Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


The Student Film Look: Establishing Shots

Students and beginning filmmakers are often enthralled with trying to achieve the "film look." This series will be some of my observations of ways to avoid the "student film look" that is all too common in student and low budget productions.

I think I'm beginning to narrow down some of little fixes that, if implemented, would really help your next production look more like a professional piece. And the first would be to use establishing shots.

Low budget productions don't have these. Sprinkling a few one second shots of buildings into your film will improve it's quality tremendously.

The Five Laws of Establishing Shots:
  1. The image must convey a location--be it a house, a village or a planet
  2. Recognizable characters must not be in the shot
  3. It must be short (with no significant camera motion)
  4. It must have its own sound (but the next scene's audio often starts here)
  5. One should be included with every major location change

Write them into your index cards and script if you need to. You need these shots. Not that the audience can't figure out that you've moved from the hideout to the space station. That's not the important function of an establishing shot. The establishing shot establishes the location for your next scene. It's a sign post, if you will. It quietly leads your viewers from one location to the next. It's not necessary--which is likely why people on a tight budget and time frame ignore it--but it does expand the production value of your flick.

Next time you're on set, see if you can grab a quick exterior of your location. Or find some stock footage of a similar location. Or find a completely different exterior location that will work to establish the location of whatever you built on your set.

These extra few seconds will improve your production quality far beyond your short focus depth and moody lighting.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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