Camera Shot and Subject of Shot

WARNING: THE INFORMATION ON THIS PAGE SHOULD BE USED SPARINGLY, IF AT ALL!! THE BEST SCREENWRITERS CAN WRITE AN ENTIRE SCREENPLAY WITHOUT WRITING A SINGLE CAMERA DIRECTION!! THE ONLY REASON I SHOW YOU HOW TO PROPERLY FORMAT CAMERA DIRECTIONS IN SCENE HEADINGS IS BECAUSE, IF YOU DO USE THEM, YOU MIGHT AS WELL USE THEM CORRECTLY. ALSO WHEN READING SCREENPLAYS, WRITERS WILL COME ACROSS CAMERA DIRECTIONS, SO THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE THEM WHEN THEY SEE THEM, AND BE ABLE TO DISTINGUISH PROPER FROM IMPROPER FORMAT.

Optional information a writer can provide in a Scene Heading is the Camera Shot and the Subject of Shot.

The Camera Shot tells how the camera will be placed at the opening of the scene. Subject of Shot tells the reader what the audience will see based on the Camera Shot, or basically, what will be in frame the moment the scene opens. Most of the time the Camera Shot will be followed closely by the Subject of Shot in a Scene Heading.

Let's look at a few examples of Camera Shots and Subjects of Shots.

Closeup:

One of the most common Camera Shots is the Closeup, used when the writer wants the scene to open close on a person's face, body part, or an object. Here is an example of a Closeup:

In the example above, we can see the Camera Shot is a Closeup (CLOSE) and the Subject of Shot is the PRESIDENT'S HANDS.

Here are some other ways a similar Closeup could have been written. All the examples below are CORRECT:

Notice in the examples above we can drop the hyphen by adding the word ON. However, if we use the word SHOT, the hyphen must remain and the ON isn't allowed.

With that in mind, the examples below are INCORRECT:

The first example above is wrong because it combines the word ON with the hyphen. The second is wrong because it eliminates the hyphen without adding the word ON.

BEST OPTION: No Camera Direction

The best use of the Closeup in the Scene Heading would be to NOT use it AT ALL!

A much better way to guarantee a Closeup on the President's hands without offending a director is to bring in down into a Direction paragraph, such as in this example:

There. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Extreme Closeup:

Similar to the Closeup is the Extreme Closeup, which is pretty much the same thing, except the Subject of Shot is more zeroed in. For instance, rather than opening on the PRESIDENT'S HANDS, the writer might want to open on the PRESIDENT'S RING that is on his hand. It would look like this:

But again, as with the Closeup, the writer's BEST option is to not use a Camera Shot in the Scene Heading, but rather bring it down into the Direction paragraph.

Two Shot and Three Shot:

The aptly named Two Shot simply means the scene will open with two people framed in the shot.

The Three Shot, consequently, means that the scene will open with three people framed in the shot.

Here is how both tend to look on the page:

There are alternatives, however. A writer could drop the hyphen by adding the word ON, or he/she could separate the people's names with slashes, like this:

NOTE: Unlike the Closeup, the word SHOT and the word ON must co-exist when using a Two Shot or Three Shot.

BEST OPTION: No Camera Direction

Try to avoid using the Two Shot or Three Shot at all. Here is a better way to open the scene without using camera direction:

Medium Shot:

Similar to the Two Shot is the Medium Shot, which will usually contain two subjects in the shot, but may contain only one subject.

Another difference is the Medium Shot tells the reader the Subject of Shot will be framed from the WAIST UP.

Unlike many other camera shots, more than one source confirms that the Medium Shot can be written in ONLY one way:

You'll notice that "MEDIUM" is abbreviated to MED.. The Medium Shot is the ONLY Camera Shot that is ever abbreviated in the Scene Heading.

ALL of the examples below are INCORRECT:

BEST OPTION: No Camera Direction

Once again, your best option is to not use camera direction in the Scene Heading. Try this instead:

Tracking Shot:

A Tracking Shot is used when the camera needs to follow the Subject of Shot throughout the scene. Tracking Shots are also known as Moving Shots or Traveling Shots.

Here are examples of how they are usually formatting:

Writers alternatively may drop the word SHOT and hyphen between the Shot and the Subject, but when TRAVELING or MOVING is used, the word WITH must be added.

These examples are also CORRECT:

But these examples are INCORRECT:

In the first example above, SHOT was dropped, but not the hyphen.

In the last two examples, the writer either needs to add SHOT or drop the hyphen and add WITH.

BEST OPTION: No Camera Direction

The writer is once again much better off leaving the Tracking Shot to be assumed by using some clever writing in the Direction paragraph, like this:

Above the writer hasn't said that this scene is a Tracking Shot, but it is pretty obvious that's what the writer wants.

Aerial Shot:

Sometimes a writer will want a scene shot from far above the action on the screen. For this, an Aerial Shot is often used. Here is how it will look:

BEST OPTION: No Camera Direction

But there is a better, more acceptable way of pulling off an Aerial Shot without stepping on the director's toes. Consider THIS option:

Establishing Shot:

An Establishing Shot is one of the few times I don't mind seeing Camera Direction in a Scene Heading.

An Establishing Shot is basically a brief scene used to set up the next scene. If a writer is going to show, let's say, a group of characters having a seance in a haunted house, the writer may opt to clue the audience as to where the scene takes place. This is done by showing a quick shot of the outside of the haunted house just before cutting to the seance scene.

Establishing Shots have ONE IMPORTANT RULE: No main characters nor any important action may be present in an Establishing Shot. If so, then the scene isn't an Establishing Shot, it is a regular scene.

Here are two examples of how an Establishing Shot can look on the page:

At least one credible source says ESTABLISHING may be written AFTER the Time Indicator. Other sources show ESTABLISHING in parentheses next to the Time Indicator.

With that in mind, these are CORRECT and viable options:

But this is INCORRECT:

Why? Because main characters are present and important action is taking place. This should be treated as a normal scene with a normal scene heading (EXT. HAUNTED MANSION - NIGHT).

However, if an extra happened to be walking a dog outside the house as the Establishing Shot takes place, it would be fine if neither the person nor the action (nor the dog, for that matter) is important to the story line.

BEST OPTION: No Camera Direction

But you guessed it. Even with the Establishing Shot, avoiding camera direction is always the best option:

One last note about Establishing Shots. Establishing Shots are the ONLY kind of Scene Heading that may be left alone at the bottom of a script page. Why? Well, the Establishing Shot IS the scene. It will usually be directly followed by another Scene Heading.