Video Production

What is Shot Reverse Shot?

Want to understand the shot reverse shot definition? Read this guide for shot reverse shot examples, theory and advice

Shot reverse shot (or shot/reverse shot) is a staple filming technique that is used in almost every film and TV show you’ll ever see. At its core, it’s a way of showing two characters interacting with one another whilst only having one character at a time on screen. 

In this article we’ll go into more detail about how the technique works in practice and what kind of filming setup is used to achieve it. We’ll also explore shot reverse shot editing, shot reverse shot in film history and shot reverse shot examples to illustrate the concept.

Want to learn more about different editing techniques? Read our guides to jump cuts and supercuts on our blog.

What does reverse angle shot mean?

A reverse angle shot is a shot in film or TV taken roughly at a 180 degree angle to the previous shot.

A reverse shot is entirely context dependent, you can’t have a standalone reverse shot. The “reverse” aspect of the shot is in reference to the fact that it is the reverse of the previous shot.

What is Shot Reverse Shot?

In a shot reverse shot situation, the filmmaker shows you character 1 talking to character 2 (who is off screen) opposite them, then they show the reverse shot with character 2 on screen and character 1 off screen.

When was shot reverse shot invented?

It’s hard to say exactly when shot/reverse shot was invented, but it has been a part of filmmaking grammar for a very long time. It’s part of the classical Hollywood style of editing, a style which implies one continuous action that develops linearly. 

In the example of shot reverse shot, the transition between the two shots is deemphasised. It’s assumed that no time has passed between the two shots and that they take place in the same location – the characters are looking at one another.

What is a shot reverse shot example?

A good example of shot reverse shot is this scene from Spider Man. Skip ahead to 1.20 where Norman Osborn (a.k.a the Green Goblin) is talking to himself in the mirror. 

The editor has cut together two takes of Willem Dafoe playing Norman Osborn’s two alter egos. Of course they can’t have been filmed simultaneously as Dafoe can only be in one place at a time. However, due to the use of shot reverse shot, the audience believes that the two characters that Dafoe is playing are interacting with one another.

What is a reverse shot used for?

Shot reverse shot is used to imply two characters are interacting with one another without showing them together on screen. If we see one character looking off screen and then a reverse shot with a different character looking off screen, we assume they’re looking at one another.

You can imply that two characters are interacting without having actually shot the actors interacting. The two shots could have been filmed at different times and even on totally different days. It’s part of the language of film that the audience understands – we’re meant to think that they’re talking to one another, and we do.

What is the purpose of the reverse angle shot rule?

The purpose of the reverse angle shot rule is to give the audience a sense of continuous action. Though there is a cut between the two shots, it is implied – and the audience assumes – that no time has passed between the two shots and the characters are interacting with one another.

Why is a shot reverse shot used

Shot reverse shot is used to imply linear and spatial continuity whilst two characters are interacting in a film or TV show without them appearing together on screen simultaneously.

What is a reverse angle shot in film?

A reverse angle shot is when the filmmakers show a shot of a character, and then they show a shot of another character that they’re looking at a roughly 180 degree angle. Though the two shots may not have been filmed simultaneously, it’s implied that they are.

How is shot reverse shot done?

There are two general ways a reverse shot is filmed.

The first technique is to have a two camera setup with one camera focusing on each character in the scene. The cameras film simultaneously and then the two shots are edited together in post.

This technique is very commonly used in comedy films, especially in films such as the Anchorman movies where actors are improvising and the director wants to capture performers bouncing lines of one another in a conversational way.

What is Shot Reverse Shot?

The alternative way to achieve the shot/reverse shot effect is to shoot one character at a time. In this example the director would film a character acting as if they were talking to someone sitting opposite them. Then they would cut and film the other character in the scene as if they were talking to the first character. The two takes are then edited together to imply they were filmed simultaneously.

The second technique is more commonly used in dramas and for creative reasons. If the director wants to shoot the characters up close in a way that would make it impossible to have two cameras set up simultaneously they would use this method. Another instance is if the director wants to shoot over the shoulder shots where the cameras would be in frame.

This video from Every Frame A Painting is a great discussion on how the Cohen brothers use the shot reverse shot setup to great effect:

Shot reverse shot examples

You can find examples of shot-reverse shot in almost any TV show or movie that you watch. A really obvious and long example of the use of shot/reverse shot in a movie is Leonard DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey’s scene in Wolf of Wall Street. Almost the entire five minute scene is one continuous example of shot reverse shot.

Shot reverse shot is an important part of the filmmaking language. If you want to make fictional character based videos or films then it's essential you get to grip with how the technique works. If you want to learn more about filmmaking you can watch loads of useful videos on our YouTube channel.

December 13, 2021
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