Seeing Double: The pros and cons of a multi-camera setup

Seeing Double: The pros and cons of a multi-camera setup

So, you’ve got the script that you’ve been working on for what seems like centuries and you’re still not 100% happy with it. You’re starting to assemble your crew which changes daily, mostly new faces coming in, bringing on friend of a friend of a friend. You are in the heart of PRE-PRODUCTION. You’re trying to decide what camera to use and a friend asks, “Why don’t you shoot with two cameras?”.

STOP!

Is this really a good idea? Of course it is! You can shoot twice as much coverage in the same amount of time, right? Well…

A good friend of mine decided to shoot his first short on two cameras. It was a detective mystery drama with lots of spontaneous gun pointing and asking each other for lighters to smoke. The problem with shooting with two cameras is that there’s twice the amount of setup time, twice the amount of reflections, twice the risk of weird shadows in the background. Perhaps weird shadows are what you want for a dark detective drama but not when the shadow is clearly the boom operator and their boom pole. I have to hand it to him, the film won a few awards at film festivals, but a lot of time was spent re-adjusting cameras, setting up/packing away cameras and going for another take due to shadows, reflections or even one camera getting IN SHOT of the other camera.

If it’s so difficult, why should I shoot multi-cam?

Multicam isn’t only useful for shooting documentary or live events/performances. Using multicam in narrative is highly beneficial when shooting big explosions, stunts, or action sequences because you will save time not having to reset everything and go again for the sake of getting a different angle. This will be a time saver AS LONG AS you have enough lighting for two cameras AND a second camera crew to set up/pack away the other camera.

You may want to shoot with two cameras, because you’re shooting a very emotional scene in the morning where the character finds out their partner has been cheating on them with their best friend. Then after lunch, you’re filming the part where the character destroys their partner’s belongings with a sledge hammer. Using multicam for your tear-jerking scene prevents your talent from getting worn out. By the time you’ve moved cameras to do four set-ups, the actor may have already given their best performance. In this case, if you know you’ll be using mainly the Close Up for this scene, Script Supervisors will hate me for saying this: shoot the Close up first. Work on getting the performance right first where it counts the most, before your talent starts to get tired.

Okay, so multi-cam sounds good, but both of my cameras are different brands! Is that okay?

Ideally, you’d want to work with the same brand of camera for multicam, but if you have no choice then at least match white balance, frame rate, ISO, shutter speed, picture profile and time code. This is ESSENTIAL and NOT something you can just ‘fix in post’ by tweaking colour or exposure settings.

All of my camera settings are matched – do I need to buy (or hire) two clapper boards?

Not necessarily. In fact, it would be easier to slate with one board, so you get the same clap on both cameras, which will be very helpful when syncing the footage in post. Just remember when you call out the information to say “A and B CAM”.

 “But my cameras are pointing in completely opposite directions.”

 Then use two boards.

 “But I only have ONE board!”

Second sticks will do.

“I DON’T HAVE A BOARD!”

Get someone on screen to clap their hands. If you are going to spend the extra twenty minutes fixing lighting for two cameras, then you can spend the extra three seconds to clap.