Whether it’s shooting a wedding, baseball game, church service or two-person interview, shooting it with more than one camera can be a time-saving and very creative endeavor.
While the director has a lot to contend with, the shooter also has to keep some very important techniques in mind when taking part in a multicam shoot. In this feature, we will look at the role of the camera operator in a multicam shoot, with some do’s and don’ts and some techniques that will make you a valuable member of the multicam crew.
There are two ways to do a multicam production: live switching or taping now to edit later. Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages, but that is a column for another day. We want to focus on the techniques unique to each of the multicam setups. However, before we get to the particulars of each, let’s start with some basics to use with both.
When shooting a multicam production, it is important that you and the director speak the same language. Before the production, the director will give you your setup and shooting assignment, perhaps shooting cover shots of the action or closeups of the people involved. Whatever your assignment, make sure you understand what the director means by “cover shot.” Does that mean getting everyone involved in the production in the shot or just the major players? At a wedding, does a cover shot include just the bride, groom and officiator, or does it also include all of the attendees and parents? In baseball, does a cover shot include the complete field and the dugouts or just the batter and players on the field? How close is the director’s idea of a closeup? These are questions you have to ask the director. Make sure you know exactly what is expected. In the live multicam shoot, the director will be able to tell you if the shot you have is what’s wanted, but if the production will be posted, you are on your own. If you are not clear what the director wants, the director may be a little upset in the editing suite to find that your ideas of a cover shot are totally different.
Good composition and fluid camera movements are key to good multicam shooting. The director should never have to fix your composition – that is your responsibility. Give your subjects look space and walk space. Make your camera movements fluid and the speeds constant. The more natural your shots, the easier it will be to either switch or post your shots into the mix.
Imagine following a subject, say a bridesmaid walking down the aisle. At some point, you’ll have to pan off her to get the next bridesmaid as she enters your field of vision. By preplanning how far you’ll follow her, then fluidly stopping your movement and letting her continue out of the scene, you’ve created a natural moment for the next shot. However, if you don’t preplan the moment that you pause your movement as the bridesmaid walks out of the scene, what’s left in the shot? A trash can? Or a bouquet of flowers on a table?
Another very important concept to remember when shooting a multicam production is the 180-degree rule. Always make sure you and the other camera operators are on the same side of the action. If, in your search for great shots, you inadvertently cross the 180, your audience will become a little confused when everyone in your shot looks the opposite direction from where they should. This can be problematic if you and the director fail to set up some ground rules about where you can and cannot go to get a shot. For example, in a wedding, as long as the cameras stay either on the audience side of the wedding party or the officiator’s side, the 180 rule is preserved. However, if all the cameras are on the audience side, the instant you walk to the other side of the bridesmaids to get the shot of the flower girl hiding in front of her mom, you have crossed the 180. What looked like a very cute shot will suddenly be confusing, because the little girl will be looking the wrong direction. Worse yet, step behind the groomsmen to get a shot of the bride, and you will find the bride with her back to the groom! Take a walk behind third base and your star pitcher will suddenly be pitching to the outfield!
Finally, concentration is the name of the game in a multicam shoot. Camera operators have the toughest job, because you always have to be paying attention. You must always have a good shot ready to go and be searching for other shots, if that is your assignment. For every multicam shoot, there is always one camera designated as the CYA or cover your attendees (yeh – that’s it!) camera. This camera must always have a shot that covers the action and is always there, so that the director can depend on it if the other cameras are between shots or have technical problems. If you are the CYA shooter, make sure you have your head in the game at all times, so that, if the bride suddenly slips and falls and every other camera misses it, the director knows you will have it in living color.
Live Switching Camera Techniques
The distinct advantage you have as the camera operator in a live-switched production is that you can hear the director and get instant feedback on shots if needed. However, this can also be a curse. Camera operators might think that, since they can communicate with the director, they don’t have to do their homework. However, a director has enough to do during a multicam shoot and definitely will not want to have to tell you constantly what to shoot. Make sure you know what the director wants before the shoot, and then do it. If you are shooting closeups and cutaways, be creative, find a shot and settle in until the director either uses it or doesn’t. If you are the live camera, do not change the shot until the director has completely switched to another camera, then quickly go and set up your next shot. In this situation, it is a good idea to have a list of possible shots that you and the director have worked out before the shoot.
Often, the director will ask you to do a pan, tilt or zoom before switching to your camera. This technique during a dissolve makes the transition smooth and dynamic. During your camera move, make sure you never stop the movement; if you do, pause for a second or two, so that it doesn’t look like a mistake. Stair-step or jerky camera movements are a quick path to the unemployment line.
Preplan for Transitions
Talking with the director in advance is important for the moments you get to make those artistic creative shots. In our example, we have CAM A holding on a wide shot of the drummer, and the subject is on the left, with lots of dead space on the right. CAM B has a closeup of the guitarist filling up the right side of the screen, with open space on the left. Now the director can slowly dissolve between the two shots and the empty space on each is filled with a half dissolve of the other shot. It’s very effective if composed in advance and looks like a sloppy mistake if the camera operators aren’t paying attention to the cues or the opportunity.
Finally, the live shoot has the distinct advantage in that the director and shooter can work closely together to set up spontaneous shots that might not have been preplanned. Know your camera, make sure you can set up your shots quickly and trust the director to give you the information you need to create some interesting transition shots and other special effects during the live program. Your knowledge of your camera, attention to detail and quickness will be greatly appreciated.
Edited Multicam Techniques
Shooting a multicam production to be put together in post can be liberating as well as challenging. The liberating side is that you don’t have a big long cable attached to your camera, and you don’t have the director’s voice in your ear to tell you what to shoot. The challenge is that you don’t have the director’s voice in your ear to tell you what to shoot.
If you are the camera op assigned to shoot
closeups and cutaways, as a good multicam shooter you are always looking for good shots and creative ways to tell the story. When you get a good shot, make sure you keep it for at least ten seconds. There is nothing worse than getting in the editing suite and wishing you had six more frames of a shot. Also, make sure that any camera movements you make are smooth and run at the same speed. Shoot multiple angles and directions, if the shot is something that could be used at any time, such as crowd shots and general cutaways.
Make sure you go into the shoot with a list of shots your director wants. Set the shots up quickly, and make sure that you have plenty of time going into and out of the shot. Keep your list handy, and don’t forget any of the key shots you need to grab. If the bride smashes the cake into the groom’s face, and you are busy shooting a closeup of the caketop, your director is not going to be very happy in the editing suite!
If you are the CYA camera, it is very important that you shoot all of the action, all of the time. If you move the camera, do so with a slow, deliberate pace. The director should be able to use your tape as the backbone for the whole production and should never be without a smooth, well-composed shot. Make sure you are comfortable and in a position where you can see all of the action. Know your camera, maintain your focus and composition and settle in for a long, yet rewarding production.
Multicam shooting can be a lot of fun and the end result very attractive and well-received. As a shooter, enjoy yourself as you become part of the event you are covering. Make sure you stay out of the way of runaway brides or fast-moving foul balls! Find the interesting shots, and give your audience a chance to see the event from many angles and many perspectives.
Contributing editor Robert G. Nulph, Ph.D., is an independent video/film producer/director and also teaches video production courses at the college level.