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Filmmaking Basics: The Sequence

Sequence
Films are made up of sequences of shots. So if a single shot is a bit like a sentence in a story, a sequence is like a paragraph.

When you’re filming, you should think about how the clips will fit together into these sequences. You can follow some simple systems and rules to help with this.

Coverage

You need to film enough shots to show everything you need to show. You also need to make sure you’ve got enough material to edit with. You can work this out by using a storyboard or shot list to plan your film. You can also follow some simple patterns or sets of shots.

It’s important to film each shot for long enough: at least ten seconds for a shot where nothing happens, and at least five seconds before and after any action or speech.

You could:

  • move in: start with a long shot or extreme long shot to set the scene, then move closer
  • move out: start with closeups, then gradually use wider shots to reveal where the scene is set
  • use three shots: the thing, the person, the person with the thing
  • follow a shooting ‘pattern’
  • film cutaways/B-roll: extra shots of details and objects in the scene
  • film a master shot: a long or wide shot of all the action from start to finish.

Five shots
The five shot pattern is one way to get coverage. 

Learn more about how to ensure coverage.

Continuity

Continuity shots
You also need to make sure that your shots will fit together properly. To do this, you need to understand the continuity system. This is a set of simple rules about where to put the camera, how to frame the shots, and how to edit them. If you follow the rules, it’ll be easier for your audience to understand what’s going on. And your film will seem to flow more smoothly, so viewers will get  more involved in the story. 

The system includes

  • match on action: film different shots of the same action with different framing/camera positions, so you can cut between the different shots when you edit
  • shot-reverse shot: film in one direction, then in roughly the opposite direction
  • the 180 degree rule: by keeping your camera on one side of an imaginary line, you’ll ensure that the shots make sense together
  • eyeline match: when you edit together shots of a person looking at something in the next shot, they must be looking in the right direction.

Learn more about the continuity system.

Montage

You don’t have to follow the continuity system. You could also use montage.

Summary montage
A summary montage combines shots from different points in the story. You can use this to sum up a story, or to compress a series of events that take place over a longer period of time.

impression montageMontage can give an overall impression of a setting or story. These kinds of montage are often used for title sequences.

Montage of attractions (or Soviet montage) combines images to create an overall impression, build meaning and make connections between images and ideas.

Learn more about Soviet montage.

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Tom Barrance

Tom Barrance I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and EditClass