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Visual Storytelling: What is Shot Blocking in Film & How Does it Tell Your Story?

Have you ever noticed that some of your most favorite movies are the result of a combination of amazing dialogue between characters? Sophisticated action sequences and cinematic experiences like nothing you’ve ever visualized before? So much goes into producing a film. Specifically when it comes to shot blocking or blocking the scene. But what is shot blocking in film? And what does it mean when a Director is “blocking the scene?”

Blocking, such as when a Director uses shot blocking or blocks a scene, can be used to visually tell the story. Like other forms of visual storytelling techniques which are employed by filmmakers throughout the production process.

Shot blocking represents a unique form of choreography between the camera and the character. To create shots that deliver powerful emotional connections between your character and the audience. 

What is Shot Blocking in Film?

The term “blocking” comes from the 19 Century Victorian-era. When play directors would use blocks as part of their miniature stage models. Which would be crafted ahead of a theatrical production. To help them determine the placement of actors and other elements on the stage.

The term shot blocking in today’s film industry refers to the placement of characters and the camera for a particular shot. Each scene in a film is planned out as a series of shots that are captured.

Each shot is made up of unique camera movements in relation to the movements of characters within the frame. The Director will plan these movements in a series of diagrams that are called blocking diagrams.

Each shot is planned out. And the exact location, angle, and movement of the camera is noted similar to a choreography of sorts. 

Positioning

The camera positioning and movements are planned. Meanwhile the Director is also looking at the positioning of the characters in the shot. Shot blocking refers to the choreography of the characters and the camera. As the two move in various ways about the scene.

Each shot that is captured will have a specified plan for character movement and camera movement. Which are coordinated as a series of shots which will ultimately make up the scene. 

What Shot Blocking Is NOT

For an independent filmmaker or a film student that’s new to the idea of shot blocking. It might be easier to explain what shot blocking is NOT. Rather than formulate an understanding as to exactly what shot blocking is.

To help you understand, shot blocking is more than just how actors move in a shot. Or how the camera is expected to move. Shot blocking represents the visual coordination of actors. As they interact within the environment that they are in as part of the scene.

It’s quite common for shot blocking in film to include the moving of props in a scene, changes of location, and other movements that must take place in a shot to make up the scene. 

The Takeaway

So, what is shot blocking in film? It’s the unique coordination and collaboration of camera movement and character movement within a scene.

Which allows the Director to figure out where they want an actor to be. How and where to move. Where to look. And how all of that will coordinate with the movement of the camera for each individual shot that is captured.