Module 62

      

Updated: 01/15/2014

Module 62  

Film vs. Video In

 

Single-Camera

Production

 

 For more than a century, ▲Hollywood has been making a single film camera look like the work of several cameras working simultaneously.

Like many things in Hollywood, it's actually a bit of movie magic.

At first, film directors didn't have a choice; there was no way to synchronize multiple film cameras on a single scene. Although this started out as a seeming limitation, it actually turned out to be a creative advantage.

The difference is based primarily on how film is shot.  In film-style production each scene and camera angle is setup and rehearsed until the director is satisfied. Actors, lighting directors, makeup artists, audio people, etc., only need to concentrate on one scene at a time.

Although it's a time-consuming and tedious process, it provides the opportunity for maximum technical and artistic quality.

In contrast, in video dramas actors may have to memorize their lines and actions for a complete production. Lighting, audio, make-up, etc., have to work for long shots and close-ups, and for a variety of different camera angles.

You may recall from the lighting modules that the best lighting is limited to one camera angle.

 But when  people have to be lit and shot from three or four angles at the same time, as they normally are in multiple-camera video production, there will invariably have to be some compromises.

In film production many "takes" may be necessary before directors feel they have the best possible take. Recall that a take is a short, discrete segment of action. Some film scenes are shot numerous times before a director is satisfied. (One well-known film director reportedly shot a single scene 87 times before he was satisfied.)

In film, scenes are shot from different angles and at differentfilm reels distances and film editors can choose from a multitude of takes. It becomes the editor's job to cut the best takes and scenes together, giving the appearance of one continuous action sequence photographed from different camera angles.

With film, editing decisions are typically spread out over weeks, if not months -- ample time to reflect, experiment, and reconsider before final decisions are made.

Much in contrast, editing decisions in live or live-on-tape video productions are typically done in real time on a second-by-second and minute-by-minute basis. There is seldom the opportunity to look back, rethink and revise. 

 

Film vs Video In Production

In this era when economics is driving the move from film to video as a production medium we need to consider whether productions are taking a step backward in this transition -- especially since many producers and directors still say they prefer film.

The question is why?

The main reason is that, unlike video, film production can draw on a rich, 100 year heritage. In Southern California, alone, there are hundreds of support companies with thousands of specialists devoted to the various aspects of film production.

Although artistic quality of film can be quite subjective, technical quality is easier to quantify.

This leads us to the following statement:

" If production conditions are controlled and if comparisons are made solely on the basis of sharpness and color fidelity, the best 35mm film will be slightly inferior to the best video when the final result is broadcast."

As controversial as this statement might be with some film people, the reason becomes obvious when the production process for each medium is traced.

EC CameraFirst, it is important to realize that if a signal from a video camera is recorded on the highest-quality process, no discernible difference will be noted between the picture coming from the camera and the picture that is later electronically reproduced.

With film intended for broadcast the process is far more complex.

First the image is recorded on negative film. Typically, the original negative film is then used to make a master positive, or intermediate print.

 From the master positive a "dupe'' (duplicate) negative is created; and from that a positive release print is made. This adds up to a minimum of three generations.

At each step things happen: color and quality variations are introduced by film emulsions and processing and the inevitable accumulation of dirt and scratches on the film surface starts.

After all of these steps, the film release print is projected into a video camera to convert it to an electronic signal, which is where the video signal started out in the first place.

 

" Ultimately, digital image acquisition will definitely replace film for TV production. You don't need a crystal ball to know that."

-Ed Nassour, senior VP of postproduction,
20th Century Fox Television

There is also this: Unlike video, film projection is based in a mechanical process. As the film goes through the gate of a camera and projector there is the inevitable loss of perfect registration as each frame is pulled into place, stopped, and then moved on to the next frame at a rate of 24 times a second.

35mm filmThis less-than-perfect registration between subsequent frames is obvious when you sit close to a large motion picture screen the note ever-so-slight variations in the placement of sharp (primarily horizontal) lines. This is often referred to as judder, and it results in a slight blurring of projected film images.

Film also looses some sharpness in its route from film camera to television camera. To compensate for this electronic image enhancement is routinely used with film to restore lost sharpness.

Although image enhancement sharpens the overall look of the film image, once lost, subtle details cannot be enhanced back into existence.

The Softer Look of Film

In some people's minds the sharpness of video isn't a plus.

For one thing, the soft ambiance surrounding the film image is subconsciously if not consciously associated with "Hollywood film making.''

There are also subtle tonal and color changes with film, which, while not representing the true values of the original subject matter, are subconsciously associated with film and it's historical heritage.

For these reasons the technical quality of video is sometimes altered -- some would say degraded --  to look more like film.

 

Brightness Range Differences

Until recently, video cameras simply could not handle the brightness range of film. (Remember ▲30:1 is the maximum brightness range for many home receivers and the maximum range we've been recommending here for shooting video.)

If film exposure is carefully controlled, a bright window in the background of a scene, for example, will not adversely affect the reproduction of surrounding tones.

As a result of early experience with video cameras many producers concluded that film had a major advantage over video.

And for a long time it clearly did.  

But times have changed, even though professional thinking hasn't always kept up.

 One video camera (the Phantom 65) demonstrated at professional convention showed it could handle a 10,000,00:1 brightness range or contrast ratio -- of 23 f-stops in the same scene. 

In a demonstration this camera was able to clearly see the burning a filament in a clear lit 500-watt bulb and, at the same time, reproduce background objects. 

The human eye can't begin to handle this brightness range and it is far beyond the capability of any standard motion picture film process.

Subliminal Differences

paragraphThere is also less obvious differences between film and video.

The NTSC analog film-to-video conversion process requires yellow dot some technical "fancy footwork" that results in the introduction of almost subliminal effects associated with the film image on TV. 

Film to Video ConverterNTSC video is transmitted at 30 frames per-second and the frame rate for film is 24 per-second.  (The machine shown on the right converts film images to video.)

Because there is no nice, neat math associated with dividing 30 by 24, the only way to make the conversion is to regularly scan some film frames twice.  

This results in a subtle high-speed jitter, a type of artifact that has become associated (if only subconsciously) with the film image on TV.

With the SECAM and PAL broadcast standards used in non-NTSC countries the conversion process is easier.  Both of these video systems operate at 25 frames per-second-very close to the 24 fps used in film.  The 1 fps difference is almost impossible to detect, so adjusting the film camera or projector rate to 25 fps is a common solution. 

Advantages of Single Camera

Film-Style Production

One of the additional advantages of single-camera (film or video) dramatic production is that scenes don't have to be shot in sequence. In fact, seldom does a script's chronological sequence represent the most efficient shooting order. The final sequence of scenes is arranged during editing.

In order of importance, the following should be considered when planning the shooting sequence of a single-camera production:

  • all shots involving specific talent/actors (starting with the highest paid) should be shot as close together in time as possible, regardless of script sequence
     
  • all shots at a particular location should be shot at the same time
     
  • all shots requiring specific production personnel should be shot at the same time
     
  • all shots requiring specialized production equipment, such as special cameras, lenses, microphones, and generators should be shot at the same time

As an example let's consider just one dramatic scenario  -- a couple meets, falls in love, gets married, and after 20 years, starts fiercely fighting.

In an effort to start over, they decide to return to the hotel room where they spent their first romantic night.

Unfortunately, one of the partners finds out that the other had an affair in that room. (Only in the movies!) They start arguing again, and in a final rage, one partner kills the other. (Granted, not a very pretty scenario, but it'll have to do for this example.)

For scheduling efficiency it's desirable to shoot the scenes of their first shy lovemaking in the same hotel room (and possibly on the same day) as the scenes of their vicious arguing and fighting.

You can already see the challenge for the actors involved. Plus, while you have the lights, sound equipment, etc., set up, you can also get the shots of the affair that took place in the room -- probably to be added in the form of a flashback.

We'll assume that changes in the motel room will be minimal, except for aging of the walls, furnishings, etc. The bigger challenge will be to age the actors appropriately. Not to worry, make-up people are pretty good at this kind of thing.

In the final version of the film these scenes will be separated by other story elements. But, as you can see, it would be much more efficient if all of the motel scenes were shot at the same time. (We'll return to our unhappy couple in a moment.)

 

The Master Shot and Coverage

When dramatic video is shot in the single-camera style, many film conventions apply. (We introduced some of these earlier in our discussion of general video production, but here we're concentrating on the steps in single-camera production.)

First, we have the cover shot (normally called the master shot in film), which is a wide shot showing the full scene or acting area.

This shot is useful to show viewers the overall geography of the scene and for bridging jumps in continuity during editing. More specifically, the master shot or cover shot is used to:

  • show major changes in the scene's basic elements
     
  • cover major talent moves, including the entrance or exit of actors
     
  • periodically remind viewers of a scene's geography (referred to as reestablishing shots)
     
  • and whenever needed during editing to momentarily cover the action when a good medium shot or close-up is not available

In dramatic video and film production many directors start out by shooting a scene, beginning to end, from the master shot perspective.

Once this shot is filmed, the director repositions the camera for the medium shots and close-ups of the various actors. For these the actors once again repeat all their dialogue.

To accommodate the new camera distances and angles these setups often require changes in lights, microphone positions, and sometimes even make-up. Obviously, all this has to involve changes that will (that should) go unnoticed when all of the takes are cut together.

Some directors shoot the scenes in the opposite sequence: close-ups, medium shots, and then master shot.

However you do it, the series of setups associated with a scene is commonly referred to as coverage. (Remember, some terms may have different meanings in film and video, so don't be surprised if you see some of these terms used in different ways.)

As an example of the scenario we've been discussing, let's consider the restaurant scene where the man in the ill-fated marriage originally proposed to the woman. camera positions

In single-camera film-style shooting the three camera positions indicated are actually one camera that is moved to each position.

Although directing approaches can vary, let's look at one possibility.

First, we run through the entire dialogue for the scene from camera position #1. We can use this wide shot as a master or establishing sceneshot, and thereafter whenever we need to reestablish the scene, cover bad shots on camera positions #2 or #3, or just to introduce visual variety.

Next, we run through the entire scene again from camera position #2 as the man repeats his lines.

From this position we can get over-the-shoulder shots or close-ups. Finally, we do the same thing all over again from camera position #3.

The actors must be careful to try to make the same moves in the same way on the same words in their dialogue. Otherwise, the words and actions in different takes will not match and that will make it very difficult to cut between the various takes.

When we finish, we'll have at least three complete versions of the scene to choose from during editing.

The obvious editing approach would be to use a close-up of each person as they speak. But, as we've noted, often a reaction shot is more telling. For example, it might be better to have a close-up of the woman's reaction as the man "pops the question."

We would probably also want to get close-ups of the ring, the wine glasses clinking together in a toast, etc.

 

Working With Actors and Talent

Film directors in the era of silent films could shout instructions to actors while scenes were being shot. The director's role, especially in television, is quite different today.

Part of the art of directing is bringing out the best on-camera performance in actors.

A good director finds an optimum point between forcing the actors to follow his or her own rigid interpretation and giving them absolute freedom to do as they wish.

The optimum point between the two extremes will depend largely on the experience of the actors and the approach of the director.

During read-throughs or table readings (the informal group sessions where the actors initially read through their lines) directors should carefully observe the character interpretation that actors are developing.

If Actingthe actors know the story and have developed a feel for their parts -- which they should if they are good actors -- the director should at least initially allow them the latitude to go with their interpretations.

If the director decides this is clearly at odds with what he has in mind, then he should skillfully and maybe diplomatically suggest another interpretation.  Often, directors will shoot different versions and then decide which they want to use during the editing phase.

Although the director is in charge and is responsible for getting the performance he or she envisions, directors who have limited experience with actors will want to "tread lightly" until they understand the acting process and the personality of specific actors.

Directors who have taken acting classes, or who have acting experience have a definite advantage.

 

Inventing "Business"

During rehearsals the director along with the actor will decide on the basic actions and business of actors. (Business refers to the secondary action associated with scenes. This would include fixing a drink, paging through a magazine, etc.)

Scripts generally do not describe actor business, but it can influence camera shots, setups, and editing.

In the next section we'll take up news and documentary production. Even if you don't have an interest in news or documentary work, the principles that will be outlined are important to other types of production.



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