Reaction Shots

An Overview of the Reaction Shot and how it is able to convey story information quickly and without any dialogue.

Misha Tenenbaum avatar
Written by Misha Tenenbaum
Updated over a week ago

Reaction Shots show a character's reaction to someone or something that occurred in a previous shot. Typically, a character is reacting to a line of dialogue, a physical action that another character made, or to an obstacle in the scene that they have encountered.

Smiling reaction shot from the short film, City Lights.

Reaction Shots are often a close-up shot and usually does not contain dialogue. These shots cut away from the main scene for a moment to provide the audience with “new” information about how a character feels in a particular moment, such as belief or disbelief, fear, sadness, excitement, or surprise.

Depressed reaction shot from the short film, Yikes.

Reaction Shots can also be completely unemotional, which also has the impact of providing the viewer with information. For example, if something rather profound happens in the previous shot and the character’s reaction is non-emotional, the audience knows something else is coming - such as the unexpected motivation of the character.

The order of when the Reaction Shot is presented can also change how the audience engages with the story. If the shot is shown first, as a way to alert the audience to a secret or new information that is about to reveal itself, it can create suspense and anticipation for the audience. This is often used in mysteries and thrillers. The example below shows the man reacting first, then it is revealed to the audience what he is reacting to, his car being crushed.

Example of showing the man's reaction first then showing the audience what he is reacting to in the short film, Bully.

In comedy, the Reaction Shot reinforces the audience’s thought that the previous comment or action was, indeed, funny and it adds to the level of accepted humor.

Reaction shots from the short comedy, Bingo Night.

In horror, the Reaction Shot provides psychological cues to alert the audience to the level of fear.

Scared reaction shot of the protagonist from the short film Anesthsia

During the production of a film, Reaction Shots should be captured wherever possible, because they offer the editor options to cut away from the main scene to share information with the audience or to adjust the overall rhythm and pace of a scene.

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