A stack of film production slates displays the letters POV in bold red across the top slate, with a pile of script pages cascading down at an angle below.

How to Use POV in a Screenplay: Essential Perspective Tips for Screenwriting in 2024

Point of view (POV) is one of the most critical yet underappreciated elements of effective screenwriting. Whether you’re writing a tense thriller or heartfelt drama, POV ultimately determines how the audience experiences the story unfolding on screen.

Selecting and skillfully leveraging the perfect POV or POVs lays the framework for building audience identification with specific characters, strategically concealing or revealing key information to maintain curiosity, and ultimately guiding the feelings and emotions viewers should be having from scene to scene.

By understanding different POV options for screenplays, as well as knowing the techniques for managing tensions and reveals, you can transform a standard story into an elevated viewing experience that resonates long after the credits roll.

Defining Point of View in Screenwriting

Before considering use of POV, let’s clearly define this key term. Point of view in screenwriting refers to the subjective angle from which a movie’s story is told.

Specifically, it indicates the perspective through which the audience experiences the central characters and events unfolding on screen. This orientation can shift between different characters or remain fixed to follow just one protagonist’s viewpoint.

Some key functions enabled by POV include:

  • Establishing whose journey audiences are following
  • Determining access to different characters’ thoughts and motivations
  • Filtering story information to build mystery and interest
  • Guiding audience identification and alignment

Skilled screenwriters leverage POV not just to tell linear stories but intentionally shape viewer emotions and assumptions on the way to plot twists, moments of truth, and character transformations.

Common Types of Perspective Used in Screenplays

Screenwriters can orient their stories using a diversity of single, multiple, and shifting POV approaches. Some of the most common options include:

First-Person Point of View

The purest form of an individual POV is the first person, where one central character relates the entire story as it unfolds directly around them. Voiceover narration or context makes this crystal clear from the opening scenes. Audiences only see what the specific character sees, knows what they know, and feel aligned to view other players from their biased perspective.

Some examples of first-person films told directly from the central character’s POV include The Shawshank Redemption, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and Trainspotting. The consistent subjective camera angles keep viewers locked into one protagonist’s mindset.

Third Person Limited Point of View

Far more common in the film is the third-person limited POV, which sticks closely to one lead character but is told from an observer’s perspective. Viewers still relate to events through this central figure’s limited knowledge, assumptions, and experiences but without the first-person cues. Scenes focus primarily on the thoughts, actions, and emotions of this character.

For example, in the multiple Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, events unfold almost entirely around the protagonist Elisa while other characters get limited screen time except as they relate to her reality. This draws audiences into her emotional journey and magical worldview.

Third-person omniscient Point of View

Screenwriters may also leverage a godlike third-person omniscient POV that can pivot freely around multiple characters, revealing more wide-ranging motivations and information.

Films like Babel, Magnolia, and Love utilize this technique to tie together the interweaving stories of numerous principal figures and explore broader themes. However, the omniscient POV must be handled skillfully as audiences could lose alignment with protagonists if heads hop too frequently.

Subjective vs. Objective POVs

Another related concept is whether the POV portrayed feels more subjective or objective from the audience’s standpoint. For example, even films told from one character’s limited POV can sometimes feel more objectively observing the protagonist “from the outside” versus subjectively aligning viewers to experience events alongside them.

Determining the Right Perspective for Your Screenplay

So how do screenwriters determine which point of view approach makes the most sense for their films? The central figures and relationships portrayed typically guide smart POV choices, along with intended audience takeaways. Considerations include:

Genre Conventions and Common Tropes

Certain genres have well-established POV conventions that inform viewer expectations. For example, horror movies typically begin from victims’ or final girls’ first or third-person limited perspectives to more viscerally feel their terror. Thrillers focused on intricate heists might leverage an omniscient POV to showcase layered planning.

Protagonist Relationships

The nature of a film’s hero, antihero, or villain alignments also indicates likely POVs. For example, The Joker surprise smash hit film Joker applied a first-person POV to fully commit audiences to its disturbed protagonist’s spiral descent.

On the other hand, The Talented Mr Ripley relied on third-person limited POV focused heavily on its shape shifting antihero Tom Ripley against Dickie Greenleaf to layer in reveals and irony about Ripley’s motivations and truthfulness.

Importance of Subtext or Mystery

Sometimes sticking closely to one lead character’s perception provides opportunities to play up subtext and conceal information critical for building mystery, tension and uncertainty over who to trust.

Films like Gone Girl and Memento leverage this selective reveal via restricted POVs brilliantly while keeping audiences constantly guessing based on the protagonists’ viewpoints.

On other occasions, an omniscient POV may suit stories prioritizing context across multiple characters’ drives and situational realizations. Crash’s interwoven perspectives on racial tensions play out well through its oversight on diverse Los Angeles’ POVs.

Ultimately the POV approach must align with your screenplay’s narrative intentions and the viewer revelations you want layered in scene by scene.

Best Practices for Managing Points of View

Whatever POV method you select for your script, it requires careful scene-by-scene management to maximize the emotional effects you want audiences to feel at key plot points. Follow these tips to avoid disjointed perspectives:

POV Consistency Within Scenes

Be rigorous about sticking to the POV character in any given scene. All events portrayed should logically be those the character can see, hear or experience themselves. Avoid random drifting to other characters’ reactions unless this shifts the established POV.

Motivate POV Transitions

When changing between different characters’ POVs, motivate the shifts in story logic. Use transitional devices like phones calls, character hand offs in conversations, changes in locations. Unmotivated changes feel disjointed.

Strategic Access to Information

Think critically about what POV provides access to or conceals from viewer knowledge. For example, if the audience needs to feel aligned to a protagonist making questionable choices, stick closely to their biased perspective rather than poking holes in it with contrasting POVs too soon.

Selective Release of Key Details

Similarly consider the timing of when critical information gets revealed to escalate story tensions. Restricted POVs often allow smart selectivity over candy gets released to shock viewers with later surprises and twists.

The Ultimate POV Goal

Always evaluate POV choices based on their effectiveness in cementing the audience experience filmmakers want viewers feeling at each plot point. Whether the aim is curiosity, confusion, frustration, victory, or despair, POV forms the funnel through which writers channel audiences.

Common POV Pitfalls to Avoid

Just as skillfully leveraging POV enhances viewer engagement, clumsy mistakes disrupt immersed experiences. Steer clear of these major blunders:

  • Head Hopping – The most immersion-breaking sin is randomly pivoting perspectives between different characters sentence to sentence. It fractures any coherence of subjective viewer alignment. Save broader POV shifts for clear scene or sequence changes.
  • Disorienting Audiences – Too many rapid fire POV changes can overwhelm audiences without grounding in one or two lead anchors. Build primary arcs before bouncing across perspectives.
  • Illogical Perspective Constraints – Don’t reveal information only an omniscient narrator could provide from a limited POV. All visuals need to logically stem from the anchoring character’s perspective. For example, don’t show scenes where your protagonist isn’t present unless the context or character dialogue clarifies the logic behind cutting away.
  • Clarity of POV Guidance – If utilizing multiple POVs, ensure viewers understand when shifts happen through obvious visual or audio cues along the way. Don’t fracture immersion with disjointed, inexplicable jumps.

Leveraging POV to Immerse Your Audience

Ultimately mastery of POV comes down to skillfully moving audiences step by step to where you want them emotionally and psychologically from sequence to sequence. Restricted POVs act like blinkers allowing writers to guide viewer assumptions while an omniscient perspective lays all interpretive options bare.

Make POV an intentional choice based on your characters, genre, target themes, and sequence aims rather than just a random tack-on. Perspective forms the viewer’s optic nerve into your cinematic world. So utilize POV thoughtfully as the vision-shaping device it is meant to be for screenwriting magic.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you format a POV shot?

A POV shot is formatted in a screenplay slugline by denoting it as the visual perspective of a specific character, using abbreviations like “JANE’S POV” or “FROM JANE’S PERSPECTIVE”. The action line would then describe what Jane sees from her first-person visual viewpoint.

What point of view is a screenplay written in?

Most screenplays are written in the third person point of view, where the writer objectively describes the actions, dialogues and movements of characters in scenes without internal access to their thoughts and feelings. Omniscient third person, not tethered to a single character, prevails.

Can you use first-person in a screenplay?

Yes, first-person POV is permitted in screenplays through voiceover narration where a main character verbally describes their subjective experiences, observations, and mental state to the audience. However extensive first-person narration is unconventional and usually supplemental to core action.

What is first-person POV screenwriting?

A first-person POV screenplay tells the entire script’s events from the subjective viewpoint of one character as a centralized narrator verbally describing the unfolding story in their voice and from their limited knowledge. But this is extremely rare due to its heavy exposition demands.

How do you change the POV in a story?

To change POV in a screen story, scene transitions are useful pivot points for shifting perspectives from one character to another by reorienting the primary figure focused on. Mini sluglines like CUT TO JANE help clarify POV anchors for readers when changing.

Are screenplays written in third person?

Yes, the predominant POV in screenwriting is third person, where the writer objectively describes observable actions versus articulating characters’ inner thoughts and emotions directly. The audience role is the interpreter of behavior, dialogue, and gestures shown on screen.

How do you write a camera shot in a script?

Camera shots are written in screenplays through sluglines preceding the action, denoting if it’s an Extreme Close Up, Wide Shot, Low Angle, High Angle, Tracking Shot, etc. The subsequent action describes the actual visible footage, subjects, motion, or composer visible within that framing.

What is the expression of point of view in film?

Point of view in film is conveyed through camera perspectives positioning audiences to identify with specific characters while observing others from a subjective distance. Elements like shots, blocking, and edits further direct viewers on who to align with and interpret events from the standpoint of.

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