After writing the script, one of my favorite moments is envisioning the production coming together. From dreaming about locations to what tech we’ll be using on set, every production can only be as great as the planning in pre-production. An essential part of pre-production is breaking down your script and creating a shot list to ensure you have the proper coverage on each scene. Making sure you have film coverage saves you time, money, and frustration on set and in post-production. Let’s dive in and explain film coverage.
What is Coverage in Film?
Film coverage refers to all the angles of a particular scene you’ll need to obtain for your audience to understand the story. You’ll need adequate coverage for your editor to be able to make a creative edit.
Typically, a director will work with the director of photography to identify the film’s tone, look and feel. From there, they will break down the script into a shot list. The shot list is the working list of shots for each scene. Even though directors and cinematographers prepare a shot list, coverage depends on budget, time, and location.
Why is Coverage is Important in Filmmaking
Even if you have the best script and performances in the world, your edit could fall flat if you don’t have good film coverage. The more coverage you can get on set, the more options your editor will have to play around with. It’s essential to provide your editor with as many options as possible, from multiple takes to multiple angles, in case there are mistakes in cinematography, performance, or continuity.
Especially as indie filmmakers, it may only sometimes be possible to have elaborate coverage. Planning and intentionality are critical. With your shot list, you can pre-visualize the exact angles and shot composition you desire. This can help create more time to focus on more important scenes.
The 6 Basic Camera Shots for Film Coverage
Let’s break down six basic camera shots for film coverage.
A master shot is typically a wide-angle shot showing the entire scene’s action. The goal is to show all characters and to block what takes place in the scene. In editing, master shots from each scene are routinely thrown together for a rough cut. By filming the Master shot first, you give your actors and crew time to get comfortable with each other.
While finding examples of masters can be difficult, this wide from Black Panther (2018) is a great high angle wide that could act as a master shot.
A medium shot, a mid or waist shot, is typically from the waist up. It shows the character, location, and setting around them. It informs the audience about the character in a location, typically during dialogue scenes.
Stranger Things (2016) does a great job with medium and mid shots. This shot from Season 1 perfectly demonstrates a mid shot.
Also, here is an example from one of my films, First Impressions.
Have a look at this short film below and see if you can spot Medium Shot:
A close-up shot also referred to as CU, captures the nuances in an actor’s performance. Close up’s are usually filmed after the rest of the coverage has been shot but before inserts. By filming close-ups later, you give your actors time to find their cadence and nuances in their performances.
As Nomadland (2021) was very much about the internal struggle of the main character, this close up example shows the intensity of emotions within Fern.
Another example of a close up from my film, On This Day (2018).
Over the Shoulder
An over-the-shoulder shot, called OTS, is typically used in dialogue scenes. One character’s head or body fills the foreground while still capturing another character.
This example for The Dark Knight (2008) not only demonstrates OTS, but also a Dutch angle.
Here’s another example from my film, Remittance (2022).
An establishing shot shows the audience where the story is taking place. This helps the audience understand the story before being introduced to the characters. If you’re interested in learning more about establishing shots, check out my article on beginners guide to the establishing shot in film.
A great example of an establishing shot is from Lord of The Rings (2001). As it is a fantasy film, it’s critical to establish the world to the audience. Starting in The Shire, we’re immediately thrust into the simplicity of these character’s lives.
An insert is a shot that shows a specific detail from a different perspective. For example, if a character is looking at something, an insert would show what the character is looking at, typically from the character’s perspective.
This is demonstrated in the film, Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022). As Waymond holds a set of papers, until the insert showing us what they are, the audience is unaware of the significance of these papers to the story & Waymond’s character.
Tips For Shooting Coverage
I have a couple of parting tips on shooting coverage. Start wide and move closer in, making sure to stay as continuous as possible. This also helps your gaffer be able to light wide and bring the lights in for close-ups, ultimately saving time. Be vigilant to keep the 180-degree rule in the rush of a set. check out this awesome blog from Courtney Birk on the 180 Degree rule in Filmmaking.
As a filmmaker, the more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to communicate with your cast and crew to achieve your vision. While film coverage seems daunting, learning and implementing it into your filmmaking will save you time, money, and frustration on and off set.
While I only briefly explained six basic shots for coverage, mastery of these shots takes tons of time and practice. While there are numerous ways of planning your film coverage, I still refer to printing out my script and marking it up. Do you use any programs to plan your film coverage or mark up your script by hand like me? Let me know in the comments below!