Shooting an action sequence

An “action sequence” is simply a series of connected shots of somebody doing something.

The person (or part of them) needs to be in each of the shots.

Imagine you are filming somebody cutting carrots in a kitchen. If you show a shot of the clock on the wall, that is not part of the action sequence. It’s what’s known as a CUTAWAY. You are “cutting away” from the action.

Once again, there is a very simple set of a rules (a “grammar”) of how to shoot an action sequence.

  • You need to get a wide shot of the person, showing their environment.
  • You need to get a shot of the person’s face.
  • You need to get a shot of their hands doing whatever it is they are doing. Try to make this a nice close-up.
  • You need to get a shot of their point of view — what they can see — sometimes called an “over the shoulder” shot. Make sure we can see them (the back of their head and shoulder) in the shot.

These are the four basic shots. You can add to them if you like. You don’t need to film these in any particular order. You should film each shot for ten seconds.

Here’s what the shots might look like:

Edited together, the sequence might look like this:

Here’s another sequence, shot by Nest Jenkins.

One important thing to note is that the person in the action sequence should always be facing the same way — left to right, or right to left. The easy way to remember this is that you should always be filming the same ear. Why does this matter? If you shoot them facing different directions it will look confusing when you edit them together. You’re “crossing the line”. I’ll write a separate blog post about this. For now, just shoot the same ear.

Action sequences are sometimes called “set-ups” because they set a person up — normally ahead of an interview clip. If each shot in the action sequence ends up being five seconds long and you have four shots that equals around 60 words (three words a second) to introduce the person.

(Reporters often get people to make a cup of tea — hence the picture. And shooting somebody making a cup of tea, reduced to four five seconds shots that work, is a good exercise.)

You can get very sophisticated in how you shoot action sequences. The basic four shots are normally fine for TV news, but with a bit of practice you’ll be doing stuff like this one from Meleri Williams

Activity: Shoot and edit as many action sequences as you can. The more you do, the easier they get. WhatsApp them to me for feedback.