It’s hard to frame characters on screen, while simultaneously showcasing the story’s intentions. Never fear, the two shot can solve this problem for you.
Today we’re going to go over the two shot. We’ll show you how you can use it in your work to subtly get your story’s dramatic beats and comedic moments to pop.
The two shot definition
A shot in which the frames a view of the subjects. The subjects do not have to be next to each other. There are many which have one subject in the foreground and the other subject in the background. The shot is used to show the emotional reactions between the subjects.
Uses: You use this for romance, tension, and action.
James Cameron using the two shot for Avatar (2009).
What is a two shot?
The shot rose to prominence with early soap operas in the 1960’s. The two shot was a cheap and easy way to get both actors inside the frame. That way they wouldn’t have to shoot multiple setups.
The two shot began in Soap Operas.
This helped directors immensely. They could showcase character reactions, and the scandalous reveals, all in one shot. The shot became more and more commonplace and eventually left television screens for the glitz and glamour of film.
The shot angles of the two shot in The Graduate accentuate two kids, lost and in love.
The two shot in modern cinema
As more directors from TV got feature film jobs, they brought the two shot with them. The two shot gained more fame and more nuance. Everyone had their specific take on the shot.
For example, the “two shot west” refers to a two shot where one character faces away from the other character. This enables both characters to appear together in a single shot facing the audience.
It helps us identify with what’s going on and most of the time places us at eye-level. It lets us feel like we’re really there with them and standing in the room next to them.
This is a two shot west from Gangster Squad
The two shot west is even utilized in poster design. Check out this recent example from Ant-Man and the Wasp. They do a gender swap and allow Paul Rudd to look coyly over his shoulder while Evangeline Lily takes center stage.
This is an American shot, too. Ant-man and the Wasp
The three shot
The Harry Potter franchise is carried by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. In this scene from The Deathly Hallows, Director David Yates carefully situates the characters in the frame. You can see Harry’s fear. Hermione's worry. And Ron’s wonder.
A three shot from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallow Part 2 (2011).
The four shot
Thought we were going to stop at three? You can get four people into frame fairly easily. In Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, framing everyone together in a four shot is crucial to the storyline. It’s a movie about therapy and love. We have to see them reacting off one another to understand where they are in this comedy.
These riffs on the two shot helped filmmakers get the most from their scenes and stories. But how can you use the shot for your own work?
When would I use a two shot?
The two-shot is a great way to show characters’ emotive expressions. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This shot gets across everything you need to know.
Take a look at a two shot from Pulp Fiction. Two shots can be used to add importance to the characters when they’re combined with different camera angles.
Look how the height of the camera is lowered, so we are looking up at Jules and Vincent. We can see they are in control, and so is the director.
Jules and Vincent have many American shot examples.
The eye-level two shot from The Fault In Our Stars is comfortable. Flirty. We’re a little higher than their heads, giving us the effect that we’re almost eavesdropping on them.
A romantic two shot example. The Fault in Our Stars.
By using the two shot and altering the camera’s position, you can direct the mood and feelings of the audience. The two shot is versatile.
So how can you plan your two shots?
Shot listing your two shots
If you’re making a movie or TV show, you want to make sure your time on set is used wisely. The two shot is a great way to cover multiple angles. This allows you to shoot less coverage so you can maximize your days. But to get this right, you’ve got to shot list.
Is your two shot a walk and talk? Or are we static? Adding a dutch angle? Or do you want to do the whole thing from a bird’s eye view?
With StudioBinder, these details are already listed as options, so you only need to check them off and daisy-chain them together for success. This allows you to create creative combinations that make your movie come to life.
You can share your shot lists and storyboards with DPs, producers, directors, executives, etc. They get a link in their inbox, and they’ll always load the latest version.
Two shot examples
Two shots are generally used to establish the relationship between two characters. They can be lovers, best friends, enemies, or mere acquaintances.In Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson uses this shot to show Sam protecting Frodo. This is thematically in line with his character arc. It’s a shot Jackson uses throughout the series to show these hobbits are bonded together for life.
This is a riff on the American shot. Lord of the Rings (2001).
What about using a two shot with motion? How about the famous walk and talk? This usually keeps both characters in frame, as they move through the scenes.
The West Wing nails this every time.
The static two shot
What about two characters talking at a table together? Let’s go back to Pulp Fiction. It seems simple, but look at how Tarantino plays with the shot in the diner location.
We start with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. It’s energetic.
They’re a couple totally in love.
Two shot. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny.
But what about a couple of friends who are going something very different in the same space? Jules and Vincent are having a very different breakfast. Our angle with Jules and Vincent is slightly above eye-level. With Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, it’s low on them.
Jules and Vincent.
This is the exact same shot, in the same movie. We’re framing them the same way, but at this table, there’s a tense conversation happening. The height of the camera, and the blocking of the actors, tell a completely different story.
Look what happens when Tarantino combines the two together.
We combined them.
Suddenly this two shot is carrying a ton of meaning besides flirtation and agitation. It’s a shot being used to set up both of these characters themes.
One guy wants to attack and rob the world.
The other guy wants to walk the Earth, like Kane from Kung Fu.
What about two people at a table in a romantic setting?
Two shots in When Harry Met Sally
This shot from When Harry Met Sally helps to set the scene and tone of the movie perfectly. Rob Reiner uses the two shot to express a few things.
First, we’re in a crowded restaurant. This will matter as the joke expands and Harry becomes embarrassed.
Some two shot romance.
Second, it’s a way to establish the body language between the characters. They’re relaxed, open, and actually interested in what the other has to say.
When Harry Met Sally lives on the two shot. Even when characters are not in the same room, they use creative editing to get their shot out in the open.
It’s a film that uses the shot to masterfully set up who these characters are and their love story.
This is truly two-becoming-one love story. And the two shot is the driving force behind the romantic tension.
And when they finally kiss, we get a close up two shot.
Up Next: The ultimate shot list guide!
Now that you’ve fallen in love with the two shot and added it to your skillset, it’s time to get your shot list ready. That way, all your shoot days will go according to plan. The best is yet to come!
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