Point Of View In Films

What Is Point Of View In Films?

Point of View in films or commonly abbreviated as POV, is defined as the perspective of the narration performed by a character with respect to their viewpoint. 

It is quite normal to see the three-letter, capitalized word in many titles but we always seem to forget to delve deep into the complex, intriguing, and outstanding ideology that differentiates itself with multiple types of POVs that we are going to study further with examples and in detail. 

But first, let us grasp the complete existence of this topic and how this affects the writing style, intimacy levels between the reader and the material along with literature’s structure.

No matter how hard you try to disassociate POV from any written literature in the world, the point of view always lives in the heart of the story and its writing no matter what genre.

Take this article itself for a quick example. I, the writer, am explaining an important topic in filmmaking and writing, whilst the reader, i.e., you, are the second person in this non-fictional narrative. 

This article provides information and sending it directly to your screen from my keyboard and addressing you in the second person is known as the ‘Second-Person Narrative’ that is very rarely used in written literature, and films.

If the example was a little too complicated for you, this sort of narrative will be explained to you ahead in – ‘types of narrative in films’.

But first, let us see an elucidated definition –

What Does Exactly Pov Means In Film And Literature?

Apart from the definition given at the beginning of the article, let me give you another meaning that is more simplified.

‘Point-of-View in film and literature is a device that shows or depicts a situation or an object represented through the eyes or mind of the character, or the subject.’

Now that you know what a POV is, you must be getting curious to use it in your film or writing. But it should be known that POV comes along with three major distinctive types of storytelling

The types branch out into five categories but we are going to focus only on the major ones that have the ability to create a positive impact on our audiences and make them feel more personal.

To study the art of POV itself, let us have a look at the surface of the main three types of point-of-view writing and filmmaking, and then we will thoroughly go through each one by one.

1. First-Person Narrative – Told by the person’s senses and mind, regard to the situations happening around them.

2. Second-Person Narrative – An uncommon type of narrative where the audience or the spectator is the subject and revolves partially, or in the background, related to them.

3. Third-Person Narrative – The most common narrative style where the point-of-view exists outside the said characters’ being and existence.

While all the definitions may seem too complicated to understand, we are going to isolate every narrative’s style of writing, style of shooting, and style of displaying the film or the story according to the POV type.  

Let us begin with the most intriguing type of narration – the first-person narration that POV is mostly associated with.

First-Person Point Of View

First-person narration from the person connects the audience with the story’s main character’s actions, surroundings, and unfolding sequences. 

As soon as the POV begins, we begin to feel wired to the world in which the story is set and built-in. The character performs the action we write, but the audience experiences it first-hand.

Now, the pronouns “I/Me/Myself” are used to depict first-person narration in literature and writing. The readers, as they read along with the first-person pronouns, begin to think of themselves as the character whose POV is written. 

While writing this category of point-of-view, it is fairly more accessible to jot down lines for the writer too because of the tight inclusion of our existence creating a story in another world that will include our psyche’s working in it. 

In films, this kind of narration is depicted by a first-person POV shot that ultimately metamorphoses into the eyes of the main character. 

This shot may feel limited through the boundaries of knowledge that third-person narration provides, but the unknown sequences unfolding experienced by the audience first-hand is what sells the first-person POV.

That is why some filmmakers and writers include it to create a bond not only by seeing the character go through the situation but by experiencing it.

ENTER THE VOID by Gaspar Noe: A Film Igniting Your Senses

First-Person Point Of View
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This Gaspar Noe film turned many heads for its only and complete use of first-person POV type narration and an arcane directing style for bringing this kind of POV device to life on the big screen.

Apart from the shots that depict the lifestyle of the main character that we can all relate to, we see the volatile situations unfold in the film unfold through the eyes of the character-based in the world of ‘Enter The Void’.

We also experience the afterlife of Oscar, the leading character, who is shot by the police and still continues to have a golden path in the film even after his own death.

The film is an experimental arthouse drama that is suitable to create film established through a single person’s senses and even more so due to the psychedelic effects added in the scenes that spark intrigue and curiosity in the audience’s mind.

Due to the first person’s POV, we get an uncomfortably close look at the character of Oscar and his state of mind as it deteriorates as we go along as the character himself throughout the film. 

There are rarely any films in the history of cinema, and mainly feature-length films showcase the first-person POV in mostly every scene from act one’s beginning to the end of the film. 

Second-Person Point Of View

The second-person narration is where the audience is addressed with pronouns written for them as “You/Yours” for writing and also for depicting the relation with the audience.

Here, even though the characters are present in the story, the audiences, i.e., you, are the main spectacle or the subject. Surprising, right? How could an entity be included in the story, and that even a compulsory one? 

The audience is addressed explicitly by the character, and it catches us off-guard, there are quite risks that come along with it.

The reason why we don’t come across Second-Person Narration in films and television commonly is, because there is hardly ever a need for it. 

If there is a social commentary or a message that is directed at the society, and ultimately the reader, the second-person narration comes into play, but only for a few moments to take the audience in attention. 

When we transform the Second-person POV onto the screen, it is called “Breaking the 4th Wall” – when the character reacts to us by looking directly into the camera and talking, commenting like we’re another character present there with them.

Though we do not exist in the plane/situation that holds the story, the possibility is brought closer by breaking -the-4th-wall shot. 

The shot is mainly used to show a reaction obtained by the main character through a certain action that is never related to the audience, yet the reaction sometimes is shown to us – mainly this device is used for comedy and sarcasm.

But, you never see a film completely shown through the second-person perspective, and it is only used for short moments to keep the momentum of the technical aspect of the story going. 

FLEABAG by Phoebe Waller-Bridge: A Show Relying On Great Writing and Second-Person Narration

Second-Person Point Of View
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A paradigm of a show created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, appropriately titled ‘Fleabag’ is a paramount example of second-person POV.

The nameless character or Fleabag, played by the writer as well as the creator of the show Phoebe herself, interacts with the audience thoroughly through her quirky, honest reactions to eccentric situations unfolding around her. 

The show itself became popular universally because of its minimalistic yet personal, emotive writing style that connects the Fleabag character with the audience on a deeper level and we understand her psychology, her thought process with an intimately close perspective – as though if we, the show-watchers, are her peer and are an important role-player in the series that she trusts to confide in shamelessly. 

And in exchange, we see her core honesty and vulnerability beneath the layers of the adversely enigmatic personality of hers. 

The supporting characters do not possess the ability to break the 4th wall (meaning acknowledging the audience and interacting with them) or notice the breaking of the 4th wall (except a character in Series 2) by Phoebe’s main character.

The Second-Person POV technique is enormously helpful in building and developing a leading character solely on an emotional aspect that encapsulates every factor of the character’s psychology.

Hence, the character comes to life on the screen and it suddenly doesn’t seem like a fictional character anymore. 

The exact process has happened with Fleabag. The way the main character tells us her darkest, deepest secrets until her bare, raw emotions are felt through the screen does more than having the character just connect with us – we also give her a place in our hearts just as we do for our peers. 

The second-person narration and a special relationship with the audience that Fleabag carries out in such a graceful manner are what makes Fleabag a spectacular show about a woman’s inside, innate look of her life, trauma, joy, and charming presence.

Also, the narration of the second-person POV is done in intervals of time, and notices and reacts to us in small pockets of free moments in between conversations, feelings, and scenes that elevate the show on a humorous level as timing in second-narration in a comedy show is the ultimate key.     

Third Person Point-Of-View

The third-person POV is the most common type among the rest of the categories. This narration is upheld by the pronouns “He/She/They/Them” and is addressed in third-person. 

Here, the point-of-view is neither depicted through the main character nor the audience. 

Through this POV, literature is written in a mass quantity. The narration is excluded from the psychology and personal impression of a character in the story as the narrator jumps in to describe their personality, situations, and feelings to us, sometimes in a succinct way. 

Screenplays, novels, and short stories are mainly written from the third-person perspective as they are less burdensome to narrate and do not require as much brainstorming as the other narrating styles do.

Some may feel that it would not be effective to connect the story with the audience on a personal level and would become stolid, but this style has been a household type of POV in filmmaking and writing. 

Since the beginning of time, this narration has trickled down from Stone Age drawings to folklore to singing epics, to storytelling to writing to films. 

So, the onlookers are used to becoming spectators for their own pleasure to experience a fictional story where they can, without any inclusion except being the audience, hence the third-person narrative is the most sought out and written. 

EUPHORIA by Sam Levinson: A series run by a bold narration of equally bold characters

Third Person Point-Of-View
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Originally based on an Israeli series of the same title, ‘Euphoria’ has achieved cult status in a tier of high-school dramas for its mercilessly raw depictions of the high-school students’ dilemmas, drugs, and dalliances. 

As curtains closed lately on season 2 of Euphoria, there has been a realization that the Zendaya-starrer show has garnered a huge attraction due to its ensemble cast’s unflinching acting and the third-person narration of the multiple characters and their ongoing lives, thoughts, and everything important enough to know for conveying the scene’s depth regarding the character. 

In the series, the main character is Rue Bennett, A.K.A. the narrator, played by Zendaya with delicately brilliant acting. Rue is a drug addict that is a ticking time bomb for destroying every relationship she has with someone. 

This narration of the third-person POV is carried out by Zendaya’s character Rue who exposes every character’s relationship dynamics.

Not only that, but she also provides background as a new character is introduced, their emotions including her own, with needs and wants that finally build up a structure for all the included roles in Euphoria. 

And ultimately, Rue is commenting with her own reactions along with narration of the story, as Rue herself is an important character and lives with every character she narrates about in East Highland, where the show is situated. 

The multiple storylines pushed ahead by an array of varying characters that are intimately related to each other is difficult to keep up with as an audience. 

That is where the third-person POV comes into play for holding up every character and the process of its metamorphosis’ on a pedestal of equal importance. 

The mere difference of valued narration between the characters and the said character is derailed off the story, as the audience slowly loses interest if there is no active momentum being told in the show or the film.

Third-person POV is not as tricky when you narrate a plot that is quite simple and has only a couple of storylines and/or the narrator isn’t playing a role in their own film/show in which they are narrating. 

In the third-person POV shot, there is no need for any camera gimmicks or smart techniques. This shot is exactly the way narrative films are shot, with independent characters detached from the realization that there is any audience. 

The only difference is the narration performed by a person off-screen or absent in the film.

Difference Between Point Of View Narrative And Point Of View Shot

In literature, the writing of first-person POV plays inside the reader’s subconscious mind and runs the cogs on its imaginative ability.

But for screenwriters and filmmakers, it is a whole another series of ruses. Let us see how screenwriting a POV shot transforms onto the screen with a thrilling aspect of delving into the character’s senses and sharing it with the audience.

First of all, screenwriting a POV is fairly easier than directing it on the set – it is pretty much-normalized screenwriting except you put a heading over the scenes that are seen and felt through the main character.

The written scenes for the POV are studied and then created by a lot of technical aspects that come into play and that are written to depict the scene as closely accurate as it is on the page.

In films, mostly the leading character is attached to the POV scenes, and the scene is created likewise through the audio-visual senses of the POV character so that the audience feels an efficacious thrill.

The resolute first-person POV shot is the mixture of what the character sees and hears and does, as simple as that. 

The only difference between the point-of-view writing and the point-of-view shot is that the shot requires precision in adding the layer of heightening audiences’ attention by suitable and arcane cinematography, accurate direction, and overall action sequences.

As shown in the second-person narrative above with examples, where the audience is an important character is depicted through the shot of the main actor breaking the 4th wall.

And at last, the third-person POV is where the staple shots that most films have are the ones that convey the story on the screen from the screenplay, as it is written from the third-person perspective itself.

Conclusion

Point-of-View isn’t just a shot type in a film or a television show that you admire for its visual aesthetics but is a helpful device that gives a strong sound to narrate your storytelling in the most striking and original way. 

May it be a scene written from the 1st-Person-POV or the 2nd-person-POV, remember to use it mildly as the audience is not as used to it as it is for 3rd-person-POV. 

As important and vital as it is to know the skill for POV writing and filmmaking, it is also important to place these POV shots in appropriate places in your screenplays or films.

The lesson that should be learned from the article is to never take literature devices like P.O.V. writing styles lightly and use them not to make your story only interesting, but also smooth for reading and grasping the material in an insightful way. 

Before the film, before the shoot, before the final draft, before the first draft, before the outline, and before the beats, comes the story that you want to narrate in the best possible way. So, choose your voice of writing carefully and make good use of the benefits of POV narrations and shots.

About the Author

Dhruv Jogdand

Dhruv is a screenwriter by heart and a Mass Media enthusiast by profession. He writes screenplays and blogs about them with intricate details. He admires groundbreaking, female-centric films and shows, slow-burn arthouse movies, and breathtaking cinematography.

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