Yesterday, I began a two-day examination into what it takes to direct multi-camera shows -- some of the facets you might not have been aware about. Here are some more tips:
Whenever possible you try to get angles where you can see both eyes.
Don’t play scenes in back corners of a set. Cameras can’t cover the actors and neither can the boom (sound) operators. Studio audiences can't see them either.
If your scene takes place in a a public setting (a la a bar), it’s often good to have extras cross by. They can even cross in front of you. That adds depth. But beware. Extras have an uncanny knack of crossing in front of your actor just as he’s delivering a punch line. Extras have to be choreographed. A good second assistant director will do that for you. But keep an eye out.
Also make sure that extras react. You've seen this. There's a big food fight at a table in a restaurant. And six extras are at a back table just oblivious of the skirmish. Directors tend to concentrate on the performances and camera angles and sometimes don't pay attention to the background activity. It can kill you.
When someone enters a room, have a single shot of them. Why? Because shows tend to run long and need to be edited. You can often edit out a few lines before someone’s entrance. But if you’re in a master when they enter then you’re stuck with actors frozen in those exact positions. It’s harder or impossible to make edits as a result.
When showrunners get into editing they like choices. Have different angles and sizes for him to choose from.
If you have a good show you’re going to get a decent laugh spread from the audience. But you won’t know much beforehand. It’s not like you can time it. So shows tend to run long, which is usually a good thing. You can pull up the action, cut jokes that don’t work, etc. But as a director I try to assume what lines might be possible lifts. I then find ways to cover the scene that would allow the editor to lift those lines. In other words, I’ll have close ups and reactions the editor can cut to so the lifts won’t be noticeable. I also won’t have an actor cross on a line I think might get cut. You’re obligated to keep that line or he now pops across the stage.
You have to allow the camera operators sufficient time to get the shot you want. You can’t have him getting a close up and then one line later expect him to be in position way up into the set to get a three shot of other actors. It takes time to move the cameras, time to frame the shots. If you want a camera to go up into the set you have to free him for several lines to get up there.
Try not to overload a camera operator with too many moves in any one scene. If you have him changing shots every line you’re just asking for Murphy’s Law to rear its ugly head. The crews in Hollywood are the best in the world, but they’re human. It’s not fair to ask one guy to get 25 different shots in a two-minute scene and expect him to be perfect. Or not kill you.
Actors have to hit marks on the floor as they move through the scene. If an actor is off his mark it alters the shot. Good camera operators can adjust. Lots of directors are sticklers about actors hitting their marks so their shots look perfect. I’m not one of them. I’m in the Jim Burrows camp. The most important thing I want out of my actors is their performance. I don’t want their performance to suffer because they’re so preoccupied with hitting their marks exactly. So if an actor hits a joke out of the park and is a little blocked or the shot is not lined exactly, I don’t care. But that’s me. Other directors will tell you something different.
When you see a finished show on the air, if it’s produced well, you don’t see the many moving parts that all have to come together. The acting, writing, directing, sound, make up, props, set decoration, costumes, lighting, camera operators flying around the stage, editing, post production, color correction, music cues, effects, graphics. It’s an honor to be working alongside these people. Thank you for making me look good. Because all of these director tips I’ve outlined over the last two days – I've screwed up most of them at one time or another along the way. They saved my ass.