November 6, 2017

What Is Sequence Shooting and How Can It Help You Be a Better Storyteller?

When you set out to shoot, how do you know what kinds of shots to capture?

No matter what you're shooting, be it a documentary, a feature, or even just some b-roll, that all-important question will be jumping around in your head constantly: "What should I shoot?" Granted, the answer is going to be different depending on the project you're working on, but if you focus less on the specific shots and more on the general type of shots, you might be able to make sense of an otherwise chaotic and confusing filmmaking experience.

In this video, Teppo Haapoja goes over a foundational filmmaking concept that will help you to not only plan and organize your day of shooting easier but to also ensure that you're getting all of the shots you need for your edit.

Though Haapoja calls this essential technique "sequence shooting," many other filmmakers know it as "coverage." It's the practice of capturing a scene from different distances to ensure that you have, at least, a wide (also called a "master shot"), medium, and close-up. This ensures that when it comes time to edit footage, the editor has plenty of shot sizes to work with.

"The wide tells where, the medium tells who, and the tight tells what."

Teppo's advice here is uniquely important for filmmakers and vloggers who may not always have a plan when they set out to shoot some b-roll (or even their principal photography!), because when you're out there in the thick of it, it's easy to get confused by what you've shot and what you need to shoot. Sequence shooting helps you avoid being overwhelmed by the details, allowing you to simplify your mental shot list by reciting a simple mantra, "wide, medium, tight," that way you can focus more on composition, lighting, and how you're going to tell a story with your images.

But even if you do plan your shots ahead of time, you can still use the idea behind sequence shooting to pencil in the shots you're going to need before you shoot them.      

Your Comment

10 Comments

No, no, no. Dear God, no. Please, do not get a whole new group / generation of filmmakers locked in to the wide-medium-tight progression. When they read / watch articles like this, they are too apt to take it as law, and we all end up watching the same boring coverage, scene after scene, film after film.

One does not need to be wide to inform as to the geographical location information needed by the audience. If I frame a close up on a plate of half- or mostly-eaten food (let’s say dim sum, for the sake of example) sitting on a Formica table with a garish neon sign in soft focus, hanging in or above the window in the background, the audience will know we’re in a Chinese restaurant, after a meal. We do not need the go-to establishing shot of the restaurant’s exterior (unless required story elements exist in the facade). Settings can be established in a variety of ways. To tell filmmakers that there is only one way — the wide, establishing shot way — to convey setting information is artificially limiting.

In the simplistic example I started above, I could cut from the CU on the plate out to a medium shot of two men in business suits, sitting in the booth with the dishes of their finished meal laid out before them. With that new framing, I accomplish the “who,” but I could also do it with another CU on some identifying gang tattoo or a briefcase chained to a wrist or whatever. Anyway, to continue the point, I could then cut to a long shot to include the restaurant door where three assassins charge in and kill one or both of the men in the booth, and that shot will have conveyed the what.

Does information need to be conveyed in a clear, systematic method? Yes, without question. But if you give nascent filmmakers formulaic recipes, we all end up having to sit through formulaic films. The focus should be on tying shots to the delivery of story elements in a proper sequence that ensures audience comprehension and enjoyment. I designed a film for a 2018 shoot where the progression of information dissemination via composition and framing is specific to different characters within the story — protagonist scenes progress visually one way; antagonist-dominant scenes another.

Shots are building blocks or components of an equation. When one fully understands the story needing to be told, one appreciates and utilizeds that while 1 + 2 + 4 = 7, so does 4 + 2 + 1, as well as all the other mathematic iterations.

Let’s encourage filmmakers to know their stories to the very core and work to find the most interesting and compelling ways to tell them. The multiplexes already have enough “by the book” filmmaking numbing us into staying home.

November 6, 2017 at 10:20PM

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Greg Anderson
Director | Producer | Writer
161

I think you missed the point. Getting proper coverage is pretty essential in filmmaking, ask any editor. This is a simplification of that for beginners, it's obviously not meant to tell you how you should shoot your film. You can always make the choice to cut shots in post, the reverse is not so easy.

November 6, 2017 at 11:44PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1151

Can't knock the basics man. If your script and performances are interesting enough, no one will care if you deliver a scene in three sizes or a oner. Do what works. For a lot of young/inexperienced filmmakers, coverage is a good exercise so you can cover your butt in post.

November 7, 2017 at 12:06AM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1057

Surprised you haven't been upvoted a ton... I nearly stood up and applauded after reading your comment.

Yeah, this is a simplification for beginning filmmakers. Except, if you learn cookie-cutter, boring, flowchart filmmaking right at the beginning you risk a(nother) generation of filmmakers with bad, lazy habits.

Yes, editors need coverage and options. But your shot list should be motivated by how best to tell the story. Don't settle for this "eh, lets get the master some mediums and some close-ups and we'll figure out how to tell this story visually in the editing room" bs.

November 7, 2017 at 9:51AM

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Scott Cassidy
Director
112

Right On!

This kind of paint-by-numbers, flowchart filmmaking is a dangerous form of idiot-proofing. I totally get it that you need to give your editor options for constructing a scene, but that doesn't mean that every scene needs the same kind of standard coverage.
I'm not saying everyone needs to shoot their scenes like Steven Spielberg or Brad Bird, but cinematography can do so much to enhance HOW a story is told. The lesson should be "make sure you get the necessary coverage to construct the scene you envision" as opposed to presenting a formula for how to shoot ANY scene.

November 7, 2017 at 10:33AM

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Let me just say, as a complete beginner learning how to shoot and edit films, I found this tutorial EXTREMELY helpful. It allowed me to think of films differently and observe a new element to shooting that I had not known about before.

Isn't that what we come here for anyways? To learn. I subscribe to blogs and videos like this to do exactly that. Unfortunately, you can't teach art. That is something you must figure out on your own. It requires an open mind, a knowledge of the basics, and a dialogue between what is popular to do and what can be done differently.

I appreciatie your voice on this subject, as it has allowed me to know how certain filmmakers feel about the above formula. But, I can honestly say that I will be using it in my future videos to help tell my story. I said nothing about doing this technique exclusively, like you assume all new filmmakers would be doing. Nor do I believe the creator of the video assumed either. He was simply showing one way to do it, and in a very convincing and well put together video, I might add.

Thanks for sharing No Film School!

November 9, 2017 at 12:21AM

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lovely reply Greg, you hit the nail! so kiddos, go trial and error, fail miserably and develop your own language!

November 10, 2017 at 7:30PM

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Awesome...
Another great lesson.
Thanks.

November 7, 2017 at 3:52AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
725

Learned about Master scene technique and the triple take technique by Mascelli back in the day in film school. Then I went into 3D Animation and by the grace of storyboards and Animatics never had to think about it anymore. It can save you on set but it can just as easily become a paint by numbers system.

November 8, 2017 at 6:13AM

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Willie Bouwer
Lecturer / Cinematographer / VFX Artist
172

In any creative process many people do not start off being that creative. Having a formula or guideline as the basis is not a bad thing and most will improve with experience. They will learn that you can 'break the rules' and experiment. We all have to start somewhere and suggestions such as these will hopefully allow some filmmakers make that jump from 'bad' to 'better'.

November 10, 2017 at 7:07PM, Edited November 10, 7:07PM

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