Establishing Shot

Saturday, January 01, 2000 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

In film and television, an establishing shot sets up, or "establishes", a scene's setting and/or its participants. Typically it is a shot at the beginning (or, occasionally, end) of a scene indicating where, and sometimes when, the remainder of the scene takes place. It's usually a long (wide-angle or full) shot at the beginning of a scene (or a sequence) that is intended to show things from a distance (often an aerial shot), and to inform the audience with an overview in order to help identify and orient the locale or time for the scene and action that follows; this kind of shot is usually followed by a more detailed shot that brings characters, objects, or other figures closer; a re-establishing shot repeats an establishing shot near the end of a sequence.

For example, an exterior shot of a building at night, followed by an interior shot of people talking, implies that the conversation is taking place at night inside that building. (Of course the conversation may in fact have been filmed on a studio set far from the apparent location, because of budget, permits, time limitations, etc.) Establishing shots may also use famous landmarks – such as the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty – to identify a city.

Alternatively, an establishing shot might just be a long shot of a room that shows all the characters from a particular scene. For example, a scene about a murder in a college lecture hall might begin with a shot that shows the entire room, including the lecturing professor and the students taking notes. A close-up shot can also be used at the beginning of a scene to establish the setting (such as, for the lecture hall scene, a shot of a pencil writing notes).

Establishing shots were more common during the classical era of filmmaking than they are now. Today's filmmakers tend to skip the establishing shot in order to move the scene along more quickly. In addition, scenes in mysteries and the like often wish to obscure the setting and its participants and thus avoid clarifying them with an establishing shot.

An establishing shot may also establish a concept, rather than a location. For example; opening with a martial arts drill visually establishes the theme of martial arts.