Heat shot breakdownFor those who have never made a film before, and even for those who have, the process of planning every shot is incredibly complicated and overwhelming at times. Making motivated and purposeful decisions on composition, lenses, and camera movement for each shot is essential to make coherent films, and filmschoolthrucommentaries has shared one technique used by virtually every filmmaker to study films -- the shot breakdown.

I did my fair share of shot breakdowns in school, and for me, it wasn't the most exciting or creative way to spend my weekends. But, somewhere around the second or third hour of cropping and labeling screenshots, I started to realize that my descriptions and analysis became more instant and natural. I wouldn't have to flip through a textbook to decipher what I was seeing; I was learning the beautifully complex language of film, reading and understanding films on my own, and anticipating (correctly) each shot that was likely to follow.

In a post by filmschoolthrucommentaries, this process of breaking down each shot of a film -- an approach to film study taken by Die Hard director John McTiernan, is explored at great length. McTiernan explains learning this technique from an instructor:

What he used to make me memorize was the shots. He’d say, “Ok, learn that movie!” -- by learn that movie he meant; you sit down with a bunch of paper and pencils and write -- shot for shot -- the movie from memory -- He made me learn to think of movies as a chain of images where you would fashion the entire chain of images.

There's no one way to do a shot breakdown; you can make up your own way that serves you best. Some simply label each shot (Shot #1, Shot #2, etc.) and describe the shot size, composition, lens used, etc. Others take stills from each shot for a visual aid. If you really want to torture yourself, you can storyboard the entire damn film shot for shot.


Check out filmschoolthrucommentaries' post to get the link to download a full shot breakdown of Michael Mann's 1995 film Heat.

Have you ever broken down an entire film shot by shot? Did it help you understand the process better? What do you do to study films?

Link: Shot Breakdown 001: Heat (1995) -- filmschoolthrucommentaries