In addition to the idea of cutting image to image unless a connecting movement makes sense, a second idea is to try and connect as many images by movement as you can and minimize the need for cutting. As John McTiernan notes in this insightful interview, connecting shots by movement also helps establish the physical geography of the scene. In short, do not be lazy and cut shot to shot if a connecting movement would have worked to connect the shots.

If you want to know the way to construct a story visually, one of the best ways is to imagine the story as a series of photographs and images, and you would plan to cut straight from image to image unless it makes thematic sense to move the camera from one image to the next. This strategy, on the surface, sounds simple, but in practice, it requires creative thought and knowing what meaning movements have. And this is where Shot Psychology can be a helpful reference. In addition, if you label each image with its associated primary emotion, then by looking in the book, you can determine which movements or techniques might help tie two shots together. In short, motivated movement is good; unmotivated movement isn't.

For instance, let's say that you have a son grieving his father's death, and the son is trying to use his faith to help him. If the son was at a church graveyard, and you have one image of the son by the grave and another of the church steeple, then you could connect the image of the son grieving at the grave to the church's steeple by an upward tilt. This movement makes sense because an upward movement is associated with spirituality and higher ideals, so the movement, in this case, an upward tilt, thematically connects the grave to the steeple. But how do you know what all the movements are and what they might mean? This is why Shot Psychology exists.

We recently stumbled across this video that correctly explains a proper reaction shot requires a total of three shots. But what impressed us even more was the economy of using reflections and glass to capture all three shots at once.

In the video, beginning at the 6:30 mark, a proper explanation of a reaction shot is given followed by a brillant example from Schindler's List when Oskar Schindler is staring through his office window down at his factory workers while seeing his real-time reaction reflected in the very same glass he is looking through. With a character positioned in front of reflecting glass, we cannot only see what the character is seeing, but see his reaction to what he is seeing. So, in other words, shooting an actor who is looking at something through reflecting glass allows you to capture the ultimate reaction shot---three shots in one---in a single, carefully designed shot.

There appears to be a little confusion over the purpose of the lists in the second portion of the book. In particular, some seem to think the Master List, which makes up the majority of the second portion of the book, is simply an index that refers back to the Reference section in the first portion of the book.

The Master List is not an index and is one of the most valuable parts of the book. It takes all the emotional and psychological effects in the book (over 500 of them) and organizes them with all  of their associated techniques, so a serious filmmaker can evaluate how different techniques can work together to enhance a specific emotion and meaning. As the book notes on page 14, techniques become more powerful when they are combined with other techniques that have the same general effect. Without the Master List, there would be no practical way of determining how to combine techniques to intensify the same effect.

 Using The Master List

1. Determine what emotional or psychological effect you want to create or emphasize.

2. Consult the list of Effects (beginning on page 215) to quickly find where that effect is on the Master List.

3. Consult the Master List, find the effect, and see what the associated techniques are.

4. In looking at the list of associated techniques, evaluate if two or more of them can be used in combination to increase the power of the effect.  NOTE: Sometimes this is not always possible because some effects have only one or two associated techniques, but generally most effects have many associated techniques or concepts.

Step Four above is the purpose of the Master List.

The associated techniques in the Master List do have page numbers referring you back to an explanation of the technique or concept in the Reference section, but that is only if you do not fully understand how the technique applies.

The purpose of the Master List is for you to evaluate how to create maximum emotional impact by using multiple combinations of techniques. The Master List may look like a simple index, but that's not what it is. It took more than two years of careful study and cataloging to develop and is a valuable reference tool in its own right.

It should also be noted that the list of Effects (pages 215-233) is a tool for exploring the Master List itself and does not refer to the first portion of the book.

There is a symbiotic relationship between editing and filmmaking. Editing informs the filmmaking process, and filmmaking provides the raw ingredients for editing. If one fails, then the other does not usually succeed. We have recently completed a book, The Art of the Cut, that introduces many of the most important concepts in editing as they relate to filmmaking. It is meant to serve as a companion resource for Shot Psychology and reviews over 100 essential editing concepts a filmmaker should be aware of. Between the two books, filmmakers can be confident that they have a basic understanding of many of the most important concepts in filmmaking.

For instance, recent research has shown that the smoothest way to join two shots together is by overlapping an action. The overlap only needs to be 2-3 frames. Overlapping means that the action is seen again, but from a different angle and only for approximately 1/10th of a second (2-3 frames). What is important for a filmmaker to understand is that he or she must have their actors complete their actions from start to finish as shot from different angles, so that the editor has the footage to overlap. If the filmmaker does not get complete actions as shot from different angles, then the editor will not have the ingredients to make the smoothest possible action cut.

Steven Soderbergh posted this thought-provoking exercise on his website. It is worth taking a look at. Many of the staging concepts illustrated are explored in Shot Psychology. Actually, there are too many to mention. The bottom line is that the staging should enhance and support what is key to the story at that moment in time. As he mentions, this posting is for educational purposes only.


"People often go to the movies or buy DVDs because they want to feel something that they do not normally feel. They want to experience an alternate reality. They want to escape their world and be taken to another." [page 3, Shot Psychology]

Erik Wernquist, a filmmaker and animator, recently distributed a short film, Wanderers, that does all these things and more. He transports us emotionally and shows us worlds in new ways we have never seen. This is what good filmmaking is all about. He effectively uses camera movement at just the right time in just the right places. Notice the push-in and upward tilt in the opening sequence, the smooth tracking motions in space, the effective switch to handheld at a key transition point, the quick, jerky zooms in the sky-flying sequence, and the final pull back and close-up reveal at the end---all of which enhance the feelings and themes that are being depicted at those exact moments in the film. And of course, lens flare to create a sense of "you-are-there" immediacy. 

Shot Psychology makes the following point (page 14):

"If you do not know as many techniques as possible, then you might be using two techniques that cancel each other or creating an effect that is the opposite of what the theme of the story calls for. This is why it is so important to learn as much as you can."

We recently stumbled across this video by Joe Simon. If you jump ahead to the 2:02 mark, he makes this exact point along with a couple of other finer points also reviewed in the book.

Shot Psychology makes the point that in cultures that read and write from left to right the movement from left to right feels normal, natural, and expected. However, the book also notes that this is not universally true and that the meanings vary for cultures that read and write in other directions. This idea is echoed by the editor, Dylan Tichenor, who compromised on this issue with director, Ang Lee. Tichenor states:

We had this lengthy conversation on Brokeback Mountain about these interstital shots of running water, two or three of which I had flipped so that the water ran from left to right. Ang [Lee] said, "Did you flip those shots?" I said yes, because left to right suggests time passing, and he said, "Oh, for me, right to left feels like time passing" --- because, of course, Chinese lettering reads from right to left. We agreed to spit the shots, so half of them would go from left to right, and the other half would go right to left. (Source: Editing by Justin Change, Focal Press, 2012 ) 

In the Preface to Shot Psychology, it is stated that, "There is some scientific research about specific filmmaking techniques and how and why they affect us like they do, but it can safely be said that much more research needs to be done." The question has been asked, "Do you have any examples of such research?"

Yes. Please check out these links:

Perception, Attention, and the Structure of Hollywood Film
Roll 'em! The Effects of Picture Motion on Emotional Responses
The Emotional Significance of Color in Television Presentations
Watching you watch THERE WILL BE BLOOD