Linking film to writing: using different shot types

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CTS Chris & owl

Film uses many different types of shot. Each one has a special name and a specific job to do. If children think filmically when planning their writing they can use these shots to help them create more interesting and engaging writing.

We’re going to look at six different types of shot:

  1. An establishing shot
  2. A long shot
  3. A mid shot
  4. A point of view shot
  5. A close-up shot
  6. A reveal shot

Use the following definitions to explain these shot types to your class. Discuss each shot, why it might be used and how it helps drive the narrative of a story.


Illustration 1

ESTABLISHING SHOTS (Equivalent to the ‘opening’ of a story or new scene.)
Explain to the children that a film maker usually starts a new sequence with an establishing shot. This is a general view that sets the scene. Writers should do the same at the beginning of each section of a story. Children need to think about the atmosphere they want to create. Is it day or night? Is it the height of summer or the depths of winter? Does the action take place in an opulent, well-furnished room or a rat-infested cellar? The camera can see every inch of a setting, the writer has to choose the most salient details to provide an effective description and create a mood without boring the reader; so get the children to picture the shot, then climb inside and take a closer look. Lighting plays a vital part in creating atmosphere. The excitement of an evening cup tie at Wembley is enhanced by ‘banks of dazzling floodlights’ – and a room in a haunted castle becomes really spooky as night falls and ‘the candles start to flicker’. Encourage everyone to consider how they want the reader to feel: happy or miserable, boiling hot or freezing cold, relaxed or afraid?

Illustration 2

LONG SHOTS (Incorporates the setting, puts the characters and action in context.)
A long shot takes the viewer close enough to identify the characters taking part. It usually shows them ‘full length’ or ‘full figure’ and gives a more detailed view of their surroundings. Contents of rooms tell us a great deal about the people who live in them. A talking parrot in a cage, for example, would be perfectly at home in the cluttered living room of an eccentric old man. Explain to the class that, when describing long shots, it is sometimes effective to use ‘similes’ likening objects to words that lend them particular effects (e.g. Shadows of the branches cast like a dragon’s claws over the cottage window…) or personification (e.g. The avalanche raged down the mountainside, swallowing everything in its path…). Remind children not to forget the soundtrack! Creaking doors, howling wind and mice scampering over floorboards make a reader feel part of the action.

Illustration 3

MID SHOTS (A ‘middle-sized’ view of a character and his or her environment.)
A mid shot gives a ‘middle-sized’ view of a character and his/her environment. Physical appearance, facial expression and small movements are easier to see. Children should think about the ‘action’ contained in mid shots and never let their characters stand around like planks of wood. Film directors always give actors things to do (it’s known as ‘business’ in film and theatre). Writers should do the same. Even the raising of an eyebrow can build character, create a mood and help tell the story.

Illustration 4

POINT OF VIEW SHOTS (The action or scene from the character’s perspective.)
In a point of view (or P.O.V.) shot, the camera sees through the eyes of a character in the scene.

Illustration 5

CLOSE-UPS (Shows characters’ thoughts and feelings.)
A close-up shows facial expression and reveals how a character is feeling or thinking. The ability to picture close-ups in their imagination helps children make their characters three-dimensional rather than ‘flat’. Readers want to read about people who ‘live, breathe and feel’. This makes them interesting, easy to relate to and also highlights the drama.

Illustration 6

REVEALS (Equivalent to the ‘ending’ or ‘resolution’ of a story, scene or situation.)
Reveals explain why a character is reacting in a certain way. Used skilfully, these shots can have a powerful surprise effect on the audience.

If you’re interested in Nick visiting your school to run a workshop on film and literacy please get in touch. And here’s more information on Nick’s highly-acclaimed KS2 writing resource, Calling the Shots!