In movie and television production, an Establishing Shot conveys the context for a scene. It gives the audience important information about where and when the subsequent action and/or dialogue is taking place.
For example, if a film is set in Paris, it’s a good bet that the Eiffel Tower will be featured on the skyline – even if the subsequent story does not take place in the 7th Arrondissement. For the same reason, a movie set in Toronto almost always features the CN Tower in its establishing shot. Other clues within the shot – such as the vintage of the vehicles – can help convey era, while clothing styles and weather can help convey season.
Today, Port Rowan has a large town water tank in the area where the rail yard used to be. But as far as I know, in the 1950s it did not have a signature tower of any sort – certainly nothing that first-time visitors to the town would immediately recognize as being uniquely Port Rowan.
Since I’m modelling the branchline to Port Rowan set in the summer in the 1950s, how do I help convey that information to first-time visitors to my layout?
Today, I completed a key component of my Establishing Shot:
(“Are we there yet?” A tourist hauls his pride and joy – an Airstream trailer – with the promise of summer fun ahead. Click on the image to read more about the trailer.)
This scene – still a work in progress – is located at the very end of the Port Rowan peninsula, which is the first thing one sees as one enters the layout. I have no idea if there were billboards in Port Rowan to advertise Long Point. But I don’t care either – because I’m pleased that in much less than a square foot of layout real estate, I’ve managed to convey a wealth of information, including:
– We’re close to a place called Long Point.
– Long Point is on Lake Erie.
– Long Point is a summer destination, with cottages, beaches and campgrounds.
– It’s the 1950s: The vehicles tell us so.
– It’s summer, because the driver of the grey car has his windows down and he’s pulling a camper.
Note that the scene does not, specifically, convey that we’re in Port Rowan – only that we’re close to Long Point and Lake Erie. As the visitor moves further into the layout – about three feet to the left, to be precise – they well encounter the railway’s impressive station, complete with “Port Rowan” signs. The Establishing Shot doesn’t have to tell the whole story: subsequent shots can fill in more of the details even as the action and dialogue commence.
I built the billboard from a laser kit I picked up from Barry Silverthorn, who used to manufacturer and market 1:64 structures and details under the Grand River Models brand. (While Barry is no longer running that business as a going concern, he has quite a few of these still in stock.) It’s not obvious in this photo, but I enhanced the kit with nut-bolt-washer hardware on the frame and support legs.
For the sign, I found a suitable vintage image online – it’s actually from the 1940s if I recall, but I plan to add some weathering to the billboard so it appears to have been in place for a while. I added my own text in PhotoShop. I then asked Barry about the size of his billboard so I could adjust the image – and Barry not only resized it for me, but he also took my text and did a much better job of laying it out on the image. (Thanks, Barry!)
This scene still needs work. I plan to add static grass, flowers, weeds and bushes – and possibly even a tree behind the billboard. But already, this little scene is playing an important role in telling layout visitors where they are – and when.
(I’m interested in hearing from others about their Establishing Shot. Use the comments section of this post to share…)
(For those of you who participate in the forums at Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine, there’s also an active discussion of this subject over there…)