Monday, August 10, 2020

I'm looking over a Boom Shadow...

Here’s a FQ that became an EP (entire post).

cd1515 asks:

You said this about retakes: “The director needs additional coverage, new lines are inserted, actors slip up, there’s a boom shadow, a camera missed a cue to move, an actor is off his mark, etc.”

Serious question from someone not in your business: how many of those things would the average viewer have even noticed or given a shit about?

Sometimes I think TV and movies are too perfect in that no one in real life ever makes a perfect impromptu speech (See: any Sorkin project) without pausing, stumbling over a word, repeating something, etc.

I get that you all want it be as good as possible but is that always completely necessary?

Could some of it just be inside baseball stuff that no one else would see?

The answer is: you’re absolutely right. 99% of the audience wouldn’t notice a boom shadow or a hair out of place.

You try to avoid those things and not look sloppy, but most imperfections go unnoticed.

James Burrows is TV’s best multi-camera director. Period. He’s always way more interested in the performance than the pretty shot. And if an actor gives a great performance on a take but the shot isn’t framed perfectly, he’ll opt for that one over the re-take where the shot was perfect but the performance wasn’t as good. And I agree. My job as a director is to get the best possible performance on film, not the best Terrence Malick cinematic feat.

Normally, when you direct a multi-cam (in front of a live audience), after a scene you say “cut” and reset the cameras for any pick ups or additional coverage. Invariably, the minute I say “cut” make up people rush out to touch up the actors for five or ten minutes and someone with a ladder is checking some lights. This happens every single time.

So I stopped saying “cut.” I would say “still rolling,” run out and tell the camera guys where I wanted them to be, told the actors what I wanted in this take, ran back, said “action,” and did the pick up on the fly. Had I not done that the ladder and make up kits would be on the set for five or ten minutes. And those add up over the course of a night.

No one ever noticed if a forehead was shiny. Line producers would say I was wasting film (these were the days when we shot on film), and I said “what’s the cost of unused film versus paying everyone on the crew overtime because the showrunner wants these additional shots?” Line producers then thanked me.

Matching is another issue. You try hard for continuity, but sometimes you get trapped. The level of wine in a glass varies from take to take. Your choice is either keep one performance so the wine level is uniform, or stitch together the best performances and the wine level goes up and down. You can guess what my choice is.

There are classic glitches in TV shows and movies. There’s a shot in SPARTACUS by the great Stanley Kubrick where you see part of the Ventura Freeway in a shot. (Above photo is Kubrick filming that movie on the Universal lot.)

In our first MASH episode, “Out of Sight/ Out of Mind” in the final scene in the nurses’ tent one of the nurses is reading a paperback. Clearly you can see she was reading JAWS, which came out long after 1951. How many times have you seen that episode? Have you ever noticed that?

Hollywood craftsmen take great pride in their work, and the level of dedication and detail is extraordinary. These people are the best in the world!  I always maintain that crews don’t get nearly the credit they deserve. And it’s admirable that each department wants his or her contribution to be perfect. But the truth is, you can get away with a boom shadow once in awhile.

39 comments :

Vrej said...

I recently rewatched The Wonder Years on DVD, one of my favourite series.
I noticed, in the later seasons, a boom mic (not the shadow but the mic itself) in a couple shots.

I got over it. :D

Kirk said...

I once saw an old episode of Daniel Boone where in the sky you can see an airplane's exhaust trail. But then it's the 18th century, so maybe it was just a very long, very skinny cloud formation.

Steve Bailey said...

My favorite "M*A*S*H" anachronism comes from the episode where the movie on their Film Night keeps breaking, so the group decides to entertain themselves. Radar performs a terrific John Wayne impression, only he quotes dialogue from Wayne's Western "McLintock!", which was released in 1960.

Tucson Dale said...

As an avid TV viewer, and also a former camera assistant, I must admit I had never considered the possibility that the continuity glitches, etc., were consciously overlooked for editorial reasons, rather than simply missed. Thank you for writing this piece, as I have a wife who is relentlessly picky about these things, and now I can give her a reason to maybe lighten up a little!! BTW, I can't count the number of times I've seen "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" and never noticed the paperback! Neither did my hyper-attentive wife. - Tucson Dale

Chris said...

I remember reading a story about the great Fred Zinnemann and his great movie "Julia" (for my money was THE movie of 1977). There is a shot on the sailboat when Redgrave and Fonda are on the river that contained some camera equipment that had not been moved out of frame. The DP was concerned and wanted another take to which Zinnemann replied that if the audience noticed that and not the action, then neither one of them had done their jobs properly. I've seen the movie a number of times and have yet to notice it--even when I remember to look!

Cory said...

There is an episode of MASH where Radar is reading a comic book, and I have to admit that every comic book nerd who saw that scene still remembers the comics was an Avengers comics from the 60s and delights in pointing it out to show their knowledge.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Here is my favorite example of your point.

The "Dancing in the Dark" sequence with Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire is one of the greatest such sequences in history.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDHwJrbrp0Y&pbjreload=101

Gilda Radner and Steve Martin did an (almost) noncomic reenactment of the dance on a classic SNL that was so memorable that network news chose it to show when they reported her passing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3k9_XbLxNY&pbjreload=101

The MGM orchestra contained the best musical personnel is Hollywood, including trumpeter Uan Rasey. Yet if you listen carefully, he hits a sour note at the peak of the arrangement. This is at MGM, the Tiffany of studios?

Surely they had another take, but even if they did not, the musical performance captured the kind of emotion through music, complementing the dance in a way that no other take might have done. Yet it has a flaw.

Music legend Tutti Camarata would sometimes submit a final recording even if a word was not pronounced correctly, or if a note was off slightly. He had an ear for the overall effect and that is more important and powerful. One of Tutti's colleagues, Ella Fitzgerald (you can spot one of their Decca albums on the set in "The Apartment"), made a live recording of "Mack the Knife," and forgot some of the words but improvised new ones. It is considered a classic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vXAtVbZbkI&pbjreload=101

There is "perfect," but then there is sheer perfection. They are not the same thing. It's different than making individually wrapped Kraft cheese singles.

Lemuel said...

You want boom shadows, check out the DARK SHADOWS blooper reel on Youtube.

Roseann said...

Wardrobe Person here: I learned early on when the DP said, "It's OK, you don't have to 'fix' that." I figured if the head honcho guy who was in the business 30 years longer than I was said it's OK- I didn't need to bother about it. He knew what the camera was seeing.
I've also had Script Supervisors tell me that I was missing something when I knew it wasn't on camera and she was nitpicking. I always figured it was better not to bother the actors if I didn't need to. And it was a way to keep the Directors (like Ken) and Producers happy.
That said some actors hate being fussed over when they are trying to work and the others can just do what they need to do without caring about the fussing going on. Either way was good for me.

Brian said...

For those who did not get the sly musical reference of in the title of the post, I leave you in the hands of Yusuf Islam and Spike Milligan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0awe6OJB0o

James Van Hise said...

There's also an episode where Radar is reading an issue of Captain Savage from the 1970s. They probably didn't think anyone would notice but in the '70s there were stores on Hollywood Blvd which sold 1950s comics for 50 cents or a dollar where the prop department could have had someone pick some up rather than grabbing a new comic off a spinner rack at a nearby 7-11.

Brian said...

My Uncle tells this story:

Movies and TV are semi-controlled environments, BUT news stories are a different story.

San Diego has a lot of stuff named for the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Every year (or at least they used to), the National Park Service re-enacts Cabrillo's first landing on the West Coast of what became the USA. Where they held this was a body of water that weekend sailors also use. My Uncle and Cousin got a bit misdirected due to the wind and ended up getting a bit too close to the re-enactment. How close?

They looked at the news that evening and saw this:

"Yes, here is Cabrillo coming into port now...(blurry sailboat goes past camera)"

Brian said...

Cory: I'll see you a comic nerd moment and raise you a music nerd moment. In the short-lived Playboy Club TV show, one scene show actors playing Ike and Tina Turner singing at the club circa 1961. The song they were singing was from 1970. A year or two, one can forgive, but NINE YEARS?

Jrandall said...

FRIDAY QUESTION - With far too much time on my hands I am watching anything and everything on any channel just to find something new or something old that I haven't watched in forever. In my journey I have noticed lots of the shows from the 60's list "Season 2, Episode 34"!!
With all of the things you have talked about over the years that go into putting together a weekly episode, let alone an entire season...how in the world did they manage that many episodes without a new staff every year??

Brian said...

Correction: The song Tina Turner sang in the Playboy Club was "Make Me Over" and it was released TWELVE YEARS later, in 1973.

Sheesh.

Michael said...

In a few Laurel and Hardy films, you can see the boom mic. And it brings to mind that Laurel said they didn't have big budgets, but what they brought to their films was a lot of love, and that's what I see.

benson said...

I can't tell you how many times I've been on imdb and looked at the goofs section and thought to myself "people with way too much time on their hands."

And it's apples and oranges, but maybe the greatest goof in pop music history, Elvis' Suspicious Minds, a #1 song, with the fade near the end (though some say it was a creative decision by the producer). Whatever.

DBenson said...

In Laurel and Hardy's "Sons of the Desert", there's a shot where you clearly see a set has no roof. And I never noticed until a DVD commentary pointed it out.

Stephanie said...

My husband has an eagle eye for spotting these kinds of goofs. I honestly don't think he's consciously looking for them. He's just very observant and picks up on every little detail. Me? Unless it's major enough to take me out of the story, I never notice.

YEKIMI said...

My mom hates watching movie/TV shows with me because I'm always picking up on the goofs. While watching a Flipper re-run a couple of years ago,there's a shot where Sandy [Luke Halpin] is wearing a striped shirt, they go to a close up and the shirt's gone, back to the wide shot and the shirt's back on again. Even I can't get my clothes on and off again that fast.

Cap'n Bob said...

I was going to mention Radar's comic book but I've been beaten to the punch.

If you want to see a movie or TV show with these kinds of slips, watch something directed by William "One Shot" Beaudine. He didn't believe in retakes and a scene I saw in one of his movies proves this.
A woman answers a knock on the door and a man is standing on the stoop. He steps into the house and hands her his hat, after which she says, "Come in. Let me take your hat."

DwWashburn said...

My favorite "goof" is in the Three Stooges' short "Movie Maniacs". In it, Curly is cooking breakfast. He flips a hotcake in the air and it sticks to the ceiling. In the close up of the hotcake hitting the ceiling you can easily see the hand of the person who threw it.

On the website threestooges.net, all 190 Columbia shorts are given their own page. One of the categories listed for each short is "goofs" although more than half of the items listed are not really goofs in my opinion.

Rob D said...

A visible boom mike in a movie isn’t always the director’s fault. My understanding is that many movies were filmed “full frame”, to be masked off or “matted” to a widescreen format when shown in theatres. Some projectionists don’t always matte properly so you end up with things inadvertently entering the frame that shouldn’t be there. Also, sometimes when these movies are shown on TV, again the matting may not always be performed properly. Sometimes a movie is not matted at all, and the results can be pretty laughable.

Charles Bryan said...

Comic book need here, saying: Issue #60, I think. From 1969.

Bill in Toronto said...

Ken, I've been watching several short oral history segments, probably from the WGA, featuring Hugh Wilson. Given your background, do you wish you had written for WKRP?

Gary said...

The movie PRETTY WOMAN is infamous for its many continuity errors. Director Garry Marshall said he always used the take that made the actors look best, and he didn't worry about any visual inconsistencies.

My own opinion is, if you don't notice an error during your first viewing of a show or movie, then it wasn't important enough to worry about. Anybody can pick out little errors during repeated viewings, when you don't have to follow the story as closely.

Pat Reeder said...

To Cap'n Bob: My favorite William "One Shot" Beaudine story, and one I find myself quoting often, is that he was once directing a Z-grade Western and the studio told him to shoot even faster, it was scheduled to be in theaters in 10 days. He replied incredulously, "You mean somebody is WAITING to see THIS?!"

I don't notice the goofs very often, but one show that's got to be the worst for jump cuts and bad matching shots is "Friends." It's partly because I've seen them all so many times (it runs in the background every night while I'm cleaning parrot cages - the parrots like it), but mostly because the mistakes are really glaring. One was so obvious, I noticed it out of the corner of my eye. Monica was talking to Chandler with a bottle of wine and a newspaper on the table in front of them. One cut later, the paper was suddenly in Chandler's hands and Monica was holding the bottle of wine. With hands that fast, they should be on "Penn & Teller: Fool Us."

Frank Beans said...

There’s a shot in SPARTACUS by the great Stanley Kubrick where you see part of the Ventura Freeway in a shot.

Potential Friday question:

Do you the end scene in BLAZING SADDLES where they cut from the wild west to modern Hollywood was in part inspired by that?

JoeyH said...

There are enough really good low budget films that prove you can produce something audiences will like without 47 takes. But I wonder if part of Hollywood culture., maybe even without really thinking about it, is making sure there are enough working hours for the technical crafts.

Astroboy said...

The original Arthur movie with Dudley had the most problems with continuity I ever saw, because Moore in a lot of scenes was either holding a drink or one was in front of him on a table, and you could get seasick watching the liquid rise and fall with each cut!

Andrew said...

Friday Question:

I was watching West Side Story with my kids the other night. It's a family favorite, and one of those movies we'll no doubt keep coming back to. (I thought of you when watching it, because of you know who.) But there are certain parts that always make us laugh, even though they're meant to be taken seriously. The opening "snapping" scene is like that. One particular scene that makes us laugh out loud every time is "Play it Cool, Boy." It just takes itself so seriously, and always makes us crack up. Yet we can still appreciate the talent behind it.

So actually two groups of FQ's:
1) What are your thoughts on West Side Story? Do you laugh at it's pretentiousness, while still admiring it's quality? Can you take it seriously at all?
2) As a comedy writer, do you often laugh at TV or movie scenes that are meant to be taken seriously, because you have a different way of looking at things? Do you laugh while others are sobbing? Do any examples come to mind?

Thanks as always.

MikeN said...

I always took the Jaws to be a hint to the show's mystery that these are people from a different time period. Waiting to see how future seasons extends this story arc.

thevidiot said...

I worked on a film show where we had to quickly cut a pre-shot couple of scenes for playback the next day. The Director rolled continuously without cutting. We had to process, transfer & digitize all if the roll-the roll-through material four times (for each camera). I didn't get the ready to edit until 5pm on shoot day. What time was the shoot? 5pm. My playback was the first scene. I slammed it together while the cast fooled around doing fake PSA's and messing up. I delivered it at 5:10pm & we continued except the star called me out in front of the audience & explained what happened. It was a great "Attaboy."

Marc Wielage said...

I work in post. It takes maybe 1 minute to fix a boom shadow these days, so it's not a problem anymore. The problem with leaving mistakes like this in is that they add up over time and will distract the audience, sometimes on a subliminal level. Anything that takes them out of the show is bad. A smart director knows how to look at a shot and say, "we'll fix that in post" vs. "we need to fix it now." There's a difference.

The first time I saw rolling resets in sitcoms were from James Burrows, and I was amazed. It's a brilliant idea and does save time to a point, but it's more stress on the crew and actors, because they never get a break between takes. It's particularly bad in features, where there are directors who try to shoot one 3 minute scene ten times without stopping, and everybody is about to fall over at the end.

Tyler said...

The most egregious error I can think of is in the Wes Craven film "The People Under the Stairs" where at one point a boy begins to fall down the titular stairs into the basement, it cuts to a shot from another angle of him rolling down the stairs but wearing a completely different shirt, and then ends with another shot of him back in the original shirt.

That kind of stuff can't help but pull you out of the movie. I have, unintentionally, a sharper eye for such continuity inconsistencies now, but usually not on first viewing. It's on multiple viewings of episodes of Friends or whatever that they stick out.

Sandm1n said...

Since you mentioned the "Jaws" paperback, I remember a scene where Radar is reading a comic book. It's an issue of "The Avengers" from 1972 or thereabouts. Okay, I am a hardcore comics nerd so only someone like me would ever notice that.

mike schlesinger said...

You will be pleased to know that none other than Martin Scorsese agrees with you. I mentioned to my old pal Thelma Schoonmaker that I noticed a couple of mismatched shots in SHUTTER ISLAND. She replied, "Marty always cuts for performance." And of course they're right. I love quoting Harry Cohn's refusal to an art director who wanted additional money to make a set look nicer: "If they're looking at the sets instead of the actors, we're fucked."

czeskleba said...

@Sandm1n: Radar is seen with two different issues of Avengers in that episode ("Der Tag" from Season 4 in 1976). But what's weird is that the comics are not current, they are from 1968 and 1969. So clearly they didn't just go down to the newsstand and grab a couple of new comics to use as props. Rather, someone must have gone to the effort to find actual old comics. This has always puzzled me... if they went to all the trouble of getting old comic books, why didn't they make the additional effort to get ones that were from the correct time period? Of it they weren't going to bother to be accurate, why not just grab some new comics, why go to the trouble of finding old back issues?

Flatula said...

@mike schlesinger: Thelma could certainly rhapsodize about the flub in "Casino" - the infamous "camera bump." I watched the movie 5 times and never saw it. A testament to great acting and directing...