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#1
Old 03-01-2005, 12:32 PM
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What's a "single-camera series" (TV show)

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Last September, CARNIVALE received five Emmys®, including: Main Title Design; Hairstyling for a Series; Costumes for a Series; Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series; and Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series.
I don't get HBO so I've never seen the show. But what's a single-camera series? Does that mean that each scene is shot with one camera? If so, it seems odd that would be the mode for the entire show. Why would anybody decide, "You know, I'll just use one camera for every scene for every show in this series. That seems like a pretty good idea."

There was a Hitchcock movie that was apparently shot with a single camera and made to look like the whole film was one continuous take, but that was kind of an experiment.

Doesn't seem like a single-camera technique would be so prevalant as to deserve its own Emmy category.

So, am I interpreting the term correctly? And why is this an Emmy category?
#2
Old 03-01-2005, 12:34 PM
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Single-camera distinguishes from three-camera, which is how most sitcoms and soap operas (shows that are essentially filmed "live") are shot. Single-camera requires different blocking, lighting, set design—it's a whole different way of working.
#3
Old 03-01-2005, 12:49 PM
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As Nonsuch said. I Love Lucy was the first sitcom shot three-camera; three cameras run simultaneously, taking in different parts of the scene or following different characters in the scene.

Then in the editing room, the director has a choice of three shots for every scene. He doesn't have to go back and shoot "coverage."

I don't really know, but I'd guess the main advantage of doing a show three-camera is financial.
#4
Old 03-01-2005, 01:03 PM
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Three-camera shows are shot on an open stage with an audience. The sets are limited to a few fixed areas and the camera can't roam.

Single-camera shows are shot with no audience. The sets can be larger and the camera can move with the actors. Outdoor scenes can also be included. The final product can be edited much differently, giving it a more dramatic look similar to movies rather than the obvious artificiality of sitcoms.

Scrubs, M*A*S*H, and Arrested Development are examples of single-camera sitcoms.

For sitcoms, the big difference is that on standard three-camera shows, the audience and its laughter is a big part of the ambiance. Single-camera shows either have to add a laugh track or make the decision not to use one and trust that the audience at home will laugh anyway. This is a huge difference, because most people are primed to laugh when they hear other people laughing. M*A*S*H had it both ways, with no laugh track in the operating room, but a laugh track in other scenes.

When set next to one another, the two kinds of shows look like day and night. They have to be conceived, written, shot, and edited completely differently. They're almost different genres.
#5
Old 03-01-2005, 01:21 PM
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Three-camera shows are faster to shoot which is why they're used on sit-coms. The biggest disadvantage is that the cameras don't move much, which is why the shots look exactly the same show after show. (The shot of the living room in the first episode of Friends was exactly the same as the shot of the living room in the second episode, and the 100th, and the last.)

One-camera shows are harder and take more time but are much more flexible because they use cameras which move and they use steadicams. "One" camera is a little misleading, because while most scenes are shot by a single camera, there's a good chance there's a 2d unit guy shooting other scenes down the hall at the same time.

Single-camera is used in most dramas as well as certain sit-coms that have a distinctive look (Arrested Development and Scrubs come to mind). Single camera can deliver a lot more emotion by being in exactly the right place to catch the actor's glance (and by not looking so staged as 3-camera shows do), but there are downsides -- you have to shoot the most basic dialogue scenes a minimum of three times (over A's shoulder, over B's shoulder, and the master or two-shot which has both) so that you can switch to speaking shots and reaction shots and two-shots to capture the mood and the best performance. This can be draining to actors in emotional scenes.

Of course, you can do a million other things with one camera -- tracking shots, long-ass takes that follow characters from room to room, weird blocking, shooting up and down to make things look a different size, cinema verite, the room spinning disorientation shot, etc., etc., as well as shooting on location. You can't do any of that with the three camera set-up, but you take a lot of time and money lighting and blocking all those neat shots -- after half a dozen episodes of a 3-camera show your actors know exactly where to stand, but on a single-camera show the actors have to learn it for every scene because the camera position is always different, as is the lighting.

You can also shoot three-camera in front of an audience, which you wouldn't do with one-camera because it constrains the ability to move that is the whole point of using a single camera -- contrast the views you saw of Monica and Rachel's living room (basically just two) versus the views you saw of Buffy's (360 degrees). There was an audience on one wall of M&R's apartment, but on the 4th wall of Buffy's room there was just a wall.

If you can, take a look at Scrubs' recent episode "My Life in Four Cameras." (I don't know why 4 instead of 3.) The first half of the ep is single camera as the show usually is, then they switch to multiple-camera sit-com format in an extended fantasy sequence. The fantasy bit makes a lot of jokes about how unsophisticated sitcoms are, but as far as the look of a 3-camera show, they get it exactly right (not surprising, since I'm sure all the crew has worked on 3-cam shows). The difference is very clear. 1 and 3 camera styles are completely different and once you understand the difference it's obvious which is which within literally seconds.

--Cliffy
#6
Old 03-01-2005, 01:23 PM
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simulpost!
#7
Old 03-01-2005, 01:36 PM
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All the above is absolutely accurate and very informative, but I'd like to add just one comment that might help the OP understand the difference.

A three-camera sit-com is staged like a play. The events in a scene are staged in chronological order and the audience perceives the performance as a whole from beginning to end (of the scene).

A one-camera production is not shot in such a way that someone watching the shoot will be able to perceive a performance. The director (of a movie) or the producer (of a TV show) will use the camera precisely, to capture certain expressions, movements, actions, frames, or specific visual elements.

At the end of shooting you end up with random scraps of film, not a scene that can be shown to an audience who will understand what is happening. The performance does not exist until it is constructed in the editing room.

There's a documentary on editing in the extended edition of "The Return of the King" that shows how it is the editing process that really creates a story that can be watched.
#8
Old 03-01-2005, 01:45 PM
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Rope was shot with a single camera, BTW, but that's because virtually every scene of virtually every movie ever made was shot with just one camera. (The usual exceptions are unduplicatable action scenes, for which multiple cameras are used for later editing. A few fancy shots have been done with multiple simultaneous cameras, but they're rare.) What was distinctive about Rope is that the shots were unedited. Hitchcock planned the movie so that the actors delivered a full ten-minute take - which was as long as a reel of film - with no cuts for closeups, cutaways, over-the-shoulder shots, establishing location shots and all the rest of the language of film, except for what he could manage with that one camera. His physical sets were designed so that they could be pulled apart by offscreen stagehands to allow the camera to move places seemingly physically impossible. Every ten minutes the camera moved behind something black so that the film could be replaced without giving the trick away.

And that's another huge difference between single camera shows and three camera shows. The latter can't easily do closeups or a lot of the other normal movie vocabulary, while the former can. Another reason why their looks are so distinct.
#9
Old 03-01-2005, 02:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cliffy
Single-camera is used in most dramas as well as certain sit-coms that have a distinctive look (Arrested Development and Scrubs come to mind). Single camera can deliver a lot more emotion by being in exactly the right place to catch the actor's glance (and by not looking so staged as 3-camera shows do), but there are downsides -- you have to shoot the most basic dialogue scenes a minimum of three times (over A's shoulder, over B's shoulder, and the master or two-shot which has both) so that you can switch to speaking shots and reaction shots and two-shots to capture the mood and the best performance. This can be draining to actors in emotional scenes.
Interestingly, Sherwood Schwartz chose to shoot the Brady Bunch single-camera precisely because of its start/stop nature; he reasoned that with frequent breaks for new set-ups, the child actors could recharge and would be less likely to tire or lose their concentration. The lack of an audience also made for a less stressful environment, as the kids knew they could retake something as many times as they needed to.
#10
Old 03-01-2005, 02:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cliffy
If you can, take a look at Scrubs' recent episode "My Life in Four Cameras." (I don't know why 4 instead of 3.)
--Cliffy
Best Guess: 1 Camera style for the good part of the show plus 3 Camera style for the cheesy part equals 4 cameras.
#11
Old 03-01-2005, 03:26 PM
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That's why they pay you the big bucks.

--Cliffy
#12
Old 03-01-2005, 03:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cliffy
One-camera shows are harder and take more time but are much more flexible because they use cameras which move and they use steadicams. "One" camera is a little misleading, because while most scenes are shot by a single camera, there's a good chance there's a 2d unit guy shooting other scenes down the hall at the same time.
Not just separate 2nd unit, but, as Exapno Mapcase mentioned, action sequences (especially complicated ones with lots of on-set effects work) are often shot with an A & B (and somtimes C) camera.

But not just difficult to execute action sequences. Any episode of 24 will feature split-screening that allows you to see that action (even if the action is just Jack Bauer walking) from multiple perspectives. This would also be an example of when a "single-camera" show may use multiple cameras.
#13
Old 03-01-2005, 04:59 PM
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"Single- camera series" is definitely a misnomer. Usually the "master" will be shot by the "A" camera, then the coverage will be shot by "A" and "B" cameras. They will either do the medium shot and close-up simultaneously, or complementary over the shoulder shots when the lighting permits. In order to do the medium and close-up simultaneously the two cameras must be very close together in order to maintain believable eye-lines. The two main ideas behind rolling two cameras at once: 1) the performance for the medium and close-up will be identical, and 2) there is a theoretical savings in time and money.
Shooting on sets with removable walls greatly facilitates shooting with two cameras simultaneously. When on location, for outdoor shooting there will almost always be two cameras. When inside on location in tight spaces it is not uncommon for the "B" camera crew to be wrapped early after not rolling that day, which is referred to as a "shut-out". Stunts and action sequences can be shot with as many cameras as the director can dream up shots for (and the production approves) all under the rubric of "single-camera series".
A rough (but educated) guess would be that 85% of "single-camera series" have full-time "A" and "B" camera crews.
#14
Old 03-01-2005, 05:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ArchiveGuy
Not just separate 2nd unit, but, as Exapno Mapcase mentioned, action sequences (especially complicated ones with lots of on-set effects work) are often shot with an A & B (and somtimes C) camera.
<Aviator reference>Or even a D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z camera</Aviator reference>.
#15
Old 03-01-2005, 08:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ArchiveGuy
Any episode of 24 will feature split-screening that allows you to see that action (even if the action is just Jack Bauer walking) from multiple perspectives. This would also be an example of when a "single-camera" show may use multiple cameras.
Those are usually assembled from separate takes shot by the same camera.
#16
Old 03-01-2005, 08:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by friedo
Those are usually assembled from separate takes shot by the same camera.
Sometimes, yeah. But I don't think always.
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