Shot Headings: Shot Types

 In How To Write a Screenplay, Screenplay Blog, Screenplay Format, Shot Headings

Shot types indicate a specific type of shot to be used in a scene. As an aspiring screenwriter, you should be careful — you’re walking the “write, don’t direct” tightrope with some of ’em. Most of the time, I only use two (CLOSE ON & INSERT), and that’s only when I want to convey essential information. I’m not trying to direct. I’m bringing something to the reader’s attention. But, hey, rules are meant to be broken in this game. Below you’ll find a decent list of shot types for your screenplay:

CLOSE UP SHOT

Close up is exactly what it means — you’re gonna get in close so folks can see the fine details. There are many ways to write to write this:

  • CLOSE ON SUBJECT
  • CLOSE – SUBJECT
  • CLOSER ON SUBJECT
  • CLOSEUP – SUBJECT
  • CU – SUBJECT

Let’s see how a pro does it. From Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead by Kelly Masterson:

CLOSE ON ANDY’S HAND reaching way into the back of the drawer to remove the false bottom. In the drawer is a single file folder and a medium-sized Jewelry Gift Box.

And another way to look at a closeup shot — from As Good As It Gets by James J. Brooks & Mark Andrus:

EXT. NEW YORK CITY STREET NEAR CAROL’S RESTAURANT – DAY

A crowded and dirty street and here comes Melvin. His walk is brisk -- an animal wanting to pass through the danger without giving off the scent of its mounting fear. At times he places his palms together and extends his arms cutting a path through people. We will be very pointed in the fact that he avoids stepping on cracks.

CLOSER ON MELVIN

His eyes focused on the terrain.

And another. From (500) Days of Summer by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber:

CU – SUMMER’S BREASTS (UNDER A BLACK T-SHIRT)

TOM (V.O.)

I love how she looks in my Clash T-shirt.

You can even go with an EXTREME CLOSE UP if you’re so inclined. From The Descendants’ Oscar-winning screenplay:

Kai nods sympathetically before turning back to Elizabeth.

EXTREME CLOSEUP of Liz’s lips as Kai applies lipstick.

INSERT SHOT

This shot is often used when you’re seeing something in a book, magazine, or note. From Rushmore by Wes “King of Insert Shots” Anderson and Owen Wilson:

Mr. Blume nods. He turns away and walks off. She watches him go. She looks at the envelope.

INSERT LETTER WRITTEN IN CALLIGRAPHY ON CRISP STATIONERY

Max reads in voice-over.

Dear Miss Cross, I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize for the events of the night of the twenty- third. I am not accustomed to drinking alcohol. Please do me the service of coming to the unveiling of a new venture I have undertaken.

I hope you will attend, if possible. I remain, your friend, Max Fischer.

WIDE SHOT

A wide shot pulls back the camera to get a bigger sense of the area. From Teddy Tally’s Oscar-winning adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs:

Clarice is pulling on a pair of surgical gloves. She raises her voice, turning up her natural accent by several notches.

CLARICE

Gentlemen. You officers and gentlemen! Listen here a minute please. There’s thing I need to do for her...

WIDER ANGLE –

as we see that the small room is very crowded with deputies and troopers. They gradually fall slient, looking at her.

You could also write it like this:

Clarice is pulling on a pair of surgical gloves. She raises her voice, turning up her natural accent by several notches.

CLARICE

Gentlemen. You officers and gentlemen! Listen here a minute please. There’s thing I need to do for her...

WIDE ON ROOM

as we see that the small room is very crowded with deputies and troopers. They gradually fall slient, looking at her.

Or this:

Clarice is pulling on a pair of surgical gloves. She raises her voice, turning up her natural accent by several notches.

CLARICE

Gentlemen. You officers and gentlemen! Listen here a minute please. There’s thing I need to do for her...

WIDE – ROOM

as we see that the small room is very crowded with deputies and troopers. They gradually fall slient, looking at her.

This technique has been used in countless films. I recommend you steal it just as Ted Tally did.

POV SHOT

A shot that indicates the point-of-view of a particular character. From The Departed by William Monahan:

The bagpipe band plays “Minstrel Boy.”

COLIN’S POV

AN OLDSMOBILE. COSTELLO and MISTER FRENCH standing by the car.

From The King’s Speech by David Seidler:

POV – Bertie has disappeared from view.

CLOSE ON LIONEL as he realises...he’s no longer therapist to a man who might have to become King.

TWO SHOT / THREE SHOT

Whenever you see this, it means either two or three people are in the shot. From one of the most famous scenes in movie history:

TWO SHOT – JULES AND VINCENT

Standing next to each other, unharmed. Amazing as it seems, none of the Fourth Man’s shots appear to have hit anybody. Jules and Vincent exchange looks like, “Are we hit?”

ESTABLISHING SHOT

An establishing shot is used to show the exterior location where the next scene will take place. I don’t see this used in many scripts. Nevertheless, some like to use it. Let’s take Lars and the Real Girl by Nancy Oliver as an example:

EXT. MIDWEST WINTER LANDSCAPE -- EARLY MORNING

The beginning of winter. Dead cold fields; pine and bare tree woods; a highway that leads to small town, a lake. Beautiful in a stark winter way but very cold.

EXT. LINDSTROM HOUSE

Establishing.

EXT. LARS’S GARAGE APARTMENT -- MORNING

Establishing.

INT. LAR’S GARAGE APT. -- MORNING

Lars is dressed for church.

You could also choose from any of these:

EXT. LINDSTROM HOUSE – MORNING (ESTABLISHING)

EXT. LINDSTROM HOUSE – ESTABLISHING -- MORNING

EXT. LINDSTROM HOUSE -- MORNING

ESTABLISHING.

The important thing to remember is consistency. Don’t use it one way and the choose another five to ten pages down the line.

UNDERWATER SHOT

Sometimes something important happens underwater. Let’s take a look at three films.

From Buck Henry adaptation of The Graduate:

EXT. BRADDOCK BACKYARD AND POOL AREA – DAY

We see Mrs. Braddock in the kitchen. Ben comes through the back door, moves to the pool and dives in. The raft floats in the center of the pool.

SHOT – UNDERWATER

Ben swims toward us the length of the pool.

If this scene were written today, you’d probably see it written like this:

EXT. BRADDOCK BACKYARD AND POOL AREA – DAY

We see Mrs. Braddock in the kitchen. Ben comes through the back door, moves to the pool and dives in. The raft floats in the center of the pool.

UNDERWATER SHOT

Ben swims toward us the length of the pool.

From James Cameron’s The Abyss:

EXT. OCEAN/UNDERWATER

In the cobalt twilight we see the Montana slide down the sea cliff, its hull SCREECHING like the death agonies of some marine dinosaur.  Descending in an avalanche of silt, it finally disappears into the blackness below... a blackness which continues almost straight down, 20,000 feet to the bottom of the Cayman Trough.  The abyss.

From Jaws:

The pole gives way, the rope whipping down on the gunwale....the pulling of the tonnage below is tipping the Orca, dragging it, but Quint won’t give up the winch.  Brody hauls on the rope barehanded.

UNDERWATER – HOOPER

maneuvering downward, away from the jaws...Suddenly the crazed shark veers upward for the surface.

SURFACE – QUINT

The winch is working faster now, Quint demonically winding it in.  The crushed cage bangs against the hull then breaks water.

Brody is horrified.  THE CAGE IS EMPTY!

There’s a lot I’ve out, but the shots I’ve described should put the acceptable formats in your head. And if the above examples are any indication, you can write things however you damn well please. Whatever you do, always remember to stay consistent with your choices!

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Showing 5 comments
  • Francis Shelton-Rêves
    Reply

    This is very helpful! Thank you so much for valuable contribution!

  • Meg
    Reply

    So very helpful – thank you! Difficult to know how much you leave up to the director and DOP etc.
    I’m a bit of an artistic control freak when it comes to writing, but nice to have the ‘permission’ as such to put in details of shots at least, and have the proper language to do so.

    Many thanks!

  • Justice
    Reply

    Exactly what i needed to know. thanks.

  • Monique
    Reply

    Thank you for this. It’s not always easy to find good information on format. I appreciate it.

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