Wondering how your favorite filmmakers create movie magic? Have an idea for a video project, but not sure if your skills can do it justice? In this series, we’re introducing you to the basics of videography. Quiet on the set — we’re rolling!

Lesson Five: Types of Sequences

If you’ve followed along with our videography basics series, you might remember that we kicked off with a lesson about shots. Of course, it’s always best to film shots that build off each other and contribute to your storytelling goals — and that’s exactly why it’s important to understand sequences.

Simply put, a sequence is a series of shots that work together to tell a story. If an individual shot were a sentence, then a sequence would be a paragraph.

That said, there are many types of sequences, and your video project will be more engaging if you experiment with a variety of them. Just as the complexity, length, and style of the paragraphs in a story should differ from one another, your sequences should too.

Here are a few simple sequences that you might want to consider while planning your next video.

To establish location, try opening with a wide shot, then moving to a medium shot, followed by three close-ups (also called tight shots). Remember, a wide shot shows the entire subject from top to bottom, whereas a medium shot fills the screen with only part of the subject. If you arrange your shots in this pattern (wide, medium, tight, tight, tight), you’ll gradually lead your viewers inward, which is much more interesting than remaining at the same distance for the entire sequence.

Note that you do need to change your angles while filming this first type of sequence. Your viewers shouldn’t be able to anticipate the next camera angle, so if you’re not getting up and moving to a new spot after filming each shot, you’re not doing it right.

The five-shot sequence is another handy tool that you should keep in your (mental) camera bag. Pioneered by journalist Michael Rosenbaum, this sequence is a good way to show someone completing an action (like playing the piano, making a pizza, or cleaning a mirror). You’ll begin with a close-up shot of your subject’s hands, followed by a close-up of his or her face. Next, you’ll need a medium shot of him or her, then an over-the-shoulder shot as he or she continues doing the chosen action. For your fifth and final shot, you can be creative — go ahead and film your subject from any angle and any distance, so long as the shot is unconventional and visually interesting.

When you’re editing a five-shot sequence, be sure to arrange your footage in the correct order (hands, face, medium, over-the-shoulder, creative). And the next time you watch the news, see if you can spot this sequence. It pops up more often than you might think!

In film, directors incorporate reaction shots into a sequence to show a character’s emotional response to something another character has said or done. They cut away from the primary action and usually move to a close-up shot of a character’s face. There are plenty of reaction shots in the above scene, but the most famous one occurs after Darth Vader says, “I am your father.” We cut to a close-up of Luke’s face as he processes the Sith Lord’s words and begins yelling.

Outside of Hollywood, it’s difficult to make a reaction shot look organic — especially since budding filmmakers and videographers don’t get to work with professional actors all that often. Be that as it may, this is an important shot to know if you’d like to improve your films.

Finally, a matched-action sequence is another useful tool to keep in mind. On the bright side, it’s easy to film, but, unfortunately, it’s tricky to edit. Basically, you’ll need your subject to repeat the same action several times. Each time, you should film the action from a different angle, making sure that he or she continues doing it in an almost identical way. (For example, if you’re getting footage of an athlete tying her shoes, she should face the same direction and tie the same shoe each time.) Later, in post-production, you can combine your takes to make them look like one uninterrupted action  — just be careful to avoid continuity errors, and remember that you want the shots to fit together seamlessly.

While there are plenty of other types of sequences, these are four of the most common. Before diving into a major project, challenge yourself to draw up a storyboard, then film and edit a short, 30-second video that’s built upon one of these sequences.

Comment below to tell us how it went, and remember that practice makes perfect!

Key Takeaways:

  • A sequence is a string of two or more shots that work together to tell a story.
  • Although videographers use many types of sequences, some of their most basic options include wide-medium-tight-tight-tight, five-shot sequences, and matched-action sequences. You can also use reaction shots to build a strong sequence.
  • Draw up a storyboard before you begin filming.
  • Vary your angles to keep your viewers’ attention.
  • Challenge yourself to film short, 30-second sequences before you tackle a major video project.
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Whitney Brown
Whitney Brown is a recent journalism graduate and travel writer based in Utah. She has lived in France and Ireland, and she's always planning her next big adventure. In addition to her passion for travel, Whitney loves archaeology, photography and floral design.