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What You Need To Know About Establishing Shots

What You Need To Know About Establishing Shots

Do you want to lose a customer before you had a chance to capture them? Then ruin the Establishing Shot. I dare you.

In today’s age of character (as in 280 chars) driven communication and 60-second snaps, and scrolling feeds, you have just seconds to grab someone’s attention and pull them in. This beginning phase of a video or movie is called the establishing shot.

It is the first bit of a story, the one that sets the tone, introduces your product and/or service, and it is the one chance you have to launch someone’s endorphins fire off into the next galaxy.

A key part of the Establishing Shot is controlling the storyline. The opening should drive the scene to the next scene, connecting the storyline to drive emotion. Many factors influence the opening shot and the transition into the main story. The music (or lack of music), the voiceover, tone, dialogue, props, and lighting each play an important factor in the first scene, the one that sets the framework for your message and captivates the audience, allowing them to sit back and connect to the storyline. It is the setup, if you will. In additional the obvious factors, a production team (whether an individual or a team) must consider what format to shoot in (wide shot or classic), camera movement, and sound effects. That doesn’t mean one needs to  spend an arm and a leg creating movie-quality video, but one needs to consider the factors.

Although establishing shot comprise about 2% of a video, it is the foundation of your message, holding the storyline and characters together like glue.

How Establishing Shots Set a Movie or Video Apart?

Movie concepts can be simple and conveyed in a short blurb, or one might need a codex and hieroglyphics. Regardless, a scene needs to connect with an audience. A movie or video needs to make you laugh or cry, it needs to make you feel deep in you bones. It needs to make you question life or run into the street and shout or hide under the covers. It needs to...make––you––feel––something.

This happens from the moment someone hits play.

One way to achieve optimal emotion is to choose the proper place begin your video/movie. This doesn’t mean your movie should start at the beginning of your story. In fact, most books, stories, and movies DO NOT start at the beginning. In Game of Thrones, George RR Martin envision an entire backstory, where the Wall was created by the First Men, where dragons existed and battles were fought. This story happened well before Jaime pushed that little kid out the window (Sorry, spoiler alert. But if you haven’t seen GOT, then this is your fault. And you should be ashamed––properly). Whether you are making a one-minute video about your company, a commercial for the latest tasty beverage, or a full-length feature destined for the big screen, know that what is captured on film is just a portion of your story––now you must choose the place you to start and the opening scene––the establishing shot.

Only then can your movie truly take hold and capture the world like Alexander the Great.

Uses of an Establishing Shot

The film industry is filled with outstanding, captivating establishing shots that draws audiences into her grip. For example, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the film opens with Severus Snape entering the Malfoy Manor, with its ostentatious garden. Tell me you didn’t get chills, that you didn’t sense the danger behind the door. The feel of this one shot bled through the entire film. This scene describes the storyline without saying much? In fact, as important as dialogue and sounds can be to a video, in some circumstances you want to  communicate without sound. 85% of Facebook videos are watched with no sound. Wrap your brain around that. Create you videos and your establishing shots with that in mind.

Other elements to consider when making a video:

Think about tension. You need the user to anticipate the future. It doesn’t matter if they fear the next scene or embrace it, they need to anticipate it.

Build strong characters. Whether you’re creating a one minute promo or a feature film, character is king. People need a connection to your character. How can you create sympathy for a character that will only be on screen for ten seconds? Give him or her a goal. Then refuse that goal so your audience wants him or her to achieve it as much as the character does.

Re-establishing Shot

In lengthier films, an establishing shot is sometimes reused or recreated and placed in the middle or toward the climax of a story. This can be a powerful reminder of the importance of the initial scene. You often see this technique in flashbacks. These scenes can reconnect the past and present. A great technique for re-establish shots is not to simply mimic the establishing shot, but to recreate it using another viewpoint. The genre that most often utilizes re-establishing shots is murder mystery films, where the some hidden element was positioned in the establishing shot.


A filmmaker uses a variety of techniques to invoke emotion and connect with an audience. A film isn’t just a series of clips haphazardly spliced together. Every scene is a choice! Does this scene add to the plot? Propel it forward? Can it be cut? Where does the scene go? Will the scene add more tension by shortening it. Will the pacing be improved by placing short clips together. Should a clip utilize one continuous shot? Every scene is important. But it can be argued, that above all scenes, the establishing shot is the most important.