This is the first post of the series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ using the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. You can find the whole list of shots in the introduction post.
Now, you may not find the term ‘extreme wide shot’ in any film making books (or maybe you will…who knows?). It’s kind of my own term. Because I think ‘wide shot’ has too many variables. Therefore I’m breaking up wide shots into ‘extreme wide shot, ‘long shot’ and ‘full shot’ (you may not find that term in any book either).
They’re all wide. They can all be used as establishing (or re-establishing) shots. You don’t have to use all of them all the time. How wide you need to go will be determined by the story you’re trying to tell.
It’s all relative. And I’ll try to explain that.
But what all of these ‘wide shots’ have in common is one thing. They are answering the same question:
“Where are we?”
This is the first question you generally want to answer for your audience. Now, I’m not saying a wide shot has to be the first shot. But it should be pretty darn close to first. Again, it depends on the story and if there is something you’re trying to hide from the audience on purpose.
But I’m going to keep it pretty basic for these lessons. So I’m saying give your audience a wide shot very close to the beginning.
Or as your first shot.
Or in the case of Wall-E, the first five minutes of your film. That’s right. Except for one sequence where we see Wall-E scooping up the garbage, almost all of the shots in the first five minutes are ‘extreme wide shots’.
Because of the story they’re trying to tell us. The shot tells the story and here’s what these shots are telling us.
Above: “Space. Gotcha. We’re in space. Space is big.”
“Earth. Cool. This story is told on Earth.”
“Big city. That’s a big city alright. Lots and lots of big buildings. Must be tons of people living in that big city with all those big buildings. Pretty foggy too.”
“Wait a minute. Those buildings look a little weird. Yes, there are some real buildings, but the others look all jagged. Like stacks upon stacks of…something. Why does it look so gloomy?”
“Wow. It looks like those ‘buildings’ are made from piles and piles of garbage. Look at them all!”
“It’s piles of garbage alright. Oh look! Something’s moving way down there. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it’s Wall-E because, you know, I saw the movie trailer and all.”
“This big city looks abandoned. He’s driving around this big city and it doesn’t look like there’s anyone else here. Is there?”
“Ugh, big box store. This place got overrun with those big ass stores, right? Buy, buy, buy.”
“Buy n Large. I get it. They own the gas stations? One big business owns them too, huh?”
“Holy moly! Looks like that one company took over the whole city! Think this happened just in this city?”
“Is there anyone else here? Wall-E keeps on driving along and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else here. Looks like there’s lots of other robots just like him all broken down.”
“Nothing is moving. It looks like everything has stopped. Except Wall-E. Can this be true?”
“Abandoned. We saw the video screens and this big, vast place is totally abandoned except for the robots. Is Wall-E the last one?”
This particular story has to tell us all these things. And the best way to achieve it is all of these ‘extreme wide shots’.
It’s a story with a ‘big picture’ to lay out for us. And they drive it home. Over and over. We have to get that.
And we do.
Now as I said, it’s all relative. Would you need to show space, earth and all of these really wide shots of the city to tell a story about ants? I mean, that takes place on earth too doesn’t it?
No. You don’t.
Because we take that as a given. Unless aliens are coming down, it’s probably useless to tell that story with shots of earth. The widest shot you may ever need for a story about insects is a park. And that’s fine. It’s all your story needs to establish that world.
But Wall-E is about earth. It’s about the whole damn planet. And space.
So it’s necessary.
All of those shots answer the question “where are we?” over and over again. Because we, as the audience, have to slowly realize the scope of it all. And that takes some time.
It really eases us into the story.
Here’s another great little sequence that shows us just how much work Wall-E has been doing over the years. All the other robots have conked out. But our little guy is still at it.
Seeing him start a brand new ‘building’ really shows us just how long he’s been working cleaning up the place.
The use of dissolves between the shots and seeing the shadows change, lets us see a typical work day for him. Such dedication, huh?
I’ll leave you with this last ‘extreme wide shot’. It comes after all the action of him scrambling to get away from the fire blast and the landing. We figured out it’s a spaceship. And there are fairly wide shots before this of the ship’s blaster thingies.
But giving us this one very long shot gives us the big picture. We want to see the whole ship. Give us the whole ship.
“Wow. It’s big.”
Don’t be afraid of the really wide shots. You may not need to use as many as Wall-E did to tell your story. But use them to answer the question every audience member wants answered:
“Where are we?”
Read the Storyboard Blog by RSS Feed or by email for the next post in this series; ‘long shots’.