Cover Your Scene (and Your Butt)
The term “coverage” refers to the variety of shots you use to visually tell your story. Think of it not just as covering your scene, but covering your butt in editing. Apart from just breaking up the monotony of a single, long camera shot, getting more shots or additional coverage will provide plenty of opportunities to cut away from your main shot in the editing room. This makes it easy to condense time and work around problem shots. With good coverage an editor can easily condense interviews, events, and demonstrations down to a smooth few minutes to tell a story that’s visually dynamic and one that conveys more info using the visual language of filmmaking. Freestyle and experiment as much as you want when shooting and editing, but know that the filmmakers that get the best results from breaking the rules of screen grammar already know the rules inside and out. Here then, are just a few of the rules.
These are often wider exterior shots. An office tower, a subject entering the room, street signs on a city corner, the room the interview is taking place all are examples of typical establishing shots. However, establishing shots can also be as tight as a street sign, a colorful taxi, or any other shot that gives your audience some sense of the flavor of the location. You can use a single shot or show a brief sequence of shots that establishes the atmosphere and activity of a location. Generally, you’d start with your widest shot, then bring the audience into the scene with progressively more intimate shots.
Wide Shots (WS)
Wide shots or master shots are your conservative “safety” shots that will save your scene if that funky creative framing you tried doesn’t work out. It’s the one shot that you can always count on to cover all the action. No matter who’s speaking or what happens—it’s in the master shot. Looking at a master shot we should get some sense of the setting and a full sense of the scale of the main action whether it’s children playing in a stream or simply a subject talking on the phone. If two or more subjects are interacting, try to get an angle that includes all the participants. Until you fully understand the visual language of docs (and probably even after that) you should make it a habit to get a good master shot first. Then go in for tighter and more creative angles as the scene dictates. Ask yourself this question on location: “If I had to communicate this whole scene to an audience with only one shot—what would that shot be?” Whatever you frame up in your monitor in response to that question will probably make for a good master shot.
Medium Shots (MS)
Medium shots are basically framed from the waist up. Medium shots bring the audience in closer to further inform them of what people are wearing or doing. Most notably, medium shots show us a subject’s gestures and body language. You should never underestimate the incredible power of body language in storytelling. Body language and gestures communicate more information in a matter of seconds than speech alone ever could. (That’s why us New Yorkers always gesture to other drivers with
Close Ups (CU)
Now that you’ve told the audience where you are with the establishing shot, and you gave them a medium shot to show them your subject’s dress, action, and gestures, it’s time to get intimate with some close-ups. Close-up shots range from the chest or shoulders up and are often used to capture dialogue, show expression, and otherwise bring your audience close to the character or object on screen. Apart from intimacy, close-ups draw our attention to specific details onscreen.
Excerpt from The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production by Anthony Q. Artis, © 2014. Taylor & Francis Goup, LLC. All rights reserved.
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