ESTABLISHING SHOTS: Why they are important and how to film them!

Every film has an opening shot, the first scene that you see when you press play.  Oftentimes, this first shot is known as an establishing shot, and it is the filmmakers introduction to the world they have filmed.  Establishing shots are often of a city, countryside, or in this instance a tent in a field, that show the audience where the characters in the film are currently living. If you don’t want to start out with an establishing shot, you could have your film begin with some text that says:

  • Location: Ranch in the country.
  • Time: Afternoon
  • Weather: Sunny with sparse clouds
  • Mood: Happy
  • Pollen count: High

And about a zillion other things! But why would you want to do that, when you can show the audience all of this in a few quick establishing shots.

Fact: Glidecams make everyone look cool.

Fact: Glidecams make everyone look cool.

I’m sure you’re thinking at this point, “Okay Matt, but I have so many other things to film on a wedding day, why should I take the time to do this for my wedding films?” Because CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT. Remember that when you are making a film, you are showing an entire world.  Without establishing shots, your world has no introduction, and a story without an introduction can be incredibly confusing.

Establishing shots also  provide context for all the future actions of your characters in the world. Imagine if you immediately start off your wedding film with a shot of the bride sitting in a dark room reading a note from her groom. At this point, your audience has no idea where she is or why she is there. You as the filmmaker may know that you had to shoot in the darkened room because it was raining outside and the bride didn’t want anyone to see her, but unless you show an establishing shot of the rain falling on the house, there is a disconnect between what you know and the audience knows. And when your audience is disconnected, they are drawn out of your story, and they decide to watch something else.

To help the story be told as clearly as possible, I try to film establishing shots of all the locations on a wedding day.  It doesn’t take too long to do, and the results are definitely worth it.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave one below, or get in touch.

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  2. Thank you so much for posting this. I think this really puts things into a different light. I mean, I have read about this stuff before but the way you write just makes it clearer. If that makes sense lol

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