Ashburn and Mullins wrestle and compete to be the first one in the door of the tenement building before their interview with Tatiana.

Basically the scene is an establishing shot of the building and of the two lead characters going in.

Gosh, filming establishing shots with lead characters entering buildings can be soooo boring: plop down the camera for a nice, informative wide shot and have the lead characters walk through the door. It’s a functional shot that puts the characters at the location (for the interior set about to see) and establishes for the viewer the type of neighbourhood. Seen a few of these establishing shots, haven’t you?

Well, in “The Heat,” this one-shot scene is so much more. They take the opportunity of revealing character at the same time: not just ‘walk into the building’ but HOW would these two walk into the building? Based on preceding scenes, these two are seriously competing with each other about everything – to a limit that makes their competition wildly humorous, and in this scene they efficiently demonstrate their competition (to get in the door first) in the single shot, and because the physical humour of the moment is so big (adding comedy to the scene), the camera doesn’t need to be placed near the action; the establishing shot angle from across the street works perfectly. So the one-shot scene establishes location, reveals character and uses the moment for some on-screen comedy… oh yeah, and because they’re so busy competing, Ashburn misses information (again) – that this is Mullins’ building.

What a magical movie moment!

Now think about the films you make. When next you’re planning an establishing shot, what other story functions can you add to the shot to elevate it to a magical movie moment instead?

Need more ideas? Look out for other magical establishing shots to inspire you. What magic have you seen recently?

Cheers and good shoot to you,


Deborah (Deb) Patz is the author of Write! Shoot! Edit! for teens and Film Production Management 101 for the industry – both books are published worldwide by MWP. She’s also part of the editorial board for Prism International. She was already in a building when she wrote this post (and didn’t have to wrestle anyone at the door to get in).

Sat.Feb.17 – Digital Youth Expo – Author Participant – North Vancouver
Mar.26-18 – Write! Shoot! Edit! Screenwriting Workshop for Teens – Instructor – VPL
Aug/18 – UFVA Conference – New Mexico

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