A money shot is a moving or stationary visual element of a film, video, television broadcast, or print publication that is disproportionately expensive to produce and/or is perceived as essential to the overall importance or revenue-generating potential of the work.
Originally, in general film-making usage, the "money shot" was simply the scene that cost the most money to produce. In general, a money shot (also called a money-making shot) is a provocative, sensational, or memorable sequence in a film, on which the film's commercial performance is perceived to depend. The scene may or may not be a special-effects sequence, but may be counted on to become a selling point for the film. For example, in an action thriller, an expensive special-effects sequence of a dam bursting might be considered the money shot of the film. Many filmmakers read a script and look for the most dramatic or climactic moment—the money shot—in the proposed film. Even though the costs or technical challenges of filming such an impressive scene may be huge, producers and directors will do whatever it takes to get that shot completed. It is because of its box-office importance and expensive set-up, that this climactic scene is often referred to as a money shot.
The term money shot has also been used as another name for a cum shot in pornographic films. Referring to the ejaculation scene as a money shot has been attributed to producers paying the male actors extra for it. According to Steven Ziplow, author of The Film Maker's Guide to Pornography, "the cum shot, or, as some refer to it, 'the money shot', is the most important element in the movie and that everything else (if necessary) should be sacrificed at its expense." It has also been argued that this is the filmed moment that the audience has paid to see.
In TV talk shows, a money shot may be a highly emotional scene, expressed in visible bodily terms, such as a guest's tearful confession of a previously well-kept secret, or his dramatic retelling of a traumatic experience.
Money shots in journalism are shots that grab and hold viewers' attention. They can include images of a person in an unusual, noteworthy, tragic, embarrassing, or incriminating situation, or news footage of a notable event, such as an earthquake, tornado, or explosion. A money shot is typically a shot that would be difficult to set up or anticipate in advance. Because such shots are frequently fortuitous, amateur footage is disproportionately represented among money shots: a shot of a tsunami rolling into a city is a rare and newsworthy money shot whether it was recorded by a professional crew or simply by an amateur who happened to be on the scene with a camera. In television news broadcasts, money shots are often repeated again and again in order to retain viewer attention, e.g. the plane crashing into the WTC on 9/11.
In printed publications, a money shot may be a photograph that in itself drives an important percentage of the sales of the publication. Photographs of celebrities in unusual situations that were not specifically intended to be photographed can sometimes be significant money shots, and the pursuit of such photographs has given rise to paparazzo journalism.
- Jane Mills, The Money Shot: Cinema, Sin and Censorship. Pluto Press, Annandale 2001. ISBN 1-86403-142-5, p. xix Extract
- From the "Filmmaker's Dictionary" by Ralph S. Singleton and James A. Conrad, edited by Janna Wong Heatly, (2nd edition, 2000, Lone Eagle Publishing Co., Hollywood, California).
- "Money Shot". Oxford English Dictionary Online.
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- Laura Grindstaff (2002). The money shot: trash, class, and the making of TV talk shows. University of Chicago Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-226-30911-8.
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