A guide to sequence shots in film.

Improve your filmmaking with this helpful guide to sequence shots.

Filmmaking, even just vlogging, is much more than just splicing cool shots together. Before you even begin filming there’s major planning involved — from techniques to apply during shooting to editing tricks to polish it off. But with so many types of shots to choose from, taking some time beforehand to learn about sequence shots in particular — the why, how, and when to use them — will help you pull together an improved film or video final product.

What is sequence shooting?

Sequence shooting is a method used to capture a scene from various distances. Sequence shots ensure that the editor ends up with plenty of shot sizes to tell the story and keep the audience's attention. At a minimum, you should get a wide, medium, and close view of the scene.

Also known by the French term “Plan séquence,” sequence shooting involves laying out a series of camera movements and framed shots, including the above-mentioned wide (or “master shot”), medium, and close up shots, so that they move your story ahead in a logical fashion.

A good sequence shoot gives the viewer a powerful visual guide to following the film’s action — but as important as keeping their attention on the action, sequence shots actually build anticipation. After all, you want to leave your audience wanting more (instead of wanting to step out for more popcorn in those all-important moments).

Ultimately, for the filmmaker, sequence shooting helps prevent getting overwhelmed by the details. When you know which shots you’ll be using ahead of time, you can focus more on composition, lighting, and how the images will tell your story.

Common shots used in sequence shooting.

In films and longer form videos, the five most common types of camera angles (also known as shot framing) are:

  1. Close ups
  2. Wide-angle shots
  3. Medium shots
  4. Over the shoulder shots
  5. Point of view shots

At a minimum, you should make sure to get a wide, medium, and close up shot of the scene. Why those first three? Well, as the old saying goes "The wide tells where, the medium tells who, and the tight tells what." So, if you’re trying to tell a consistent story and you don’t want your audience to lose interest or be taken out of the moment, those three shots give you a great framework in which to place your characters or action.

Try out the Five-Shot plan.

One of the more popular shot sequences is called the Five-Shot. Let’s dive into how one might progress in an actual film shoot. Start by picturing a scene with a young girl intently drawing a picture:

  1. Begin with a close-up of her hands as she works on her art.
  2. Use a tracking shot to move up to her face, showing her concentrating.
  3. Take a medium shot capturing the girl and her immediate surroundings.
  4. Add a point-of-view shot, maybe from over her shoulder.
  5. Make the fifth shot a wide angle with a birds-eye view or other creative position.

The benefit of the five-shot sequence? This back-to-back shooting technique helps you build well-constructed yet complex, multi-part scenes that move your story forward with revealing character clues.

How storyboards help sequence shooting.

When you make a film or video, a storyboard can be a very helpful roadmap through the actual production process. By laying out your sequence shots on the storyboard, you’ll know which you need to create and how to create them, so you have the best footage to work with in post-production editing.

Beyond giving you a more organized plan to follow, a shot-by-shot storyboard can help keep filming errors to a minimum, saving you time which would otherwise have gone into reworking, replanning, and general hairpulling. Specifically, when you layout a shot sequence on a storyboard you’ll be able to conveniently see where your scenes, shots, and frames have unity and where they don’t. Plus, you’ll be able to get in there and reorder them before your cameraperson (if that isn’t you) snaps the slate and yells “Action.”

4 different sequence shot layouts.

From action to reaction, learn more about these different types of sequence shot plans and how best to use them in your next project.

Match on action

Sometimes called “cutting on action,” this sequence takes multiple shots from different angles while preserving the continuity of the subject’s action. Each new shot picks up the action right from the previous shot and, when done well, creates a seamless look. But keep in mind that easily repeated small actions — like the actor slowly sipping from a glass in each shot rather than sipping in one take and gulping in the other — work best for this type of sequence.

Close up collage

Imagine a sequence comprised of a series of closeups progressing through a moment of time. From a woman’s eyes looking down, to the cover of the book she’s reading to her red nails turning a page to the next page torn out of the spine, leaving the character and viewer on tender hooks. It all adds up to great pieces of a visual character puzzle. Plus, when you pair a close up collage sequence with voiceover it adds even more flair to the character’s story.

The reveal

The reveal sequence shot is akin to what you’d like to see someone experience when they walk into a surprise party. It should reveal something totally unexpected as the last shot in a sequence. You want it to elicit a gasp of surprise, joy, or even outright fear (if horror is your game). The possibilities for reveal shots are endless — just make sure that you hide the surprise and give nothing away in the first shot of the sequence. As they say, end on a high (or scary) note.

The action/reaction

When you shoot an action/reaction sequence, you’re cutting away from the main scene (or action) to show a character’s reaction to it. It usually shows a character’s facial expression in a close-up or medium shot but you can also use action/reactions to showcase a spatial relationship between two subjects. For example, a huge wave moving towards a beach followed by a shot of sunbathers looking out towards the looming damage. Either way, action/reaction shots tend to suggest what the viewer themselves should be feeling.

Use the continuity system to film sequence shots.

Sequence shots refer to what you film — how you film it is governed by something called the “continuity system.” The continuity system — a technical way to maintain consistency of both time and space in films — is a camera and editing technique that nearly all film and television productions now use in filming and post-production to create a better viewing experience.

When you shoot sequence shots with continuity system techniques, you benefit from a set of standardized camera directions that were created to give the audience the smoothest viewing experience possible. The goal behind the continuity system is to present a film with editing so invisible that the viewer never becomes distracted. You don’t want them to see awkward jumps between shots or get confused by the spatial layout.

One of the foundations of this camera direction system is called the “180-degree rule”. It states that the camera must stay on only one side of the action and objects in a scene. An invisible line, known as the 180-degree line (or axis of action), runs through the scene so the filmmaker can achieve a seamless style of narration. This way characters and objects don’t flip flop — from shot to shot, if they’re on the right, they’ll stay there, and if they’re on the left, they’ll always be on the left — hence the “continuity” part of the continuity system.

Following the rules of the continuity system helps you to avoid continuity errors and provides your editors with the sequence shot footage needed to offer the audience that all-important “smooth view.”

Take filmmaking skills to a new high.

Learning how to plan, design, and film sequence shots is just one of the ways you can become a better filmmaker. If you’re interested in other ways to inspire creativity and discover more video creation and filmmaking techniques, including directing advice, editing ideas and more, take a moment to explore these helpful tips and trends. Then, discover everything you can do with Adobe Premiere Pro to take your films and videos to the next level.