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Coverage vs. 1 shot


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#1 Jake Vander Ark

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 04:49 AM

Since I've been getting so many great responses, I'll keep going.

I've been thinking a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of shooting very specific shots, while using minimal traditional coverage for many scenes in my "theoretical feature".

Please correct me if I'm wrong: If you can cover simple, NON-DIALOGUE scenes in 1 shot, you can avoid all of the problems associated with continuity, the line, the eye-lines, etc... and you can also cut lighting time down significantly if you limit the number of shots per scene. It's great when you can eliminate these hassles with a low-budget film.

This may be obvious and I'm over-thinking it, but I've been on so many sets where they shoot very simple scenes from literally 5 different angles (and frequently only end up using 1 in the final cut). Perhaps it is demanded by the editor? Is there another reason for doing this that I'm missing?

Before I get a plethora of hate-responses telling me I need coverage, I would definitely cover some of the more traditional dialogue sequences, as well as the intense, climactic moments where we have numerous beats that need to be very clear. These are sequences where we will tell the story with the editing... the other sequences I'm referring to, the story will be told in the shot.

For example:

INT. HALLWAY
Gabe walks to the closed, glowing door of his parents den, and knocks.

GABE
Ma? Dad? I'll be out tonight.

No response. He walks back down the hallway and exits.

My plan (suggested by my DP) is to keep this as 1 simple tripod shot with Gabe entering from a door on the left, walking down to the glowing den at the end of the hall, "I'll be out tonight", and walking back toward the camera, leaving frame on the right. We don't cut to his hand knocking, no reaction to the fact that his parents aren't responding, etc.

Is there anything wrong with this? Should there be inserts and extra shots for this sort of scene? Any other general thoughts on over-using coverage? What about bad experiences with 1-shots?

I'll send another example if people seem interested in this topic...
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#2 Pete Wallington

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 08:20 AM

If you only cover the scene in 1-shot, remember that you have to get it perfect during the shoot. I don't just mean the acting has to be perfect, the dialogue has to be perfect, and the action perfect. You have to remember that with only one shot, you have no way of cutting the scene during the edit. Therefore if, for example, you find the pace is too slow you have no way of shortening or mixing up the scene. Even just shooting useful cutaways will at least give you the option of cutting into the scene in the edit. That said, if you just shoot cutaways it can look very clunky and obvious when you cut away from the main action....
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#3 Michael Nash

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 12:43 PM

and you can also cut lighting time down significantly if you limit the number of shots per scene.


Not always. Lighting a successful "one-er" can sometimes be complicated as you have different framings and camera movement to get all the info needed for the scene in camera. The more complex the shot, the more time-consuming it can be to do the lighting setup. Sometimes it's actually easier to break a scene into two separate angles that are easier to light.
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#4 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 01:15 PM

Sometimes it's actually easier to break a scene into two separate angles that are easier to light.


I agree with this and I tend to use this approach since I work in small areas with a less than stellar lighting kit.

I think indoor coverage shots are difficult with a small budget and limited working space. Limited space makes it hard to keep crew and gear out of the shot when moving the shot around.
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#5 Michael Nash

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 04:41 PM

For example:

INT. HALLWAY
Gabe walks to the closed, glowing door of his parents den, and knocks.

GABE
Ma? Dad? I'll be out tonight.

No response. He walks back down the hallway and exits.

My plan (suggested by my DP) is to keep this as 1 simple tripod shot with Gabe entering from a door on the left, walking down to the glowing den at the end of the hall, "I'll be out tonight", and walking back toward the camera, leaving frame on the right. We don't cut to his hand knocking, no reaction to the fact that his parents aren't responding, etc.


There's always a hundred different ways to tell the same story, each with their own subtle shift in meaning. This scene absolutely could play as a oner.

The camera always represents the consciousness of the storyteller. It has to be loyal to the point of view the story is being told from (GABE or some omniscient 3rd person), the visual grammar being used to tell the story, and the themes and emotional tone of the scene.

If it's established that the story is from Gabe's POV and the scene helps set up how lonely and isolated he feels, then keeping the camera at a distance and filling the frame with empty hallway might reinforce that. Cutting to a tight shot of the knock and a reaction shot of his face might over-emphasize details that have nothing to do with the themes or emotional tone of the story, and might betray the visual grammar of the rest of the film (depending on what you come up with).

It's not about how you shoot the scene, it's about how you tell the story.
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#6 Jake Vander Ark

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 08:30 PM

Good advice.

It's not about how you shoot the scene, it's about how you tell the story.


Unfortunately, in this case, practicality is almost as important as story... Story is always at the forefront of my mind, but I also have to consider what will be time-saving, hence the initial question.

Here is another one that might be a little bit harder to accept as 1 shot and an insert, but I want to see what people think:

INT. DELIGHT RESTAURANT - NIGHT
Gabe sits alone at a table. He checks his watch: 8:40.

He sighs and looks around the room. A couple sit together talking lovingly across a candle lit table. A WAITER approaches.

WAITER
Are you Gabe?

GABE
Yes?

WAITER
A young lady called this in a few moments ago...

The waiter hands him a folded up piece of paper. Gabe unfolds it: ?Sorry Gabe. No?.

WAITER (CONT?D)
Can I get you anything?

GABE
Yeah, a bottle of your most expensive wine, please.

WAITER
I?ll need to see your ID.

Gabe is distraught. He stands up and walks out of the restaurant.


We start in a medium shot, Gabe looks at his watch, the waiter approaches and we see his waist on the left of the frame as Gabe looks up to him. He hands him the note.

Insert of the note.

Same shot, Gabe asks for wine, he's denied, and he stands up to leave. The camera pans with him out the door.


The shot is about Gabe, and his reaction to the waiter, the note, and the refusal of the wine. Do we need a master, or a reverse of the waiter? I'm trying to keep things as simple as possible, while remaining faithful to the story.
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#7 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 31 May 2008 - 11:34 PM

One of my favorite One-ers is near the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark when Brody tells Indy that he has the job to go find the Ark.

Unless the point is to be "theatrical" (as, for example, some shots in "The Cook, the Thief, the Wife, and His Lover), meaning, flat and stage-like, most successful one-ers manage to integrate an establisher and appropriate coverage while maintaining good composition while telling the story that needs to be told.

On set, in the midst of the day, "coverage" can amount to little more than a safety net for an inexperienced Director. It takes someone with imagination, vision, and confidence to have the foresight to plan and execute a one-er. It doesn't seem to happen often, but when it does, it usually pays off in one form or another.
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#8 Michael Nash

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 01:42 AM

Much of the time the master is only there to establish geography for the viewer, and gets cut out of pretty early in the scene. The meat of the story is told in closer two shots, OTS's and singles.

The waiter could be Offscreen for the dialogue; you only need to "feel" him (over the hip shot at the table) to establish his presence. Gabe, cutaway of couple at table, insert of the note, wider shot that shows the door. Four shots.

But don't worry about moving the camera; moving the lighting setup is what takes the time. From one lighting angle you can get an infinite number of shots. "Turning around" (reversing your lighting setup to be seen from the opposite angle) is what's the most time consuming. Lighting "tweaks" from the same direction are relatively fast.

I just finsihed gaffing a low budget feature for a first-time director and in the interest of time I kept lobbying for the master to be shot from an angle a little closer to one side of the reverse-angles, that would only require smaller lighting tweaks when going in for coverage from that side, and one turn around. I rarely got my way as the master would end up more objective, and only for the sake of establishing geography.

When speed an simplicity is required I'm a big fan of the "moving master" or what I call "the 30-something shot" (also seen in Law & Order). It's essentially a dollying two-shot that follows the actors as they move until they inevitably settle into some kind static dialogue, where the master settles into an OTS from one side. Then punch in for one single from that side and turn around for the reverse OTS and single. Four or five shots (depending on how you look at it) and two lighting setups.
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#9 Alexander Browne

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 08:13 AM

I'm a huge fan of the one shot approach but I don't really see it as a way of cutting corners. Generally I think it means more a need for more hours/talent from art department, director and actors (and it's been suggested DOP) in order for it to work. Your more likely to find this kind of approach in the output of pretty non-commercial but incredibly talented directors. As well as the obvious ones (Ozu, Bresson) there are a few folk continuing this way of filmmaking today, notably Zhang Ke Jia, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Theo Angelopoulos and Tsai Ming Liang. Check out "What Time is Is There". I can't think of a single scene where "coverage" even comes into it.
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#10 Mark Williams

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 04:25 PM

Just quickly here's how I might block it. Depending on the layout and equipment I have Im assuming just a tripod. I know its not all done in a couple of shots but then I want the camera to tell the story too. Hope I made it clear!

INT. DELIGHT RESTAURANT - NIGHT
Gabe sits alone at a table. He checks his watch: 8:40.

(1 Wide shot of Gabe sitting at the table)
(2 Insert of gabes watch.)

He sighs and looks around the room. A couple sit together talking lovingly across a candle lit table. A WAITER approaches.

(3 C/U Of gabe sighing and then looking)
(4 Gabes POV close up of the young couple A figure steps in front)

WAITER
Are you Gabe?
( 5 OTS From Gabe)

GABE
Yes?

WAITER
A young lady called this in a few moments ago...

The waiter hands him a folded up piece of paper. Gabe unfolds it: ?Sorry Gabe. No?.
(6 C/U of Gabe from the waiters POV)
(7 Then insert of the piece of paper)

WAITER (CONT?D)
Can I get you anything?
( 8 C/U of the waiter)

GABE
Yeah, a bottle of your most expensive wine, please.
(9 C/U Of Gabe.)

WAITER
I?ll need to see your ID.
( Gabes face. Same as previous}


Gabe is distraught. He stands up and walks out of the restaurant.

( 10) Wide shot of Gabe and the waiter turning into a C/U as Gabe walks out and past the camera.
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#11 Ger Leonard

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 12:10 PM

I'm a huge fan of the one shot approach but I don't really see it as a way of cutting corners. Generally I think it means more a need for more hours/talent from art department, director and actors (and it's been suggested DOP) in order for it to work. Your more likely to find this kind of approach in the output of pretty non-commercial but incredibly talented directors. As well as the obvious ones (Ozu, Bresson) there are a few folk continuing this way of filmmaking today, notably Zhang Ke Jia, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Theo Angelopoulos and Tsai Ming Liang. Check out "What Time is Is There". I can't think of a single scene where "coverage" even comes into it.


I agree, by avoiding cuts the audience gets to "reinvest" in the image. This is an essentially observational style that creates an emotional distance with a sense of longing. There is also a sense of voyeurism, of eavesdropping which lends itself to "omnisicient" or 3rd person narratives, as Michael Nash pointed out.

Personally I am very partial to this minimalist approach. For me there should be a reason for every cut, this can of course be simply an aesthetic reason as long as it is in tune with the visual language, tone, rhythm and musicality of the whole.

Some examples of this style ...
Tsai Ming Liang "what time is there"

Roy anderson "you the living"

Jarmusch's "stranger than paradise"

Micheal Haneke "code unknown"
http://www.youtube.c...C...E08A&page=3
Bela Tarr "prologue - visions of europe"
http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

It all depends on the film you wish to make, how you see the film, on how it moves you, on your point of view, how it feels, where you are and what/where you want to say/see.
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#12 Ger Leonard

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 12:21 PM

I agree, by avoiding cuts the audience gets to "reinvest" in the image. This is an essentially observational style that creates an emotional distance with a sense of longing. There is also a sense of voyeurism, of eavesdropping which lends itself to "omnisicient" or 3rd person narratives, as Michael Nash pointed out.

Personally I am very partial to this minimalist approach. For me there should be a reason for every cut, this can of course be simply an aesthetic reason as long as it is in tune with the visual language, tone, rhythm and musicality of the whole.

Some examples of this style ...
Tsai Ming Liang "what time is there"

Roy anderson "you the living"

Jarmusch's "stranger than paradise"

Micheal Haneke "code unknown"
http://www.youtube.c...C...E08A&page=3
Bela Tarr "prologue - visions of europe"
http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

It all depends on the film you wish to make, how you see the film, on how it moves you, on your point of view, how it feels, where you are and what/where you want to say/see.


Made mistake.. here's the clip from Michael Haneke's "code unknown"

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#13 Jake Vander Ark

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 01:49 PM

Great stuff Ger. I really really appreciate the links.

First of all, I've never heard of "You the Living", but that has to be the funniest clip I've ever seen... 1 shot or not.

The greatest point these clips proves is that you can tell a story with the way a shot is setup, instead of in editing. (I have nothing against editing, but I tend to think that people go a little over-kill on the coverage when they could simplify things with the camera).

Tsai Ming Liang "what time is there"
The 1 shots emphasizes the loneliness.

Roy anderson "you the living"
The 1 shots emphasize the humor.

Bela Tarr "prologue - visions of europe"
The 1 shots emphasize the mass of people. There are so many sad faces, and they just keep coming.

These are all effects that would have been lost with coverage or over-editing.

The style I'm considering for the potential feature is similar to the shot from "Stranger than Paradise", although I'm hoping to be a little more upbeat than Jarmusch.
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#14 Tim Partridge

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Posted 06 June 2008 - 06:12 PM

I am a big "one-er" fan too.

The excessive, unnecessary coverage that dominates the bigger budget stuff I think you'll find is more than often politically motivated. When you have no final cut for a director, a committee of execs/funding people, test audiences/focus groups, indecision from production/studios, the most "flexible", safest way to go is standard coverage. If trimming or pace change is dictated, a recut with coverage is a realistic possibility in the most conventional sense. You have cutaways, masters and close ups to cut to as oppose to one decided angle that plays in real time (unless you go the avant guarde montage route). Sad, but this is why so many talented directors (and DPs) are forced into a very generic shooting style of masters, close ups and coverage for the editor to fall back on. How many of those who direct for a living really get final cut of their product?

All very well in a business sense, but the problem lies in the bigger picture. We've all suffered shoots where the directors have grown up watching the "digitally flexible" coverage saturated world of the last fifteen years or so. They have an innate "hack" shooting sensibility that they are not concious of, and this is very different to a talented director knowingly repressing their educated instincts for the sake of a paycheque. It's most telling on first time no-budget projects, where the corporate politics of the bigger budget world isn't applicable, yet the indecisive director still needlessly shoots everything from multiple angles so he can worry about editing later. All because that's what they are so familiar with watching on television and film of recent.

Still, if you want to ultimately end up directing as a way to pay your bills... :unsure:



By the way- the "digitally flexible" comment I made above is something I hear often from all areas of filmmaking (and even beyond filmmaking). Visual effects, music, sound designers... all affected now more than ever by the "flexibility" that digitally dominated filmmaking offers, meaning that making a decision and sticking to it is on the out!
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#15 Alexander Browne

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 12:20 PM

Some examples of this style ...


Thanks for those links! I'll be sure to check out the films there that I haven't yet

By the way- the "digitally flexible" comment I made above is something I hear often from all areas of filmmaking (and even beyond filmmaking). Visual effects, music, sound designers... all affected now more than ever by the "flexibility" that digitally dominated filmmaking offers, meaning that making a decision and sticking to it is on the out!


Reminds me of the well know Orson Welles quote "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations."
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#16 Glen Alexander

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 01:48 PM

I've told my DOP, there is no such thing as "fix it i post" with my film. The far, far too often and casually said "fix it in post", is to me a sign of an absolutely lazy, uncreative personality, unless there is something drastic problem, lab screwup, etc. I am paying him a for a few days of nothing but intensive research upfront. We will get it right the first time, on set, on location in the moment.

I would have taken that script and reduced it down to about 1 or 2 lines and let the actors explore the space and used one shot but that's just me.
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#17 Hal Smith

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Posted 07 June 2008 - 04:44 PM

There was an interview with Gene Wilder conducted by Alec Baldwin on TCM Friday. Alec mentioned that when he directed he got into the editing suite only to discover he didn't have an absolutely necessary close-up. Shooting without coverage is a bit like walking a high wire without a net. If you're very, very good you'll do just fine - but one screwup and you're just dead.
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#18 Glen Alexander

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Posted 08 June 2008 - 08:21 AM

Shooting without coverage is a bit like walking a high wire without a net. If you're very, very good you'll do just fine - but one screwup and you're just dead.


when the prep's done, we're doing much and intensive, so when filming starts, there's no such thing as screwup only buddhist gifts, which i repeat to the actress, to be in the moment and let it happen.

Edited by Glen Alexander, 08 June 2008 - 08:24 AM.

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#19 Ger Leonard

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 04:18 AM

i understand the importance of "flexibility", of giving yourself options in the edit, but nonetheless I believe it to be the directors responsibility (on personal projects at least), to find their voice in close collaboration with cast and crew through film. Although film is all too often classified as simply entertainment, it should never be forgotten that film is first and foremost about communication. If all communication were there simply to entertain then we should all run away and join the circus.. <_<

Some quotes:

"its musicality: repetition, coherence, rhythm, structure. It's all about music. It's ideas translated into light. Its words as colors. Movies mean moving images and don't forget the image part. We've got this whole industry that's proliferating the idea of the word as the basis for filmaking - the word, the text, no, no no. Why does a film have to explain things to you? you don't expect explanations from a bus? or a glass of beer? why should we expect explanations?" (CHRISTOPHER DOYLE vertigo vol 2 no 8 sping/summer 2005)

"One does not create by adding, but by taking away." (ROBERT BRESSON Notes on a Cinematographer)

"All creative work strives for simplicity", "The true artistic image is always based on an organic link between idea and form" (ANDREI TARKOVSKY Sculpting in Time)

"You must always leave the door of the set open because you never know what might come in." JEAN RENOIR

It is important not to be too rigid, but equally dangerous is being too flexible.

Again it all depends on the film you are making, why you are making it, and on the films you want to make and why.

It is never "all about the story", but rather "how the story is told".
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#20 Ger Leonard

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Posted 09 June 2008 - 05:01 AM

I suppose what i am thinking about is

Preciousness versus Integrity

Product versus Art

There are filmmakers who will do anything to appeal to a mass audience, and others who will do anything to appeal to festival judges/critics. .

You need to be honest with yourself and the film your are making as it will determine the film language you will use and audience it could reach (the first audience is yourself, and hopefully your tastes are not so base nor too refined)

2nd guess yourself but not your fictional audience.

BTW like that quote from Alexander earlier..
Orson Welles quote "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations."
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