Tuesday, March 11, 2014
These are just a few of the elements a director must consider when camera blocking a multi-camera show. Every time someone moves in a scene the cameras need to change assignments. Needless to say, it takes time to learn how to do that. Today and tomorrow I’m going to share some behind-the-scenes aspect of directing multi-camera sitcoms.
Fortunately, every show comes with a camera coordinator. He’s your go-between. And if you struggle in camera blocking he can generally save your ass. But often times they’re concerned with making sure everyone who speaks is covered. He’s less concerned with reaction shots, sizes of shots, etc. Sometimes a character takes off a coat revealing a funny costume. Your shot of that character has to be wide enough to see the costume. You’d think that was a given, but I can’t tell you how many times in editing I’d ask for a wider shot to feature the sight gag and there wouldn’t be one.
First and foremost, a director has to decide the best way to show a joke. Is it via a close up? Wide shot? Two shot? Quite frequently, reaction shots are where the big laughs are. You must prepare for those.
When an actor moves it’s generally a good idea to have him deliver a line while crossing. Why? Because if other characters are talking and the cameras are covering their dialogue, the actor may suddenly pop across the room. Same with bringing someone into a room. Let them enter on a line or piece of business that focuses on them. Otherwise, it’s disorienting. Either the actor just pops into the room or the shot widens out to include his entrance. but the shot is not motivated by anything. Two people are having an intimate conversation and then for no reason the shot goes wide to allow someone to enter. It’s jarring and unnatural. I saw this recently on a show. Even if the person entering just says “hi” and is acknowledged you’re okay. He doesn’t necessarily have to enter with a joke. But he can’t just slip in.
In staging and blocking, remember that if your show takes place during the winter you need to allow time for people putting on and taking off coats. Writers don’t generally think of that, but good actors sure do. It can be unwieldy and time consuming, but you've got to work around it. (By the way, that’s why you generally don’t see episodes that take pace in the winter. But good luck on Christmas episodes.) If you have a large set and an actor has to cross it to get something, that’s going to take time. How do you fill the cross? How do you cover the cross? Is there a way to block the scene so they’re on the other side of the set? That way there’s no real crossing issue. But you have to motivate a way to get them to that side of the set in the first place. How do you do that? Let’s say it’s a kitchen. When the actors enter maybe set up the coffee machine on the side you want them to be on. So they talk on their way to the coffee machine but you understand why they’re heading in that direction. Every show has seven or eight little issues like that. When you see the scene on TV it looks seamless, but that’s because it was carefully worked out ahead of time.
I know. It sounds daunting. But it’s also fun to solve these problems. At least for me.
How close should a close-up be? In comedy shows it generally means from the shoulders up. Much closer and somehow the jokes don’t work. It’s like the actors are invading your space.
And even after eight cameras, if there are still shots you need, you can do planned pick-ups after the audience leaves. What you need to do though is be fully prepared going in. You need to know what shots you’re going to want. So whether it’s B camera or C camera or the first take or second or a pick up, you’ll know you’ve got it.
Tomorrow: Some more aspects of sitcom directing you might not have known.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM