The American shot is a medium-long shot of a group of characters. The shot is situated in a way that all of the characters can be seen in the picture. The term American shot is “a translation of a phrase from French film criticism, “plan américain”…The usual arrangement is for the actors to stand in an irregular line from one side of the screen to the other, with the actors at the end coming forward a little and standing more in profile than the others. In some literature, this is simply referred to as a 3/4 shot” (Wikipedia). Another explanation for American shot, from The University of Texas at Dallas, is: “medium wide shot (American shot) shows a character usually cut off across the legs above or below the knees. It is wide enough to show the physical setting in which the action is taking place, yet it is close enough to show facial expression” (UT Dallas).
Another reason for the technique being dubbed the American shot was its prolific use in American Westerns. It caught on so well in western movies because the shot is framed so it is focused in on the character, generally so his or her knees are at the bottom of the shot.
In westerns, “a shot that started at knee level would reveal the weapon of a cowboy, usually holstered at his waste. It’s actually the closest you can get to an actor while keeping both his face and his holstered gun in the same frame” (Wikipedia). Figure 1 shows John Wayne in The Shootist. This is a perfect example of American shot because it shows the exact style of the shot in an old Western movie, just like how the term arose.
In figure 2, one can see a panel of Superman being shot at by three armed goons. The characters in the panel are visibly staggered in the panel. This adds depth to the panel and gives the panel a 3D-like effect, while allowing the reader to view every character in the panel.
The American shot is widely used throughout Action Comics No. 2. When done well, it is a great technique that allows comic book illustrators to provide the feeling
of space within the panel without having to compromise on the amount of characters in the panel. In figure 3, from Action Comics No. 2 (Image source: Siegel, J., & Shuster, J. (1938, July 1). Action Comics.), the reader can see Superman with his hand on his right hip as if he were drawing a firearm out of a holster in a western movie. Also, note that the view of the panel starts at around Superman’s knee, moving up from there, and captures both his hand on his hip and his face. This allows the reader to see the possible action that might come in the next panel and pair it with the expression on the character’s face.
In figure 4, (in the right portion of the panel) is another wonderful example of American shot. It comes from Tobin and Coover’s Bandette, a comic about a young female hero who leads a small group of mischievous children who generally are on the side of justice. Again, the panel starts at around the characters’ knees and works its way up from there to include the facial expressions of the character. It is essential that the panel does this so the reader see the pending action of her entering the door, as well as the mischievous look on Bandette’s face.
American shot. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_shot
Elements of Cinematography: Camera. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2015, from http://www.utdallas.edu/atec/midori/Handouts/camera.htm