How to write POV in screenplays

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Do you know how to write POV in screenplays? POV shots can be hard to get right. Some people say screenwriters shouldn’t include them at all, and they should leave that creative decision up to the director. However, sometimes a story really needs to be told in a specific way, and the screenwriter will decide to write in a POV shot. Here’s everything you need to know about POV, POV shots, and how to write POV in screenplays.

What is POV?

POV stands for Point of View. In novels and other written works, it refers to the narration of the story; ie, is it in first person (the protagonist is the narrator,) second (this is a very unusual POV and infrequently used where the reader is the protagonist, using the pronouns you/your/yours,) and third (there is a narrator other than the protagonist that is not featured on the page.)

Films have POVs as well, although they are often not noticed by the viewer. The POV can change from shot to shot. Next time you watch a movie, try to notice when the POV changes. Throughout the film, does the camera represent an off-screen narrator, impartially portraying all the the characters? Is the narrator an actual character in the film, for example, are there voiceovers that describe what’s happening? Does the movie follow one specific character, only showing us their point of view? From scene to scene, does it shift, sometimes portraying characters objectively, sometimes “siding” with one person or another? Pay extra attention to scenes where two characters are arguing or having an intense conversation. How do the shots affect how the characters are being portrayed? 

In film, a POV shot refers to something very specific. A POV shot is when the camera is acting as the eyes of a specific character. Essentially, that shot is in the first person. The audience is seeing what the POV character sees. POV shots are used for a variety of reasons; it can be used to create suspense, it can be used to heighten a dramatic or comedic moment that a character is experiencing, it can be used to give more information about a character… the list goes on.

When should you write a POV shot?

As I already mentioned, some people don’t think that screenwriters should write POV in screenplays at all. Those people would argue that it’s up to the director to make creative choices like that. In general, if you are hoping to sell your screenplay to a production company, this is good advice. However, there are a few times that you should disregard this advice.

The first and most obvious time that you should include POV in screenplays is if you are both the writer and the director of the film. In independent filmmaking, it’s extremely common for people to direct a movie that they wrote. In that case, include POV shots whenever you see fit. Think of them as notes to your future self, a way to remember what your intentions were when you wrote the screenplay.

A second example of a time when you should write POV in screenplays is when the meaning of the scene is significantly altered by the use of a POV shot. For example, if a character is being stalked, and they don’t know it yet, but you want the audience to know, consider using a POV shot. The camera could act as the stalker, following your protagonist down the street or lurking outside their house at night. Or maybe you’re trying to portray an argument, but you don’t actually want the audience to have an objective view of the situation. This could be another example of a time to use a POV shot.

How to write POV in screenplays

The act of actually writing a POV shot in your screenplay is relatively simple. You can simply include the text [CHARACTER’S] POV, then describe what they are seeing, the way that you would describe any setting or key shot. 

Other things you do as the screenwriter also inform the POV of the movie. For example, if there is a voice over narration that you’ve included in your screenplay, that is a choice about the POV. A protagonist narrating their own film is first person POV. An off-screen narrator that does not appear in the movie as a character indicates that the film is in the third person. When making choices about a film’s POV, think carefully about what you want to communicate as the screenwriter.

Learn more about POV in screenplays

This video from Studio Binder has helpful information about POV shots and examples of POV shots.

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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