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.

Script Supervisors: The unsung heros

Script Supervisors: The unsung heros

You’re a script supervisor on a film set. It’s hectic, you’re losing light fast and still have a quarter of the scene left to complete. People from EVERY department will fire questions at you quickly and you have to know the answer.

Makeup: “Does she get the bruise on her knee before or after this scene?

Hair stylist: “Does the hair need to match scene 25 or has time passed?

Boom operator: “On what line does Jane stand up?

Sound Mixer: “How many takes did we do for 34 Apple?

Prop Master: “Was the window open on that last shot?

Director: “What was the timing on the rehearsal?

DOP: “What time of day is this?

2nd AC: “Was 23 Baker MOS?

Actor: “Did I look over my left shoulder or right shoulder?

AD: “What time was first turn over?

You get the picture. As a Script Supervisor you need to keep track of all of these things, ensure we have enough coverage to edit the scene AND keep consistent continuity while filming. Although departments such as hair, makeup and props will keep their own continuity, they are relying on you to be their safety net so that nothing slips through the cracks.

To maintain mental sanity, it’s good to have checklists of what to look out for before each take to ensure perfect continuity. Before they start rolling, look at EVERYTHING one by one. First, costume. Are the actors wearing the right costume? Is his shirt tucked in? Has her dress got that rip in the sleeve from the scene before? Then, hair. In front of or tucked behind the ears? It was raining in the last scene so shouldn’t it be a bit damp? Props: We have already shot the scene after this and the character was carrying a briefcase, so we need to see the character pick up a briefcase in this scene. Another one is time of day. One of the Script Supervisor’s jobs is timing the script to know it’s run time and also break it down into narrative days. Do the events in this film take place over a year? A day? An hour? What time is the clock on the wall in the background? Does that time match the time on the actors watch? If it’s midday, then there shouldn’t be long stretched out shadows on the floor.

One thing that can catch anyone out is eye line. Take screengrabs of whatever we are matching this shot to and make sure the actor is looking the right direction AND correct side of the line to cut with the reverse.

You also need to pay attention when actors say their lines. Adlibbing or the occasional slip up is to be expected, just be sure to keep your ears open to nudge them if they get stuck and make a note of any on-set script changes.

However, slip ups and errors don’t occur just on set, they can occur in the script long before filming begins. Part of your pre-production preparation is to get extremely familiar with the script. You are the Script Supervisor after all. You should know it inside, out, back to front. And this will happen naturally as you breakdown the script, noting location, costume, props, character, action, time of day etc. This will also help you spot any errors in the script. For example: a character says “I had such a lovely time on our dinner date today” when we have already established it’s the morning.  Or, it’s Monday, eleven O’clock in the morning and a woman looks out of her office window to see children running up to an ice cream van. Unless this is on purpose and a key beat in the narrative, normally the children would be in school at this time.

No point sugar coating it. There is a lot of pressure and work for a department of one. But every day is different. You know the story better than anyone else. You’re right next to the action, you are the director’s trusty right hand man/woman and you build friendships with every department on set. It’s a crazy job and you may feel like every day you’ve lost a few marbles but it’s one of the coolest and most fun adventures to get paid for doing.