Someone to Watch Over Me: The Versatility of Shooting from Above

By  · Published on November 4th, 2016

Six uses for the bird’s-eye-view shot.

In cinema the bird’s-eye or god’s-eye view is the name given to any shot that films a scene from directly above the action. Get it? It’s like a bird or a god were watching. Tarantino loves this kind of shot, as does David Fincher, and with good reason: in a variety of emotional contexts the bird’s-eye view can convey many different meanings, six of which are illustrated in the following video from Jacob T. Swinney for Fandor.

There’s magnitude, like showing the scale of a battle scene to instill its importance, and the converse solitude, showing the emptiness surrounding a subject to heighten our sense of their loneliness; there’s movement, as in the tracking of a vehicle; there’s doom and its concomitant death, the intimacy of which we are removed from by the bird’s-eye-view, making us feel powerless and thus heightening our dread; and there’s release, those climactic moments when captivity is broken or some other such hindrance removed and a character is out in the big, wide world again, seemingly boundless when viewed from above.

Using examples from 300, Oldboy, Inside Man, Kill Bill vol. 1, The Matrix Reloaded, Sin City, Zodiac and scores more, Swinney presents the spectrum of possibilities the bird’s-eye-view shot poses. Furthermore, the added benefit of seeing so many used so differently in succession demonstrates the shot’s dramatic resonance. That’s a two-for-one in my book, and exactly the kind of layered study we’ve come to expect from Swinney, one of the best video essayists out there. Give this a your-eye view right now.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist