Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Two Camera Man

The last couple of features, I've become spoiled-- I've been using an A and B camera team on the movies.  For those who don't know how television and movies are shot, here's some standard practices.

For "film style" shoots, that usually refers to a single camera.  Everything is lit for that camera.  Sound prepares for that camera.  When you add a second camera to a film style shoot, it's usually more of the same.  Only you light for them both.  That's why when you bring in a second camera on a film style shoot, it's best to shoot in the same direction.  In other words, one's a medium shot and the others a close up.  If you shoot crossways-- for instance, two people talking to each other, one camera holds one person, the other camera the other-- this creates some big problems.  You have to light both-- and your lights for one might be in the way for the other shot.  Sound now has to get pristine recording-- which might require a second boom op.  All these things come in to play.

Generally, when shooting film style with two cameras, I shoot the same direction.  But there have been times I've had to shoot crossways.  On "The Imposter," we were shooting an exterior scene and the sun was setting.  If we didn't get them both right then, it would not match.  We had seconds to decide and we act to act fast.  Fortunately, it didn't require more than bounces on lighting and we close mic'd the actors (and later had to ADR anyway because it was on the side of a busy road).

For television, you have "film style" and "sitcom" style.  The show "Scrubs" has done a great job of showing both.  For a sitcom, they broke some major rules by deciding to shoot the show "film style."  So the lighting is more dramatic and they use one or two cameras.  Then for one show, they went "sitcom" and you can really see the difference.  A sitcom is lit flat with as many as five cameras.  The lighting has to be flat and even, or shadows will creep into one or more of the cameras.  When a sitcom is shot, they'll roll maybe twice through the show, with some pickups for flubs, then edit the five cameras together to get the finished result.  "Film style," you'll shoot one little shot until you have it perfect.

So in tv land, you might see as many as 12 pages a day shot.  For films it gets lower (the bigger budgets might average 2 or 3 pages).  For some tv shows, they still might shoot film style, but they move really fast.  Especially the dramas like "24," and "The Shield."  Think "movie" but at an incredible pace.  To accomplish this, the crews are a well oiled machine, and actors are dead on 95% of the time.  You just can't afford, neither time or money, to routinely get to take four or five.  Show runners will talk about how they were thrilled but concerned to land some famous movie director for an episode.  They are afraid a movie director doesn't know how to make a 12 page day when they're used to 3 page days. 

Anyway, I always had multiple cameras on stunt days.  But on "Striking Range," I started using a second camera.  By "The Imposter," I used a second camera almost the whole time.  The same for "Rising Stars."  It gives me more coverage and saves time.  I can make my days while getting plenty of coverage.

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