An establishing shot in filmmaking and television production sets up, or establishes the context for a scene by showing the relationship between its important figures and objects. It is generally a long- or extreme-long shot at the beginning of a scene indicating where, and sometimes when, the remainder of the scene takes place.
Establishing shots may use famous landmarks to indicate the city where the action is taking place or has moved to, such as Big Ben to identify London, the Statue of Liberty to identify New York, the Sydney Opera House to identify Sydney, the Eiffel Tower to identify Paris or the Las Vegas Strip to identify Las Vegas .
Sometimes the viewer is guided in his understanding of the action. For example, an exterior shot of a building at night followed by an interior shot of people talking implies that the conversation is taking place at night inside that building - the conversation may in fact have been filmed on a studio set far from the apparent location, because of budget, permits or time limitations.
Alternatively, an establishing shot might just be a long shot of a room that shows all the characters from a particular scene. For example, a scene about a murder in a college lecture hall might begin with a shot that shows the entire room, including the lecturing professor and the students taking notes. A close-up shot can also be used at the beginning of a scene to establish the setting (such as, for the lecture hall scene, a shot of a pencil writing notes).
Establishing shots were more common during the classical era of filmmaking than they are now. Today's filmmakers tend to skip the establishing shot in order to move the scene along more quickly. In addition, scenes in mysteries and the like often wish to obscure the setting and its participants and thus avoid clarifying them with an establishing shot.[original research?]
An establishing shot may also establish a concept, rather than a location. For example, opening with a martial arts drill visually establishes the theme of martial arts. A shot of rain falling could be an establishing shot, followed by more and more detailed look at the rain, culminating with individual raindrops falling. A film maker is colluding with his audience to provide a shorthand learned through a common cinematic cultural background.
An establishing shot should be two or three seconds - long enough for viewers to appreciate the scene. However, a good example of an establishing shot that breaks that rule can be found at the beginning of the film Wake in Fright, where it pans over the vast desert landscape of Australia, accompanied by unsettling music to set the mood for the whole film that the desert is a big and dangerous place. The pan shot lasts for about half a minute. An establishing shot of that length would be cumbersome if placed after the film had started, because by then the film should have been established and the story would be underway.
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Continuity editing topics
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