Two Cameras in Feature Films & TV

When it comes to the number of cameras on a film set, traditionally, movies are shot with one, while television shows are shot with four or five. Now that doesn’t mean movies aren’t shot with more cameras– I think at one point, Cameron had five or six on Titanic and for special effects and stunts, there might be ten or more.  And more recently, Peter Jackson had something like 37 Red Epics on “Hobbit.”  But he’s also shooting 3D, and for the sake of discussion, I’m not talking about 3D here, because in that case, two cameras really mean four and we’re not going there.

Film Style

But when someone says “shooting film style” that means that it’s primarily going to be shot with one camera. The difference is a film shoot utilizes 360 degrees. Whereas the normal television show, the cameras mostly make up the fourth wall, with the studio audience sitting behind them.

A great example of a television show doing “film style” is the sitcom “Scrubs.” They decided at the outset they wanted a “film style” sitcom, which is extremely rare. But you get very interesting lighting film style. So the comedy is shot as a feature– one main camera (although sometimes they might do two or more). To contrast this– for one episode, Scrubs shot it television style, with big flat lighting and the comparison is interesting.

Now many of the one hour dramas are shot film style, but because of the need for speed, multiple cameras are used. For instance, “24” was shot film style, with one camera on a dolly with a long lens (tasked with the mission to shoot “through” something to get a voyeuristic feel), and the other is usually handheld, wider lens near the actors.

On my films, I have mostly shot with oTwo Camera Shootingne camera. Although for stunts and effects, we had as many as three. But for the last couple of projects, including “The Imposter” and “Rising Stars,” I decided to shoot two cameras almost the whole time (called “A Camera” and “B Camera.”) This enabled me to get much more coverage– which is great if you have to do a lot of takes. DP Ron Gonzalez and I had decided during prep that two cameras would be important.  When one camera’s footage from a day’s work was lost, it was a very good thing we had the other camera.

The downsides are lighting and sound. You have to avoid the flatter lighting– which is tempting and sound can be tricky. For instance, you’ve got a scene with two actors. Do you put A on the close up of the first actor while B gets a medium? This two camera technique is better for lighting, but worse for sound. Both cameras pointing the same direction, but whereas the close up the boom op can get nice and tight, now they have to pull back to allow for the medium coverage. Pointing the same direction is the most common use of a two camera film shoot.

But what if (as it happened in “The Imposter”), you’re losing the sun and you have 8 minutes to get a two person scene in the can? Now we throw caution to the wind and A camera gets one coverage, while B camera gets the other actor. Exterior day this is okay. But in a lighting situation, you’re going to have to work around a lot of boom shadows and such. Plus, now you’re seeing twice the amount of background. As in the picture here, we shot A and B cameras, each one covering an actor. Exterior Day (overcast) made it a lot easier.

Over the last few years, I have become accustomed to the two camera film shoot and I like it. On “The Imposter”, we ran the B camera probably 70 to 80% of the time that A was running. Most of the time it was pointing in the same direction. I just had a great sound mixer and boom op.

Two Cameras in Corporate Video

Today, in corporate videos, we are also using multiple cameras.  The foundation for much of the corporate video is the documentary style interview.  With the technological progress of the cameras– and the dramatic price decrease in them, it’s now affordable to go multi-camera on the corporate production set.  When doing doc-style interviews, I like to have one camera on the interviewee, fairly tight.  Then on the other, wider with some movement– usually a slider.  (Click here for some info on sliders).

Outside of the interviews, I’ve used two cameras as different units to get more footage on a single day.  We might send A camera to the warehouse to get BRoll while B camera shoots footage of a meeting int he conference room.  And of course at events, mulitple cameras are a must, especially for imag (image magnification).

Cameras are better and cheaper today.  So it stands to reason that we can use more of them in our tool box, whether shooting feature films, tv shows, or the corporate video.

Leave a Reply