The Grammar of Movie Production



The Basic unit. Continuous picture from one camera. Several shots are cut together to create a sequence.


An assembly of shots to develop one idea or event. A sequence often contains a slice of time. Can be compared to a chapter in a book.


The scene setter. Establishes mood. screen geography. characters. Usually a wide shot.


Long shot (Wide shot). Medium shot. Medium Big close-up. Definitions only relative. Also by number of characters in shot: e.g. Two shot, Three shot etc.


'The art of stringing together a succession of shots so that they appear continuous on the screen.

1. Practical problems: Weather, costumes, make-up, props, availability of talent.

2. Photographic problems: Lighting, colour balance, weather.

3. Narrative problems: Angles, screen direction, movement and action, pictorial content.

Maintaining continuity is more difficult when shots are made out of their final screen order. But efficient shooting demands this. A Script becomes vitally necessary.


Action which is to be depicted continuously must have same direction on screen from shot to shot.

Necessity to preserve continuity of movement dictates camera position Action axis. or line.

Important to match speed of movement.

If direction must change show change on screen.

Match entrances and exits for cutting.

Opposing screen direction. Classic example: Cowboys and Indians about to clash.


Static screen direction concerned with looks. how characters look at each other etc. Eyes all important.

Axis for static screen direction established by drawing imaginary line through two players nearest camera on opposite sides of screen. This rule may be extended to cover every situation or number of players.

©2003 Ron H Bannister Auckland



The method by which we go from shot to shot or scene to scene is very important in establishing continuity.

 Do not use transitions indiscriminately.  They indicate a particular relationship.  Therefore, the director must know what the transition says about the two shots that it joins.
The following conventions have been established and should be adhered to:


The cut is the normal method of getting from one camera shot  to another when the action is continuous in time. It signifies a different look, from a different angle of the same continuous action going on in the same place.

THE MIX (or dissolve):
A smooth gradual transition from one picture to the other; as one image is faded out, another is simultaneously faded in. Indicates a minor disconuity in time and/or place. It can show a strong relationship between shots or smoothly join different actions.

A gradual change of the image to black, or from black. The fade indicates a major discontinuity in time and/or place. It indicates the end of a program segment.  Every program should start in black and end in black.

The image of one camera appears to wipe the image of another camera off the screen.  The wipe indicates a close relationship between the two shots, e.g. between live action and instant replay in sportscasts, or in educational programs where the information in the two shots is similar.

A variation of the wipe is the split screen where two actions happening simultaineously at different locations are shown on the screen together. An example of this is where two people are talking on the telephone.


The camera shot is put out of focus, repositioned, then put back in focus; or there is a mix to another camera which is out of focus, and it is put into focus. Indicates loss of consciousness (Fainting, sleeping getting hit on the head), thinking of the past and a suspenseful ending where the results are not known. It can also indicate a change in location and/or time.

A very fast camera pan during which the shot is completely blurred.  The zip pan joins two actions occurring simultaneously but in different locations.

©1986 Ron H Bannister Auckland 



Standard narrative editing.  Shots, when joined, give appearance of continuous, uninterrupted action.

Involved shots of action which is discrete and related by context rather than by continuous action.

To be avoided...
Biggest help to smooth cutting and avoiding jump cuts is to cut on action. Action must be precisely matched when shot and cut.


A detail of main action in close-up.

A cut in can show a process or close-up of what someone is doing.  A two shot should always come before a series of over the shoulder close-ups.  Cut-ins can  be used to shorten or extend time.

Related to main action but not part of it.

The most useful cut-away is a reaction to the main event. If a cut-away is inserted into a shot in which there is continuing action, make sure the action has progressed somewhat when you cut back to it, to allow for elapsed time. Cut-aways can be used to shorten or extend time.

Need to Re-establish

After cutting away and cutting in there is often a need to Re-establish:  To remind audience where the action is taking place, show that activity is progressing, introduce new action or show actor entering or leaving room.

DO'S AND Don’ts:

Don't Intercut static and moving shots of static subject matter.
Do keep in mind length of camera movements, as it's difficult to shorten them in editing.
Do shoot close-ups of lengthy actions to allow shortening on screen.

The necessity to cheat actors and props as always cropping up.  Don't hesitate to cheat if you can get away with it.  Appearance is a good guide to cheating.  If it looks right it's okay.


©1986 Ron H Bannister  Auckland





A video production is made up of many shots. Each shot requires the camera to be placed in the best position for viewing the subjects, the setting and the action taking place at the time.

The camera angle dictates the audience’s viewpoint and the area covered in the shot.

OBJECTIVE CAMERA ANGLE. With the objective camera angle the audience sees the event through the eyes of an unseen observer. This angle does not represent the view of anyone within the scene and it is impersonal. Subjects are not aware of the camera and never look into the lens.

SUBJECTIVE CAMERA ANGLE. The camera trades places with one of the characters on the screen and the audience sees the action through the eyes of that person.

People in the scene look directly into the camera and establish an eye-to-eye relationship with the viewer.

A television news reader or reporter is shot with a subjective camera. The viewer feels that the person on the screen is talking directly to them.

POINT OF VIEW. This shot is often used in dramatic productions and records the scene from a player's point of view. Point of view is as close as an objective shot can come to being subjective and still remain objective.

The camera is placed close to one of the players in the scene so that the viewer is given the impression of standing along side of that person and seeing the same view.

The over the shoulder shot of two people in conversation is a typical point of view shot. Note that in this type of shot the actors never look at the camera but interact with each other.

Objective and point of view shots may be cut together without problems but a cut from objective to subjective may have a jarring effect on the audience.


Lens angles or angle of view such as Wide Shot, Mid Shot, and Close Up have been discussed in previous lessons and need no further mention at this time.


The term Two Shot is often used in scripts and describes a shot containing two people, usually in conversation. The lens angle is adjusted or the camera placed so that the two subjects are filling most of the frame, usually in Mid Shot.


Camera height is another shooting angle and one that is often overlooked. Usually the camera operator sets the tripod to a comfortable height and works from there.

Audience involvement and how they react to a scene is determined by whether it is viewed from eye level or above or below it.

A series of eye level shots is rather ordinary and is not very interesting when compared to a series of shots taken at differing angles above and below the subject.

If all shots are made at eye level the production may be rather dull while a variety of camera angles will hold the viewer's interest.

A level camera angle is used in a subjective shot so that the camera matches the subjects eye level. If the subject is seated the camera should not be tilted down but lowered and set level with subjects eye line.

Point of view shots are made with the camera set to the height of the person who's point of view is being shown at the time.

When filming something like a Christmas parade many people like to shoot from a high vantage point, looking down on the floats. The camera never moves and everything is shot from the same angle.

It is much better to get the viewer involved with what's going on. Get down to the level of the children viewing the parade, shoot the floats from this angle from their point of view. Also shoot cut-aways of the children from their height with the camera at their eye level.

Video shot this way will make the viewer feel like they are there and part of the action.


Shooting down from a high angle will make a subject look smaller or weaker.

Use a high angle shot in dramatic productions when a character is to be belittled, as when confronted by a bigger, stronger or more dominating person.

The high angle can be used to convey the way a person feels when he is disgraced or humiliated.


When the camera shoots upward from a low angle the subject dominates. In a dramatic production this is used to show a stronger, threatening or more important character.

Sometimes shooting the hero from a slightly low angle gives him a larger than life quality and shooting a speaker from below gives an air of authority.

A low angle makes buildings, monuments and man made or natural structures look big and impressive.

Thoughtful use of camera angles add variety and impact to any production. Don't use different angles just for their sake alone but select the angle that makes the best use of each shot.

Camera angles that capture and sustain continued audience interest must be selected.


©2003 Ron H Bannister Auckland NZ




The complete action is staged as one continuous event and recorded in one continuous take from beginning to end. If shooting with one camera, portions of action are later repeated to get the necessary material for intercutting.
Master scene shooting requires actors to repeat portions with exactly the same action and dialogue.  Much attention needs to be paid to relative positions of performers, props and backgrounds, as well as details of make-up and wardrobe.

Involves thinking in threes...the shot you're working on, the one you've just done and the one you're going to do next. Overlapping the end of one shot and the beginning of the next. It is the simplest method of obtaining shot to shot continuity.

Reverse angles often introduce completely new background. Confusing for audience. Follow principle of Action-axis.
The main thing to avoid is suddenly confronting audience with transposed players against a new background.  If scene originally established properly, the reverse background will be in keeping, and the audience will not suddenly wonder where they are.

"Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."
Cross cutting used to: Heighten interest, Provide conflict, heighten suspense, make comparisons, depict contrast.

Always be aware that an audience can become confused and disoriented very quickly.:
The audience should be completely clear about where they are in time.


©1986 Ron H Bannister Auckland

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