ABC of Filmmaking Blog #1: Shot Reverse Shot

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Starting today, I am initiating a new blog series wherein I would like to talk about certain technical aspects of filmmaking through some of my favorite films.

The basic concept that I would like to introduce today is called the shot reverse shot. It’s something that’s used in almost every movie that you will see.

This is a technique that’s most commonly used to film conversations between two characters wherein one character is shown looking towards the other character and then the other character is shown looking back at the first character. Since the characters are shown facing in opposite directions the viewer assumes that they are looking at each other. Of course, this generally requires a master shot first which establishes their positions with respect to each other. 

Consider this famous scene from Martin Scorsese's 2013 film  'The Wolf of Wall Street' featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey (link:

Master shot to establish the positions to the two characters with respect to each other
Reverse Shot
There would be a series of these during the course of this scene. Now, the interesting thing is that once the master is established we don't even need the two actors to be present at the same time to film the scene. So with the same setup and lighting we can shoot Leonardo's singles separately and McConaughey's singles separately. Now, it all depends on what the director prefers and the availability of the actors on the same day. On the editing table the editor just needs to arrange these singles to complete the sequence. Of course, the editor might need a couple of more master shots to achieve a sense of completeness. Also, the director may like to go for different angles. It may be an aerial shot from the top looking downwards at the two characters using a drone or a crane. The director may want the camera to rotate on a circular axis around the two characters in case there is a need to build some tension. Just think of the Jew Hunter sequence in Inglorious Basterds (link

So it all depends on the need of the scene as well as what the director wants and of course the schedule and the availability of the actors. 

Instead of singles some directors want to do the same scenes using OTS (over the shoulder) shot something like the one below.

As you can notice Leonardo is shot from over McConaughey's shoulder. For the reverse shot, the director can shoot McConaughey from over Leonardo's shoulder. 

So it can just be a series of singles or OTS shots or a mix of singles and OTS shots as is the case in this scene from The Wolf of Wall Street. Roger Deakins/Coen Brothers prefer doing just the singles for shot reverse shot instead of OTS shots as they feel it to be more intimate. The OTS can sometimes give a feeling as if someone is prying on the conversation from far which Deakins/Coens don't like.   

Also they usually use wide angle lens for filming shot reverse shot sequences instead of the telephoto lens as it allows them to get a good hang of the environment in which the scene is set. I would discuss this in detail some other time. But if you can't wait then you can watch this video essay.


So as I told you earlier the short reverse shot allows directors to shoot scenes as if both (or more) the actors are present on the film set at the same time even though that may not be the case. 

Consider this famous song sequence from Shakti Samanta's 1969 Hindi film 'Aradhana' (link: 

Reverse Shot

This song from the romance drama film basically involves a moving jeep car and a moving train. The hero (Rajesh Khanna) is on the car driven by his friend and the heroine (Sharmila Tagore) is on the train. And the hero is trying to express his love to her by singing her a romantic song. Now, the interesting thing is that Tagore was away shooting for a Bangla film directed by Satyajit Ray when the shots with Khanna on the jeep were shot. Tagore's singles were shot separately later on once she returned. And everything was put together during the edit.

So how was it achieved? Samata employed the same idea discussed above and his team executed it to a tee. In order to fill the gap the following master was used to establish the relative positions of the train and the jeep car even though Tagore wasn't on the train at the time.

I hope you enjoyed the blog. I will try to cover more advanced uses of shot reverse shot in the my upcoming blog(s). You can leave your feedback/queries in the comments below or you can mail me at Please be specific in your queries and make sure you add a subject to the mail.

People who liked this also liked...
Share on Google Plus


Post a Comment

Thanks for sharing for valuable opinion. We would be delighted to have you back.