You’ve written a script or maybe you’re trying to figure out a script’s shot list. You know what the film is about but you’re trying to figure out how to convey the critical context in each scene. Give the audience those important details with an epic establishing shot. So, what is an establishing shot? Well, this post will give our establishing shot definition, along with a ton of examples in the video below. Let’s jump in.
Watch: What is an Establishing Shot?
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Defining the Establishing Shot
Establishing your scenes
The establishing shot is a critical component to opening up your scene and conveying exactly what you want to your audience. Let’s learn why by defining the shot.
ESTABLISHING SHOT DEFINITION
What is an establishing shot?
An establishing shot is a shot in filmmaking or television that sets up the context for the scene ahead, designed to inform the audience where the action will be taking place. It shows the relationship between people and objects, and establishes the scene’s geography.
These kinds of shots can do more than set up physical space, as they are often used to reveal character or plot information. Practically speaking, establishing shots are commonly wide shots, especially at the very beginning of a film. Because the establishing shot is at the beginning of a scene, it is also used to set a particular tone and mood for what the audience is about to see.
The cinematography and director might make additional shot choices, or lighting decisions that help to strengthen that tone or mood in the establishing shot. You can also show the passage of time with establishing shots.
TRADEMARKS OF THE ESTABLISHING SHOT:
- Use wide shots and/or aerial shots for geography
- Show the relationship between characters and the story world
- Set the tone and mood of a scene - can help foreshadow
- Show the passing of time
The Establishing Shot is just one of the many standard shot sizes in film. It provides the widest and most "macro" perspective on the world and the characters. From there, standard shot sizes get tighter and tighter on groups, individuals and faces. In this video, all of these shot sizes are illustrated and explained.
Let's go beyond an establishing shot definition, and get into some epic examples from film and TV. We'll explore how filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick bring their own distinctive flair to the establishing shot.
Establishing Shot in Film
Some establishing shot examples
Before we get into some of our examples, take a look at the epic shots below. The films include The Dark Knight, Transformers 3, The Dark Knight Rises, Gangs of New York, 28 Weeks Later, and more.
Also, if you haven't watched the video at the very top of the page, consider checking it out. It has even more examples, and some key insights into executing these shots.
The trick is to envision what you want, and then plan it to be as efficient as possible. Planning and laying out your vision is pretty simple when you’re using shot lists or storyboard software. We did it for you and laid out some examples in StudioBinder..
For the first example, we used Wes Anderson’s,The Grand Budapest Hotel dinner scene.
This is an example of a classic, wide establishing shot to setup the scene between Jude Law’s character and Ralph Fiennes’.
This shot does two things.
First, it establishes geography and location.
We are introduced to where we are in the scene - the hotel’s dining room. With a wide, high angle, we see the two men, their relation to each other, and their relation to the rest of the ridiculously sized, and otherwise, completely empty room.
Which brings me to the second thing this shot does…
It establishes tone and mood.
This shot is both ridiculous and humorous. It matches the film’s fun and lighthearted tone. In the video above, we have a completely different establishing shot example from The Grand Budapest Hotel, that sticks to this tone. This consistency is inherent in each shot choice Wes Anderson makes. Learn more about Wes Anderson's directing style.
There are some filmmakers that use the establishing shot in unique ways. They still establish location and tone, but in a way that’s a bit... inverted. The iconic director, Stanley Kubrick has a habit of twisting and turning the audience's minds faster than they realize it's happening.
So then let’s take a look at the opening shot in Kubrick’s The Shining.
It’s starts as a wide shot, pushing in, taking the audience on a ride through the mountains.
Maybe an indication of where the film will take place...
The vast mountain ranges, and rivers abound, initially suggests a kind of freedom, openness, maybe a film about the great outdoors!
Instead, this establishing shot serves as a narrative juxtaposition to where it actually leads.
Establishing Shots Pass the Time
Harry Potter establishes many of its' scenes with shots of Hogwarts. They're often used to convey seasons changing, or the movement of the school year. One way to do this is to cut to the same shot of the school we saw several sequences back, but now the new shot has a snow-covered Hogwarts, indicating it's now winter time.
Take a look below:
When you’re ready to test out your own, learn more about StudioBinder’s free online shot list software below.
Shot List Like a Pro
If you’re feeling a bit inspired, it’s time to jump on it. You’ve watched a video or two on establishing shots, and maybe even read this whole article! Good for you. Let’s start doing the work and lay out your vision. Our next post shows you how easy it is to plan out your shots. Learn more below.