The Establishing Shot That Gives Clients Perspective


“Look, all I’m asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture.”*

On July 11, 1997, Warner Bros released the movie Contact. The film opened with a scale view shot of the entire universe, beginning with a view of Earth from high in the atmosphere. The camera started zooming backward, first passing the Moon, then Mars, asteroids and other features of our solar system, then into interstellar space, through the Milky Way, and receded through other galaxies into deep space. While the scene pulled the viewer further and further from earth the movie-goer heard sounds of pop songs, TV show themes and famous speeches carried by radio waves of broadcast programming emitting from earth. The music and news broadcasts began with the present and retreated into the past.

This opening scale pan of Contact broke the record for the longest unbroken shot comprised entirely of computer-generated visual effects. Movie critics continue to hail this sequence as one of the best examples of what the movie industry calls the “Establishing Shot.” People sat in the theaters transfixed and silent for the full three minutes that the opening scene lasted. View the Establishing Shot from Contact here

The Establishing Shot
According to, “Establishing Shot” is defined as “the first shot of a new scene, designed to show the audience where the action is taking place. It is usually a very wide shot or extreme wide shot.”**

The Establishing Shot provides context and overview.

The most memorable Establishing Shots are often visually iconic or technically intricate and complex. The goal is to provide viewers with information about the story’s setting, time frame and perspective.

Clients Often Lack Perspective

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”—Steven Wright

The nature of humans is to self-deceive. “I have time enough.” “That won’t be a problem.” “Somehow it will all work out.” These can all be true statements—eventually. To face the facts, to embrace reality, requires courage. Or… assistance.

The role of the independent financial professional is to create the Establishing Shot for each client. Someone must show clients where they are in time and in life. Someone needs to give context, create urgency and drive decision-making. There is no better time than at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

If you are an independent financial professional, I urge you to begin thinking of yourself as the “Big Picture” advisor. It is easy for clients to think too confidently, or, conversely, to lose hope. It is often the case that the clients find financial matters altogether confusing and decide that doing nothing is therefore the best strategy for now. We all know that procrastination never leads to success.

Impact of the Big Picture Advisor
For clients to properly think about problems they need to know how all the pieces fit together. Just like in the movies, where a well-done Establishing Shot can create context, you, as a Big Picture advisor, can help your clients to:

  • Know not just how and what to do, but to know why.
  • View the whole and not just its parts.
  • See a vision and gain a sense of the bigger picture.
  • Appreciate the full context of any situation.
  • Have the ability to see beyond the obvious.
  • Accurately assess the true consequence of putting off decisions.
  • Avoid great swings of mood and emotion they go through when their desires and expectations are not met.
  • Not be swept away by feelings that are based on an incomplete piece of the picture.
  • Respond to the underlying conditions that have given rise to the problems they face, rather than simply reacting to the symptoms generated by those problems.
  • Respond with patience gained by seeing with a broader perspective.
  • Grow in confidence by establishing plans more likely to bring about the long term wellbeing that they desire.
  • Understand that it is possible to create a legacy that will live on, whether in wealth or in the impact made on other people.

Your Job If You Choose to Accept It
The independent financial professional who desires to serve as the Big Picture advisor must know how to create the Establishing Shot for clients. Say for example that you will be meeting with a client at 2:00 pm tomorrow afternoon. You have allocated 60 minutes for the appointment. As Big Picture advisor you need to begin setting the scene. In the opening five minutes you need to pre-lap. In screenwriting, “Dialogue spoken over an establishing shot leading into the scene is called a ‘pre-lap.’”***

Pre-lapping is when dialogue begins before the director cuts to the scene in which the dialogue will be spoken.

This is what you might say to your client and what your pre-lapping might look like:

  • You are someone who desires to have a more successful financial life.
  • You have an open mind and are willing to creatively brainstorm and engage in a constructive dialogue about the goals that drive your life values.
  • You understand that there are many alternatives and are open to exploring an array of choices.
  • You are willing to make changes in behavior if doing so will serve your long term goals.
  • You are open to viewing me as your Big Picture advisor for your financial life.
  • You recognize that I don’t have all the answers, and that financial planning is not an exact science.
  • You are willing to commit to providing me with applicable financial information and to respond to requests for information in a timely manner.
  • You recognize that big goals can be achieved by making small changes consistently over time.

Through these table-setting comments, you establish the context of the dialogue about to take place and provide an apt description of the work you do on behalf of your clients.

Serving as the Big Picture advisor:

  • Allows you to lead your clients in prudent decision-making.
  • Enables you to keep your clients on track.
  • Avails you the opportunity to help your clients see what others are doing successfully.
  • Elevates you to the position of quarterback who can create teamwork among all the client’s advisors.
  • Keeps your clients from stagnation and from wasting valuable years.
  • Positions you to help clients find lessons in every experience, good or bad.
  • Equips you with the ability to share insights from many different people.
  • You can open your client’s eyes to an expanded world.

In Contact an alien (played by David Morse) says this about human beings:
“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”****

Bottom line: people truly need a Big Picture advisor. Are you taking new clients?


* Line spoken by Jodie Foster as Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Ann Arroway in “Contact”

CLU, ChFC, FLMI, ia a director, vice president, team leader, speaker and mentor for Global Leadership Partners.

For nearly four decades Murphy worked in the financial services industry, and has held positions in sales, marketing, product development, training and development, distribution, agency management, and recruiting. In his latest role he was responsible for managing National Account relationships. In this role he shared business leadership and practice management concepts with business owners, marketing organizations and independent financial professionals. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade journals and a keynote speaker at industry events.

After 37 wonderful years in financial services, it was time for Murphy to give back, to share with others the training, development and experiences he enjoyed by God’s grace, and encourage others who are just starting out or seeking to grow.

Global Leadership Partners identifies, equips and sends business leaders to speak at leadership seminars in partnership with organizations primarily in Eastern Europe, but eventually, around the world. The intent is to foster development of foreign leaders who will courageously stand for strong values and a high ethical standard. This work is based on the belief that the world will be a better place when filled with leaders who lead according to proven values and bedrock principles.

Murphy is a frequent contributor to industry trade journals and is available as a keynote speaker for life insurance industry meetings and training events. He can be reached by telephone at: 312-859-3064. Email: Twitter: