Commercial Production from First Person Perspective

Posted by John Haslam


Filming in First Person Perspective – Why is it becoming so popular?


Virtual reality platforms and games are coming fast and furious lately. Take a look at some of the most popular sites such as CNN Tech, Mashable and Reddit and you will see virtual reality front and center. It’s a big deal, just as drones were, and 3D before that. And as is the case with all good trends, the core concepts have bled out into other markets. Virtual reality games will allow you to move and interact with an alternate reality – of course video would want adapt this method to immerse its audience into a whole new world.

Filming Alternate Character POV Has Already Been Done


With the rise of virtual reality, why not make an entire movie shot from the first person perspective to exploit the hype? The upcoming movie “Hardcore Henry” is the champion of this movement. The movie is coming out this week and though it markets itself as the “first” to do it, history would show otherwise. From Lady in the Lake in 1947 to the Blair Witch Project in 1999. It’s been done before with varying degrees of success.

First Person POV – The Good


First person POV has been used often in film since the beginning. It’s a wonderful way to convey urgency, create suspense and energize an audience. It has proven to be extremely effective in horror movies. It can be used as a tool to handicap your senses and provide a platform to bring you to the edge of your seat. Used as a way to immerse the viewer into an idol, like a sports star, can allow even adults to live out their fantasies. But there is a time and a place for everything. This doesn’t apply to just first person filming – limiting any project to just one point of view, be it wide, tight or first person ends up just being a gimmick.

First Person POV – The Challenge


Since first person perspective shots limit the tools available to a film maker – it does become a way to highlight the other strengths of a production. Writing has to be done very carefully or the perspective just don’t work. Scene selection and location must be a perfect fit because the audience is no longer focused on the main character’s face and body. Cues can no longer be taken from facial expressions and body language and the viewer can very easily become lost as to who is friend or foe. Bottom line is that 1st person POV just lacks the same emotion as work that has the flexibility of unlimited camera usage and scene blocking.
In addition, you must have a comprehensive team that works flawlessly together through pre-production, production and post production. The pre-production process needs to be extremely aware of the limitations and needs of the post workflow due to the nature of the POV. First person perspective is essentially faking a single take and cuts will need to be hidden in blinks, turns and other movement. The concept can completely fail without this being taken into consideration from the start.

POV in Commercial Production


Generally, commercial production relies very heavily on the art of editing. There is such a limited time to convey a message, earn attention, and to get the audience to remember us. Sometimes all of the tools available – including talent’s performance – are needed to craft feelings of need and want.
Again, a time and a place for everything. It can be an effective concept for certain spots. Nike, Mountain Dew and Call of Duty have all utilized the first person POV to sell their brands. Each of these spots shared a common thread – the POV was used as a form of escapism, relied on very fast cuts, and were targeting gamers and would be thrill seekers. This probably is not the best approach for a bank commercial.
Most of the time tabling a great concept to go with a new trend is not the answer. A great production team will be able to choose the best methods develop and convey a concept to elevate a story without relying on a gimmick just for the sake of jumping on a bandwagon.