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Establishing Shot

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"Man, they're establishing the hell out of this building, here!"
Tom Servo (on an overly long Establishing Shot), Mystery Science Theater 3000, "Werewolf"

A wide shot that covers the whole room or background, is used to set the scene, and tells the viewer visually where the scene will be taking place. Almost always placed at the beginning of the scene.

All too often the outside of the building — Perfect Strangers, Seinfeld, Happy Days, Cheers, The Bob Newhart Show — with a snip of theme music. Occasionally zooming into one window.

Science fiction shows often use shots of the spacecraft or planet involved.

Establishing shots have fallen out of favor somewhat since the '90s. Movies and TV shows of the early 2000s (24, Lost, Heroes, to name a few) go right into the action of the scene. Captions or title cards may be used instead to establish location or time setting. The Law & Order franchise uses distinctive title cards to establish time and place.

Beware of Television Geography.

Often accomplished, especially in older films, with B-Roll or Stock Footage. Expect the addition of a Title In.

See also Silent Scenery Panel for the Comicbook equivalent. Also see Meanwhile, Back at the…, as these shots can sometimes but not always graphically represent a "Meanwhile...". When used in videogames this tends to be an excuse for Scenery Porn.

Cue the Billiard Shot is a Sub-Trope. Often overlaps with Eiffel Tower Effect, when the establishing shot is of an iconic landmark, and with "Pan from the Sky" Beginning. See Standard Establishing Spaceship Shot for, well, spaceships taking a while to fully appear onscreen.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop is really fond of shots like these; whenever the show wants to indicate that time passes without anything interesting going on, it tends to cut to showing off the surroundings in series of still images while the jazz soundtrack plays uninterrupted in the background.
  • Ginga Teikoku Kouboushi: Volume 1: Foundation: The first several pages show spaceships approaching Trantor, and a shot of the planet-wide Mega City as Gaal arrives.

    Asian Animation 
  • Quite a few episodes of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf begin with either a shot of Wolf Castle or of Goat Village, showing where the episode will take place.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Often averted in 2046, to the point of confusion. Most of the movie is done in close-ups.
  • Traditionally, Star Wars material begins with the camera panning down from the starfield after the title scroll finishes to show a planet and often starships going somewhere.
  • Just about every movie with a scene inside CIA headquarters involves a shot of a character walking over the seal near the main entrance at Langley, including Patriot Games, Mission: Impossible, and X-Men: Apocalypse. The same pattern is used for other big defense organizations like the Pentagon in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Omega Sector in True Lies or even the LAPD lavishly overdone with water fountains in Last Action Hero. Also Taggart Transcontinental in Atlas Shrugged, itself a kind of defense organization for Randian values.
  • In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey when Shadow, Chance, and Sassy make it to the top of the first mountain, they (and the audience) get a good look at just what lies ahead for them.
    Chance: Whoa, you can see everything from here! Except the house, I don't see the house. Where's the house?
  • The RoboCop ripoff R.O.T.O.R. contains a series of nested establishing shots that go on for several minutes, dawdling over the picturesque minutiae of the hero's ranch house and kitchen counter.

    Live-Action TV 
  • As in films, in basically any show where they go to CIA headquarters, someone will walk over the seal in the main entrance, including Homeland.
  • Scenes set on Centauri Prime in Babylon 5 always began with a SFX pan over the planet with several Centauri ships flying by. Other planets in the series had their own establishing shots — Earthdome for Earth, a beautiful crystal city for Minbar, and so on.
    • And, of course, shots of the space station itself.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation had one matte painting of a futuristic city which was used over and over again for establishing shots of alien planets.
    • Similarly, Star Trek: The Original Series had several matte paintings that were recycled; the most notable of these was of a bronze-colored castle-like structure that frequently appeared in the closing credits.
    • The original series also usually used a shot of the ship next to a globe that was supposed to be whatever planet it was visiting, even though India rotates through the shot.
    • One reason the Federation doesn't use cloaking devices? It's impossible to do an establishing shot of a cloaked ship.
  • In Stargate SG-1, several clips of the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain were shot 10 days before the series began and were not supplemented with new shots until the 9th or 10th season.
  • iCarly have them for pretty much every location, but they aren't always used. Some important places that appear in one episode get them, such as the convention centre that the Carly vs Shelby fight took place in. A few strange examples, such as when Freddie was hit by a truck in iSaved Your Life, they show an establishing shot of a speeding ambulance, but it cuts to Bushwell, where Sam tells Spencer about it, and the scene after Freddie is seen he's at home recovering. In iSaved Your Life, they changed the usual establishing shot of Bushwell Plaza by adding a storm, which was in response to complaints that Seattle which is a very rainy city in real life being completely sunny on the show.
  • Particularly on US television/films, relocation of the action to Britain is often accompanied by a brief shot of red London buses driving past Big Ben. Usually the opening bars of "Rule Britannia" are played over this.
    • Similarly, it sometimes seems that every apartment building in the whole of France has a view of the Eiffel Tower. (Subversion: The film 102 Dalmatians shows the Tower, before pulling back to reveal that it's only a poster showing the Tower.) The alternative — a gargoyle's view of the city from atop the Notre Dame — fortunately seems to be limited to Paris.
    • And every apartment in Italy has a view of either the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Colosseum. This was parodied in Police Squad!, when Drebin by means of voiceover informs the viewer that he is going to Little Italy to follow up a lead, and the Colosseum is shown in the background. A subsequent interior scene shows the Tower of Pisa outside the window.
    • Showing Las Vegas replicas of foreign monuments is a popular variant, and is sometimes played with as per the 102 Dalmatians subversion.
  • Subverted on Frasier, where the exterior of Frasier's building was seen just once in 11 years. The establishing shots were replaced by witty title cards.
    • Similarly, while Sacred Heart Hospital in Scrubs frequently has an establishing shot, the shot for the apartment building where the main characters live is only seen a few times in the very first episodes, and then very rarely afterward.
  • ER also has a subversion, in that the outside of the hospital is not shown until the very end of the final episode. But it's played straight with the inside of the hospital, as the second scene of the first episode follows Dr. Mark Greene through a hallway of the ER toward the admissions desk.
  • An episode of Prison Break shows an establishing shot of Tijuana with a Bital bank sign in the foreground... but the problem is, that by that time, Bital was already replaced by HSBC.
  • The Sitcom Caroline in the City, about a cartoonist, had animated establishing shots done in the style of Caroline's cartoons.
  • Back To You also uses animated establishing shots.
  • Establishing shots of the Connors' house and other locations in Roseanne were all still photographs, except for the end of one Halloween Episode in which the house was represented by a model (which exploded).
  • CSI frequently uses random aerial shots of the entire city, presumably to show the viewer that the the plot-relevant areas haven't suddenly grown legs and moved to another city in the last couple of minutes.
  • The Bill never used to bother with this, but it later started to use a series of exterior stock shots of the various locations where we see the officers (the police station, hospital, etc) before cutting to interior scenes. The bad part? There are only about five or six alternative stock shots of each location, so get used to seeing the same two nurses walking past the hospital — you'll be seeing them a lot.
  • Mocked by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the movie Zombie Nightmare when an establishing building shot is followed by a rather disparate interior shot ("It went from a high-rise to someone's basement.").
    • Or when the shot is for a long time, to which one of them usually says "They're establishing the hell out of this building!"
  • Burn Notice follows CSI's method of accompanying scene changes with random city shots. Except instead of casinos Burn Notice seems to prefer bikini clad women.
  • Daytime soaps don't often use establishing shots these days, but in the 80s and 90s, most episodes or scenes began with exteriors of stately homes or other settings.
  • It's been pointed out that what is supposed to be the Matthews' house in Boy Meets World doesn't match the set used for the inside at all.
  • Fawlty Towers used the establishing shot of the hotel during the opening credits for the Running Gag of the sign's letters being rearranged to spell things like "Farty Towels" and "Fatty Owls."
  • Plenty of examples of this used in Bones - particularly an outside shot of the 'Jeffersonian' Museum (played by a natural history museum in Los Angeles) and the Hoover building.
    • The episode "Yanks in the U.K." used many weary shots of London landmarks, relating to Britain Is Only London.
  • There is an establishing shot of the Weir home in the pilot of Freaks and Geeks, which is notable for being very out of sync with the tone and feel of the rest of the show.
  • The Cold Open of almost every episode of Modern Family starts with an establishing shot of one of the three families' houses. They are used to transition during the episodes as well.
  • How to Be Indie uses idiosyncratic establishing shots formed of what look like cardboard cutouts of the relevant buildings that rise up to show the transition to a new location.
  • Friends established they were in one of the two principal apartments by showing an apartment building in Greenwich Village.
  • In JAG the exterior of the in-universe JAG Headquarters building in Falls Church, Virginia, is shown once or twice in most episodes.
  • Kickin' It has a particularly heavy-handed use of establishing shots, with the exteriors of the mall and school being noticeably out of scale to the limited indoor sets.
  • The Brady Bunch often used an outside establishing shot of their house. The "outside" scenes on the show (which were shot on a sound stage, not on location) didn't quite match the establishing shot.
  • Psych likes to use establishing shots of the police station, the titular Psych office, and and what's supposed to be a Santa Barbara beach outside of said office.
  • Saturday Night Live uses establishing shots for just about any sketch that doesn't have its own theme song.
  • Tommy Wiseau's The Neighbors uses the exact same establishing shot — the outside of the apartment building while a synth riff plays — for every single scene transition.
  • Schitt's Creek uses these regularly for main locations like The Schitt's Creek Motel/Rose Motel, Roland & Joceyln's house, Rose Apothecary and the town hall as well as the rare out of town locations.
  • The 100 uses a fair number of establishing shots, particularly of The Ark space station. Most notably, the opening credits play out over various locations on Earth as seen from above, with the last location shown changing each episode so that it also serves as an Establishing Shot for the first scene shown after the credits
  • The Paris arcs of Highlander did take advantage of showing Paris shots, along with the barge that played Duncan’s barge. Vancouver had its share too, but it was mostly Duncan’s dojo or in the first season, the antiques shop, since it wasn’t actually supposed to be Vancouver.

    Video Games 
  • Serious Sam The First Encounter and Second Encounter have quite a lot of these; whenever the player enters a new wide area, there is a lengthy cutscene that has the camera explore every nook and cranny of the area, usually also drawing attention to important artifacts and useful items that might be around.
  • Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon uses an establishing shot at the start of every mission in the campaign, showing the surrounding area before zooming in on the command ship.

  • Whenever we switch the story of Tower of God to another floor, we get an establishing shot of its settlements, usually flying cities and castles. Yes, inside the Tower.
  • Foundation - The Psychohistorians: Gaal Dornick's arrival to important locations is prefaced with wide-angle shots of the location. His ship's approach to Trantor (he tries to invoke the establishing shot, but all windows are closed), his taxi arriving at the Luxor Hotel, his carriage arriving at the University of Trantor, and his ship's arrival on Terminus.
  • Unsounded: There are a couple of wide shots of Ethelmik and Mulimar as the characters arrive in Mulimar. This gives the reader a good grasp of the spacial relationship between the two cities, their larger buildings and the waterfalls and river.

    Web Original 
  • Lampshaded in the first episode of the new Maddison Atkins, in which Maddison appears in the establishing shot, asking Adam what he's doing, and then proceeds to walk across the shot.
  • Parodied in Weebl & Bob, where an establishing shot of a building is accompanied by a ditty exclaiming "Establishing shot of the building!" And in another episode, the narrator sings "Chris' house!" over a shot of... well, what do you think?
  • Oedipus in my Inventory uses the same establishing shot of Thebes in between every day.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad! often shows the outside of the Smiths' house, especially at the beginning of episodes.
  • Bluey makes use of these for showing off suburban Brisbane and the Heeler family's hilltop Queenslander home.
  • Daria uses these almost every scene change.
  • Family Guy shows the outside of the Griffins' house far too often, usually after any sort of passage of time.
  • The Simpsons makes use of these. Every time we see the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, a crow caws in the background. In earlier seasons, a shot of the supermarket would always be accompanied with a stray shopping cart drifting into the street.
  • Wander over Yonder does this almost Once per Episode by showing the planet the episode takes place on at the beginning, before zooming in to the action.


Video Example(s):


Welcome To Wartwood

In the first episode of Amphibia, we are introduced to Wartwood, a forested village inhabited by humanoid frogs.

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4.93 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / FrogMen

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