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What Is an Over-the-Shoulder Shot?

An over-the-shoulder shot (OTS shot) is a camera angle that offers a medium close-up on one actor while showing part of another actor's shoulder. This filmmaking technique combines one character's facial expressions with another's point of view (POV) in a single shot. Some OTS shots literally show an actor's shoulder (or the side of their head) in soft focus, with a sharp focus on the character they are talking to. Other OTS shots simply imply the presence of a foreground character, but they do not actually appear in the shot.

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How to Film an Over-the-Shoulder Shot

To successfully film an over-the-shoulder shot, you typically frame two shots—your primary angle and a reverse shot that shows the opposite perspective. There are a few steps for making this happen.

  1. Stage your first shot. Build your first shot around the actor whose facial expressions you want to capture. Once you've captured that actor in the best possible way, insert the other actor into the foreground so that you can capture a sliver of their shoulder or head in soft focus. If you are going for a clean-over shot, you do not need to actually position this foreground actor.
  2. Set up the reverse shot. Most OTS shots come in pairs. We look at one character's face from over the other character's shoulder. Then we reverse perspectives and focus on the other character's face. Doing this minimizes the need for camera movements; you can simply cut back and forth.
  3. Line up the actors’ eye levels. Over-the-shoulder shots truly succeed when the two characters' eyelines match up with one another. Even if you are doing your OTS shot as a low-angle shot or a high-angle shot, you will still want to preserve this eye-level alignment.

What’s next? Learn 50+ Camera Shots and Angles!

Have you ever been overwhelmed at the possibility of every camera angle, framing, and shot type available as a filmmaker? Us too. So we provided a cheat sheet with definitions for you!  

OTS Movie Scenes

Over the shoulder shot examples

Maybe the most famous over the shoulder shot comes fromThe Godfather’s opening scene. Watch how Francis Ford Coppola directs this scene and uses the OTS shot as a way to introduce Vito Corleone.   

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