Production: How To Do a Reaction Shot

A reaction shot adds an emotional 'glue' between several different shots in a scene through the use of a cutaway edit. The use for a reaction shot is to show an emotional response on the subject's face to a scene which cuts from this particular shot. There are a variety of reasons to apply the reaction shot in an edited sequence, and the following steps will help you decide the appropriate times to use this technique.

Step 1: Determine and Plan Your Shots

Every single shot and every single inch within a frame is pre-determined before the actual filming process begins. Before you begin filming your shots, you must determine the approach to your project such as the style, the framing, and even the editing of your film. Once you determine the approach to your project, be sure to visually document your ideas with scripts, storyboards and shot lists. Storyboards will prove to be an essential tool in the filmmaking process to visually explain the frame composition of each take within a scene. By determining and planning you shots, this will save you time filming and editing your project.

Step 2: Keep Your Shots Consistent

As you are filming your subject, be sure that the direction of their eye line is consistent and correct with the shot that you cut to after the reaction shot. For example, if your subject is reacting to a tall gigantic monster, be sure that your subject is looking up. If your subject is reacting to a small spider, have your subject react with their eye line looking towards the floor.  This precautious technique ensures continuity between each cut.

Step 3: Film Your Subject in a Tight Frame

Reaction shots are most effective when they have a close-up shot of the subject's face. The purpose of this particular framing is to film an emotional cue from the face of the subject to the joining shot they are reacting to. A tight shot on your subject is also most effective because the subject's reactions will connect to your audience's emotions. It is easier to view a reaction shot in a close-up versus a long shot. A long shot will cause an eye-strain on the audience when they struggle to view the facial cue on a subject from such a far away distance.

Step 4: Assembling an Edited Scene

After the filming phase is complete, you are now able to assemble and edit your project. By determining and planning your shots prior to filming, your storyboards, scripts and shot list will now prove to be quite useful in the editing process. As the editing process begins, be sure to recognize the pacing and rhythm of your edits. For a scene in which the film calls for an action-packed climatic tone, be sure to edit your shots quickly. If your scene requires a dramatic somber tone, be sure that your pacing is slow and steady.

In order to properly edit a reaction shot into your scene, make sure that the edits before and after your reaction shot make sense to your story along with being consistent and correct. You have now successfully created a reaction shot.