What is a master shot?

A master shot is a type of long shot that covers most or all action in a scene. It’s similar to what viewers see in a live theatre production. It can last anywhere between 45 seconds to the full length of a movie, but it’s most often under 3 minutes. It’s usually filmed as a wide shot, and from a tripod, although it can be mobile.

It can be used in its entirety or cut together with other shots to direct the viewers’ attention. Other possible shots could be close-ups, medium shots, and inserts. It can also double as an establishing shot when used to present the environment.

Purpose of a master shot

There’s plenty of reasons why the master shot is a Hollywood classic. It can help tell your story in a compelling manner that captivates your viewer while cutting down on overall shoot time. It helps viewers feel like they are a part of the action and pick up on details they might miss with shorter shots.

A good master shot provides coverage that can eliminate possible gaps when editing. As the master shot is usually the first shot of a production, it also sets the tone for all cast and crew and allows for experimentation that can map out the creative vision.

History of the master shot

Historically, the master shot was the base shot of any given scene. It provided the context to which all the other shots were related to. These other shots, such as close-ups and insert shots were used to guide the viewer and expand the storyline.

Early movies from the 1930s and 1940s relied heavily on the master shot to be in the center of the plot, but by the 1960s the style of filmmaking and editing shifted to using a wider range of shots for more variety and a faster pace.

Today, master shots are still widely used for their benefits and to fit the directors’ artistic vision, but they play less of a central role in most movies. Want to include this technique in your next production? Check out these tips on how to use master shots.