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#1 Vincent T Sharma

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 01:15 AM

Many a times during shooting a feature film, the first time director faces an important task to accomplish: Covering a scene. All experienced directors have their own methods regarding covering a scene. I thought it would be a good idea to share your experiences regarding this skill. As Cinematographers work closely with directors, they come face to face with decisions on covering a scene. Please post your tips or methods you have learnt from other directors or some of you having shot your own movies, you got your own methods.

I always found this method very help ful.


I make my decisions on covering a scene right in the rehearsals which means I start from actors. [ i have seen directors starting from locations and i donno how that works for them]. In the low budget arena, there is no money for covering from different angles so i depend on OTS shots and cutaways or reactions shots. Of course, i guess i don't have to tell about this. THE MASTER SHOT: THAT'S YOUR SAVIOUR.During rehearsals i also take some snaps from different angles and sometimes go close on the actors so that this would serve them as a memory on the sets. I don't shoot more than 3 takes: if the actor isn't getting it right in the 3rd take, i quickly change his mark and give him a different mark and guess what: it always works for me. Hey, i am talking about low budget shorts here.

I am looking forward to your tips and various methods you know. wink.gif
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#2 Ram Shani

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 02:58 AM

i think if you watch the dvd "hollywood camera work" you will get all the answers regarding staging covering shot size .

Edited by ram shani, 11 June 2006 - 02:58 AM.

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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 10:03 AM

You can either approach the coverage of a scene conventionally (wide master, then medium shots, over the shoulders, and singles) based on the staging, or you can stage the action around the camera, maybe moving the camera or actors relative to the camera, to reduce the amount of coverage needed to emphasize what's important.

Coverage is partially about having the editorial flexibility to emphasize different moments by cutting to new angles, or adjusting the tempo of the scene, or improving a performance, but you don't have to approach every scene with the same coverage / editorial style. You may play a scene all in one shot with a slow push in from wide until you are just on one person's face in a group. You may wander the camera from person to person during a party scene, for example. Depends on the dramatic content of the scene.

In a perfect world with a long schedule, you can cover a scene to death if you felt like it, but in most cases, you have to think about how you plan on editing a scene before you decide what coverage you need or want, giving yourself some editorial choices but not endless cutting options. You may, for example, decide that the scene does not dramatically warrant or need tight close-ups and can play in a wide and medium shot.
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#4 Bob Hayes

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 10:47 AM

There are lots of ways to approach blocking a scene. When I look at a scene I write down what I think the dramatic beats are. Then when I watch the rehearsal I see if the actors grasp the beats or if they have found beats I didn?t see. I try to let coverage of those beats drive my blocking.
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#5 Michael Nash

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 04:06 PM

Just expanding on what others have said, there's a difference between "coverage" and "design." Some of the best visually told stories have well-designed sequences of shots that are simply "executed" on set (think Alfred Hitchcock). Other times the coverage is figured out on the set, following a more organic flow of beats (Spielberg works more this way now; he's had lots of practice ;) ).

Obviously the more coverage you have on set, the more flexibility you have in editing. But you don't always have the luxury of time or money to cover every angle that you might like, so you get better at thinking on your feet and designing blocking and coverage that gives you good material for the edit.

But I'll tell you, the best way to learn coverage is by editing. After you cringe a few times at that missed CU or cutaway, or realize how much of that master you DON'T use, you start to learn what's important on set.

One of the biggest problems I've seen new filmmakers create for themselves is by blocking the master ONLY, without looking at what angles the overs and CU's that blocking gives them before they shoot. By simply "picking up" the coverage you end up painting yourself into a corner with ugly backgrounds, bad light, or impossible camera positions that require too much cheating. If you know you're going to cut out of the master anyway, block the scene for ALL the camera angles, especially the overs and CU's that are going to become the "meat" of the scene.
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#6 Ram Shani

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 05:01 PM

Just expanding on what others have said, there's a difference between "coverage" and "design." Some of the best visually told stories have well-designed sequences of shots that are simply "executed" on set (think Alfred Hitchcock). Other times the coverage is figured out on the set, following a more organic flow of beats (Spielberg works more this way now; he's had lots of practice ;) ).

Obviously the more coverage you have on set, the more flexibility you have in editing. But you don't always have the luxury of time or money to cover every angle that you might like, so you get better at thinking on your feet and designing blocking and coverage that gives you good material for the edit.

But I'll tell you, the best way to learn coverage is by editing. After you cringe a few times at that missed CU or cutaway, or realize how much of that master you DON'T use, you start to learn what's important on set.

One of the biggest problems I've seen new filmmakers create for themselves is by blocking the master ONLY, without looking at what angles the overs and CU's that blocking gives them before they shoot. By simply "picking up" the coverage you end up painting yourself into a corner with ugly backgrounds, bad light, or impossible camera positions that require too much cheating. If you know you're going to cut out of the master anyway, block the scene for ALL the camera angles, especially the overs and CU's that are going to become the "meat" of the scene.


can't agrey more

Edited by ram shani, 11 June 2006 - 05:02 PM.

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#7 Hal Smith

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 06:17 PM

Just expanding on what others have said, there's a difference between "coverage" and "design." Some of the best visually told stories have well-designed sequences of shots that are simply "executed" on set (think Alfred Hitchcock).


My two cents worth? Design has the advantage in that it's always a lot cheaper to make your mistakes on paper. Spielberg may be able to improvise coverage but with his wealth of experience (and talent) he's probably had a pretty good idea of what the final scene's going to look like from the first table reading, if not his first reading of the script.
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 June 2006 - 06:18 PM

Same goes for LIGHTING the master - you have to think backwards from how you're going to want the close-ups to look, so that when you get to them, you won't be radically changing the master lighting, just tweaking.

When we block the master, the director and I talk (or I remind him) about how that blocking is going to work for the tighter shots (like Michael says, to avoid a boring background or bad angle for the light source, or even a position that can't be covered physically due to a non-movable wall or something.

One of the best things I learned from Alexander Mackendrick & Bill Jackson in film school, in a class on 3-camera shooting, was how to stage IN DEPTH. "Look for the long axis" was the general rule when scouting a location or staging a scene. See where you can get the longest diagonals in a space and then stage to take advantage of that.

It drives me nuts when someone finds a great location like an expensive restaurant and then stages the scene against a wall so that the entire space is off-camera, behind the camera! I often pull furniture out, rearrange the space, so that most of the room is in the background of the actors. I even will cheat the space so that when I turn around and look in a different direction from the master, I create another interesting view of the space if possible rather than let myself be overly respectful of the true geography of the room. I'll say something like: "when we do the reverse over-the-shoulder, instead of that wall naturally becoming the background, we'll turn everything 90 degrees and make THAT (better) view the new background."

I saw this indie film at Sundance almost entirely set in a large Kinko's-type copy center, with scene after scene staged near a copy machine. Which they stuck against one blank wall and proceded to shoot half the movie with that wall in the background, rather than see the store -- which, by the way, was a SET that they spent some money to build. The production designer must have been really unhappy when he saw dailies...
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#9 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 12:13 AM

Couches against walls are deadly. Not only does the two-shot look boring and lack depth (with two characters seated), but it's a pain to light as well. It's tough to work in any edge or backlighting for dimension, and you also end up with shadows against the wall.

There's a reason the couches in sitcoms are always "floating" in the middle of the room.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 01:38 AM

I remember several years ago I was about to shoot some low-budget thriller, maybe my fifteenth feature, but it had a lot of scenes in and around a parked car.

I asked on the CML for any suggestions from the commercial veterens on unusual methods of shooting a car and one response was "You should have never taken the job if you're so inexperienced that you don't know what you're doing. You should quit right now and give the job to someone else."

I mean, this was the second time I was working for that director and the seventh time I was shooting for that producer, so it was hardly like I was fooling them as to my level of experience. I was just looking for some new ideas from people that shoot car stuff for a living, some suggestions on tools I hadn't used yet, etc.

The danger of asking questions is that you reveal your level of knowledge. But ultimately, I decided that I would get more out of asking questions and getting answers than keeping quiet and maintaining some illusion that I already knew everything.

The trick in this industry is to work just on the edge of your skill level, rather than always take jobs that you know you can do easily, but not jobs where you will be way over your head. That's the challenge, to keep advancing in your knowledge and experience by trying new things. On every project I do, I try and incorporate one new element or technique I haven't tried before.
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#11 Hal Smith

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 02:00 AM

I remember several years ago I was about to shoot some low-budget thriller, maybe my fifteenth feature, but it had a lot of scenes in and around a parked car...................

The danger of asking questions is that you reveal your level of knowledge. But ultimately, I decided that I would get more out of asking questions and getting answers than keeping quiet and maintaining some illusion that I already knew everything.

The trick in this industry is to work just on the edge of your skill level, rather than always take jobs that you know you can do easily, but not jobs where you will be way over your head. That's the challenge, to keep advancing in your knowledge and experience by trying new things. On every project I do, I try and incorporate one new element or technique I haven't tried before.


Which is why you're also an excellent, and patient, teacher. I'd relish the chance to spend a month bringing you your coffee. Let me know if you get a project going around the Heartland - I'd like to volunteer to be the world's oldest camera department PA.

Hal
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#12 Vincent T Sharma

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 05:58 AM

Can't agree more with David.......covering a scene depends on the content. Have you got any favourite scenes you thought were best or covered in an unconventional manner breaking all the rules. Could you also talk about scenes badly covered? One of my friends who is a director now says Spielberg follows a certain style in a covering a scene. I never understood it though. Is coverage overrated????
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 11:59 AM

Whatever works for you. Some great directors were known for the frugality of their coverage, only shooting the pieces they needed (Ford, Hitchcock to some degree) while others were known for the huge amounts of coverage they shot (George Stevens mostly, but also Wyler, Kubrick, although they were more known for the number of takes, not the number of new angles taken.)

I tend to think of the editing of a movie as being musical, and in music, you have long slow sections and fast uptempo sections. In a movie you can have fluid scenes with minimal cutting, choppy scenes with lots of cutting, etc. Lots of variations, assuming that the story has lots of variations in tempo, mood, rises and falls of action, etc. Some don't (like "Elephant") and have more of an inexorable mood that builds slowly.

I remember this one movie I shot where the scene was an ex-alcoholic talking desparately on the telephone to someone, trying to get the courage to not start drinking again. We shot a medium and close shot from the same angle (it was a TINY room, almost closet-sized.) She never matched her performance in each take, pacing and turning her head differently in every take. Since it would not cut smoothly, the director made the decision to make each cut on the biggest mismatch he could find, like when she was looking camera left in the medium but turned camera right in the close-up. It was the most brilliantly cut sequence in the whole movie because it created the perfect mood of someone panicking, being desparate.

Now I try and look for moments to encourage discontinuity, crossing the line, etc. when appropriate.
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#14 Matt Pacini

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 12:22 PM

THE MASTER SHOT: THAT'S YOUR SAVIOUR.


I couldn't disagree more, especially in low budget work, where someone is most likely to need "being saved".
I learned this the hard way.

The master shot is not only the most boring footage of your scene, it's also damn hard to match continuity to, because EVERYONE IN THE FRAME has to match. Just the mathematical probability that everyone in the shot is going to do the same action in another take is pretty freakin' unlikely.

I finally learned to stop shooting masters, unless I had everything else shot first, because if you run out of time or can't afford the film stock, you're gonna want the medium shots & CU's in your edit, not a master shot.
I think this is a "rule" that should cease to be taught to all film students and newbies, because unless it's 1955, or you have unlimited money and shooting time, it makes no sense to shoot a master. It's boring.
You rarely see but just a snippet of a master shot make its way into most films.

MP
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#15 Tom Bays

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 12:43 PM

I agree with Mr. Mullen. You have to ...to the best of your ability...put yourself in the right situation to make coverage a creative option. Don't paint yourself into a corner so to speak. Try to leave yourself as much mobility as possible.
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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 12:56 PM

I believe in the importance of shooting a master first, as long as you recognize how much of it will be used in the final edit and don't do a dozen takes trying to make it perfect.

It basically tells you what you are matching to in terms of lighting continuity and physical behavior for the tighter shots.

If you start with the tighter shots, invariably you will end up putting a key light or other light on the shot in some position to make it look great... and find if you back up to a wider shot, that you can't put the light there or create the same effect. So if there is one rule that I try and get directors to understand, it is "start wider and march in tighter" in terms of set-ups. It's always easier to bring lights and equipment in closer to the action, but it is much more time-consuming to back it all out of the shot. By the time you end up on your tight coverage, you tend to have a shitload of crew and equipment a few feet off-camera, and thus a major wrap-out to back off and get a clean wide-shot again. Not to mention you might have moved large amounts of furniture and even pulled doors and walls to get the shots, which all have to come back for the wide shot.

Solving how to light a wide master helps inform me as to how to approach the close-ups, but working backwards from tight to wide can be a nightmare because mentally you STILL have to light the wide shot in your head so that you don't screw yourself when you try and back off, because you've put lights in spots that are now physically in the shot.

And besides cheating the lighting for better close-ups, you tend to cheat the furniture too, so if you start out cheating everything to look good in a tight shot, you may find that you can't replicate it in the wide shot.

Plus shooting a master gives the actors the entire real space to work in for at least one set-up, without a lot of equipment to act around, or without having to establish their performance while they are off-camera.

So I believe in the importance of a master even if it is hardly used in the editing, as long as a director doesn't spend too much time trying to get a couple of perfect takes of the master. Generally, you know that probably you'll be in tighter at some point in the scene, so often if you need to do another take on a master, it will be just a pick-up for the head of the shot to get that right.

Finally, the other reason for shooting a master is at least you have one shot with all the action of the scene, in case some of the footage of the coverage is lost or damaged, and in case you run out of time shooting the coverage, which may create a "hole" in the scene that was never put on film. Even if you don't play the scene in a wide shot but in a moving medium, for example, you want to early on in the shooting day get the whole scene shot as a fallback in case you run out of time on the coverage.
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#17 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 03:44 PM

The master shot is not only the most boring footage of your scene,


If it's boring, then it's not a well designed master. Don't think of the master as a simply a "box" that contains all your action of the scene. It's a shot like any other that has to tell a story via POV, composition, movement and so on. But of course there comes a point in the scene where you know you're going to cut out, and you (or the director) start to get a feel for whether you think you'll need that wider view during the scene or at the end. In that case you may opt to take the master only up to a certain point, and then move on to coverage.

One trick is to do what I call a "moving master," where the shot may start wide but moves into a closer two shot or OTS. Pick up the tighter shot from that angle next, then turn around and get the reverse OTS and CU. This is done a lot in television.

As far as matching all the action, changing the camera angle and focal length enough between the wide and medium shots really helps you disguise a lot of mismatches, lighting included. I try to cheat as little as possible most of the time, but sometimes you have to, and sometimes it's better to, as David pointed out.

What I'm still trying to learn is a bigger bag of tricks for getting into a scene. There's the standby of panning or moving off of some detail, becoming a reveal to the action. Closely related is the insert of such a detail that cuts to the wide. I've noticed that establishing shots of the location can justify getting straight into coverage, and in lieu of a good establishing (if the location doesn't accomodate it) you can use what I call an "entrance" shot; something that shows the character arriving in some fashion, driving up, walking through a door, whatever. I'm still trying to learn more -- anyone?
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#18 Tom Bays

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 03:54 PM

Sometimes shooting ECU's of objects, even if it is innocuous...a hand on keys...a pen tapping, can bridge shots as well and can show little things about a characters personality. In my little world it gets me out of trouble without relying on a wide shot, which people often do.
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#19 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 03:54 PM

Could you also talk about scenes badly covered? ... Is coverage overrated????


The type of coverage that bothers me the most is the over covered scene, where you'll have two cameras with almost the same shot, and an arbitrary cut between the two. Like a medium CU to a slightly tighter CU from almost the same angle. It becomes "TV" coverage where the editor seems to just use the best take, rather than really design the pace and flow of shots. To me it just dillutes the film grammar, by not saying anything relavant with the change in shot size.

Of course for every rule there is an exception, and perhaps there are times when such a "subliminal" cut is just the right thing. But I'm talking about what seems like a more "whatever" approach of, "just shoot a bunch of coverage and we'll pull the best takes."
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#20 Michael Nash

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Posted 12 June 2006 - 05:41 PM

Sometimes shooting ECU's of objects, even if it is innocuous...a hand on keys...a pen tapping, can bridge shots as well and can show little things about a characters personality. In my little world it gets me out of trouble without relying on a wide shot, which people often do.


What's the difference between an "insert" and a "cutaway"? An insert you need, a cutaway maybe you don't... ;)
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