing smoothness. Steadicam shots are costly because
they require a Steadicam operator along with the specialized equipment.

Steadicam
Tracking and Traveling - A tracking shot is when the camera follows a moving
subject a reasonably long distance. The camera can be mounted on a dolly,
Steadicam or handheld. The primary purpose of a tracking shot is to keep a fixed
subject size.

A traveling shot is more expansive than a tracking shot and requires that the
camera be mounted on a vehicle. Just about every type of vehicle has been used
for this purpose, including cars, trucks and helicopters. Shots that require a
vehicle are also known as vehicle shots.
Movement vs. Cut - The decision to use movement over a cut is based on the audience's
urgency to see a new view of the action. Cuts move the audience through space
instantaneously, while movement takes longer because the camera and actors move
through space in real time. The time lag is not necessarily a bad thing, because it can be
used to create tension through expectation. In any event, the cut or movement must serve
the objective of the shot within the scene.
If you would like to learn more about shot design and composition, consider taking our
online Directing course.