What is a Roll Shot in Film? Definition & Spinning Movement Examples

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A roll is when the camera rotates around its lens axis (the longitudinal or Z-axis), causing the horizon line in the frame to tilt. This can disorient the viewer, suggest a character’s unsteadiness or disorientation, follow the action, or simply be used as a dynamic visual effect. It adds a sense of unease or chaos to the scene.

Below are some examples of rolling/spinning shots from the film, along with a brief analysis and explanation of their effect.

Create Disorientation

This sequence from Spider-Man 3 (2007) begins with a top-down push in rolling shot of Peter Parker lying on his bed, signifying the beginning disorienting experience as the Venom parasite gets hold of him. This is further stressed by the close-up rolling shot of Peter’s face as he dreams about the death of his uncle. Finally, it’s underscored by the line “Where am I?” and the pull-out rolling shot of Peter hanging from a building in a black Spiderman suit with no memory of what has happened.

A Visual motif

A roll shot can be used as a visual motif.

A good example is from Unbreakable (2000), in the scene where the young Elijah, aka later Mr. Glass, gets his first superhero/villain comic book. This book flips his world upside down, foreshadowing the events to come, underlined by the top-down spinning camera movement. The turning comic book appears again later in the film.

Following the Action

Sometimes roll camera movements are used for their dynamic effect fx when tracking movements in action scenes.

In The Fate of the Furious’s (2017) prison escape scene, Hobbs punches two other inmates, causing them to flip in the air and drop to the floor. Here, director Felix Gary Gray uses a camera roll movement in combination with slow-motion to follow the movement of the two guys.

Symbolize Uncertainty

A roll camera movement is effective when wanting to underline the uncertainty of a situation.

A good example is the scene from Black Panther (2018) where Killmonger takes the throne. We start with a cool pull out shot of Killmonger standing alone among the flames and the new leader of Wakanda. The pull out symbolizes his isolation and his not wanting to be the leader.

Then we transition into a roll combined with a push in, as Killmonger walks into the throne room. The roll signifies the uncertain future of his dominance as leader of the Wakandans, which is stressed by the skeptical and judgemental gazes of the people in the room.

1st-Person Perspective Change

Sometimes, a roll camera movement is used as a first-person perspective shot to show the character rolling over or spinning.

Here’s an example from Deadpool 2 (2018), where Deadpool and Cable battle Firefist. After Firefist blasts the two heroes out of the building, they land on the ground, and the camera switches to the first-person view of Deadpool, who rolls over from his back to his stomach while watching Firefist emerge from the flaming ruins.

The Difference between a Roll Camera Movement and a Dutch Angle Shot

A roll camera shot (or roll movement) is not the same as a Dutch angle shot, although they can produce somewhat similar visual effects.

The roll camera shot involves movement and rotation, while the Dutch angle is a static tilt.

A roll shot is used for dynamic scenes requiring continuous motion, whereas a Dutch angle is used for static shots to convey a specific mood or tone.

Read more about the Dutch Angle Shot in Film.

The Difference between a Roll Camera Movement and a Rolling Shot

The roll camera movement should not be confused with a rolling shot. The first is the movement of the camera around the lens axis. A rolling shot, however, is when the camera is mounted on a vehicle.

Summing Up

A roll camera movement is when the camera rotates around its lens axis. Unlike pan, tilt, or dolly movements that change the camera’s position or angle, roll movement twists the camera, creating a spinning effect. Rolls are often used to create disorientation, tension, uncertainty, or a shift in perspective for the audience.

Author

  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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