Creating a video from scratch can be a daunting task for new student filmmakers. Trying to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it will often be the biggest obstacle students face when telling story through video. The good news is that there is a system students can use to virtually guarantee they will capture all of the shots they need to tell their story. This system is called the five-shot sequence.
Professional filmmakers have used the five-shot sequence for ages. It is the field’s easiest and most efficient way to tell a story with video. Let’s take a look at this system to see how it works.
What is a five-shot sequence and why is it important?
At its core, the five-shot sequence is quite literally the five shots you must record on-location. Essentially, the five-shot sequence gives you a roadmap of what shots you need to shoot to make sure you have enough footage to edit and create your video.
The five shots include:
- A close-up of that the subject is doing
- A shot of the person’s face
- A wide shot to show where it’s happening
- An over-the-shoulder shot
- A different or unique angle.
When you put all of these together, the video will tell a great story that’s easy for the viewer to understand.
The close-up shot has long been considered one of the most powerful shots in video production. Oftentimes, the video camera can go places that we are not comfortable going to in person. This can lead to really compelling shots that capture the audience’s attention and progress your story. In the five-shot sequence, the close-up should show what the person is doing. Students should focus on shots of the subject’s hands to highlight the action.
Film the subject’s face
For the next shot, you should shoot the subject’s face. This is the part of the five-shot sequence where we see who is doing the action. The face shot can and should show the subject’s emotions, frustrations and reactions. It will move the story forward and draw the viewers into the video.
The wide shot, also called the establishing shot, shows the viewer where this action is happening. The wide shot typically shows the surrounding environment.
Imagine the differences to your understanding as a viewer when you see a wide shot in a desert, in the snow or on a football field. Each of these scenes automatically makes you think of certain things associated with their specific location. For example, it’s certainly understandable to see someone kicking a football on a football field. But it may cause confusion or wonder seeing someone kick a football in a desert because you normally don’t see that action happening in that location. Wide shots give viewers enough context to minimize confusion regarding where the action is taking place.
Over the shoulder
The over the shoulder shot is exactly what it sounds like. This is a shot that’s over a character’s shoulder, showing what the character is working on. It is important to include a portion of the person’s shoulder in the shot so the viewer can mentally place the person in the scene. This shot is also an excellent way for the filmmaker to show the scene from a character’s perspective.
Add a different or unusual angle
Using different or unusual angles to capture a scene’s action can exercise your creativity as a filmmaker.
Today’s ultra-small, point of view (POV) cameras now allow us to mount cameras to places that were once impossible with large video cameras. When you’re trying to compose a unique shot, try to show something interesting about the action. Showing the action from a different, unusual angle often works great. Try to think of angles that people typically don’t see. For example, let’s say your actor is under a car removing a part. A great view to capture can be from the perspective of the wrench as it’s removing the part’s bolts. This is certainly a view few people have seen and would get viewers’ attention.
Interviews play a vital role in the five-shot sequence. You can drop them wherever they’re needed to move the story forward. As you become more aware of the process, you will certainly begin to see the best places to drop in the interviews so that the viewer can better understand the process they are viewing.
Time to tie it all together
Editing is where the magic happens. Once you have all your shots, it’s time to drop them into your edit package and create your story. Start with a chronological approach and put all the clips in the order they occurred.
Where possible, try to match action between shots. This means that an action, such as removing a car’s tailpipe, would start with one shot and conclude in the next shot. Matching action shots enables the viewer to follow the sequence more easily. The editing process will allow you to take all the various shots in the five-shot sequence and tell your story.