hen you’re working on a movie or TV show, it can be hard to plant the audience inside the character’s point of view. Today we’re going to go over the POV, or point of view shot. We’ll define it, see it in action, and talk about why it belongs on your shot list.
Watch: How Filmmakers Use the POV shot
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Point of View
Point of view and perspective
In storytelling, be it written or visual, point of view is the perspective from which that story is told. Point of view and perspective are not just important considerations in telling stories, they are necessary. In fact, you can't tell a story without point of view.
The question then becomes: which point of view do you choose? And before you feel trapped into choosing only one, remember that perspective can switch. In film, the point of view can switch many times and when filmmakers take full advantage of this ability, they can create more dynamic and nuanced narratives. One common and effective way to do this is with POV shots.
Point of view (POV) shot definition
What is a Point of View (POV) Shot?
A point of view shot is a film angle that shows what a character is looking at in the first person. In other words, the camera acts as the eyes of a character and the audience sees what they see. It is usually established by being positioned between a shot of a character looking at something, and a shot showing the character's reaction.
Characteristics and Uses of a POV Shot:
- Often shot with a hand-held camera to accentuate the subjective perspective.
- The POV shot became a staple of the slasher sub-genre as the "killer POV," like in John Carpenter's Halloween.
- It also allows other characters to bend (not break) the 4th wall by looking directly into the camera.
The POV shot is just one of many camera framing options. For a quick refresher on what those would be, we broke down the most common shot frames and how they work in visual storytelling.
Point of View Shots: Creative Examples
How to use a POV shot
There are lots of unique ways to use the POV shot in your own work. Let’s see a variety of ways these types of camera angles have been used in film and television. John Carpenter uses the point of view shot to put us in the killer’s mindset for Halloween.
The point of view shot can carry any emotion the director needs. Quentin Tarantino uses the point of view shot in Kill Bill to show us The Bride's perspective of those responsible for her wedding party massacre. These are her targets and one trick to help the audience align themselves with The Bride and her revenge is to see them through her eyes.
In Rear Window, Hitchcock uses Jimmy Stewart’s POV shot to introduce his love interest. This reveal of Grace Kelly’s face woos the audience but also sets up our expectations for her character. She’s a high society woman who he doesn’t think can break out of her caretaker shell. We meet her in his POV as he wakes up from a nap.
In just these three POV shot examples, you can already see how wide-ranging the applications are. Once we're inside a character's perspective, we can experience various emotions with them: fear, romance, isolation, etc.But before you go overboard with first person POV shots, the better approach is to strategically choose when and where to use them. This starts at the planning stage. Here's how you can shot list the POV shots in your next project.
Shot Listing POINT OF VIEW SHOTS
How to shot list point of view shots
So, you’ve set up a scenario where you want to show a character’s point of view? What do you do now? You need to put it in a shot list so your DP can anticipate and prep.
Specific camera movements and placement matter too. Will you go handheld or can this be done with a static shot? Whose POV shot is it, and will we be eye level or would it be more effective as a high-angle shot?
You want to capture all these crucial details in your shot list. With StudioBinder, these details are already listed as options, so you only need to check their boxes. This allows you to create creative combinations that make your movie come to life.
Collaboration is fast and efficient. Send your shot list to the DP with the click of a button. The best part? We let you start shot listing for free. This gives you more time to think about the intangibles. For example, what can you learn from some of the most famous point of view shot examples?
Examples of POV SHOTS
Effective point of view shot examples
Let’s look at a famous POV shot in film. This clip from Saving Private Ryan masterfully shows Tom Hanks’ character’s POV as he enters Omaha Beach. We dig in on the destruction and inhumanity through his eyes, with constant check-backs to get his reaction shots as well.
What about this shot from The King’s Speech? Director Tom Hooper puts us right into the action. He uses the POV to accentuate the actual fear of public speaking and give us a glimpse into what the world looks like from the eyes of the aristocracy.
As we've discussed, there are numerous applications for the point of view shot. Through the eyes of a victim, a killer, or any character in which the audience would benefit from seeing through their eyes.
Isolated POV shots here and there are quite commonplace but what about entire movies that use the point of view shot to entertain us?
1st Person POV Movies
Point of view shot movies
You've probably seen your fair share of POV shot movies from the last two decades but there's actually a film from 1947 called The Lady in the Lake. It's a Film Noir in which we inhabit the perspective of the private eye — Raymond Chandler's go-to P.I., Phillip Marlowe. It's not the best Film Noir ever made but, as the trailer declares, it was a revolutionary technique all those years ago.
While POV shots have existed for decades, the rise of digital filmmaking allowed directors and writers the opportunities to brainstorm new uses for point of view shots. Especially the possibility to shoot entire movies in a 1st person point of view.
It started small with the breakout hit, The Blair Witch Project.
After that, point of view shot movies like this (dubbed "found footage") became the style du jour and an interesting way to deliver a twist on the theatrical experience. In 2008, Matt Reeves and Drew Goddard brought us the massive hit Cloverfield that combined the point of view shot movie and the monster flick. With a cellphone in everyone's pocket, the idea that events like these could be captured from a first person POV makes even the most unbelievable that much more "real."
It was a creative take on the POV shot, but this time it lasted the whole film. What’s fun about Cloverfield is that it uses the camcorder to bring us into people’s point of view, but still manages to cheat every possible camera angle by framing them as POV shots.
Director Gaspar Noe took this concept to new heights, literally. In Enter The Void, the point of view perspective takes a cosmic and otherworldly turn. We follow Oscar, the lead, mostly through his POV shots but when he is killed the camera then assumes his spirit's POV. Detached from his body, the spirit and the camera travel through, up, and around Tokyo.
It’s an absolutely insane trip. And it’s hard to forget The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. This film was nominated for four Academy Awards and took on “locked in” syndrome through the POV shot.
STX released Hardcore Henry as a riff on the action film. It’s a great first-person point of view film example. The movie sought to take audiences into the actual center of an action movie.
This action film took the entire idea of “First Person” to the next level. It definitely took the POV shot and exploited the frame as an interesting gimmick to build hype around the title. If you've seen the film, you might notice the limitations of this style of filmmaking but, with VR technology gaining traction, this won't be the last time we see it.
Filmmaking Techniques Masterclass
Think you’ve got the POV shot in the can? We’ve got lots of stuff for you to use on your next project. Strap in, because we want to pack four years of film school into only a few videos. Learn from the masters about tone, production design, and more!