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How much coverage do you need?


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#1 George Ebersole

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 04:09 PM

How do you decide how much coverage you need for a scene?

What inside you says you need some cutaways or reverse angles? How can you tell?
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 04:41 PM

How much can depend on the politics of a production or the style in which the story is being told. Producers often want lots of coverage, but it can be more for them than what a director may actaully want. Some well known directors kept the coverage to a minimum, since if wasn't not there the studio couldn't use it.

Part of the coverage is catch the beats and key moments within a scene. If you want to do this in a single shot or multiple camera angles that will cut together is a creative decision, although cutting can just become ping pong between talking close ups, unless it's carefully done. The advantage of the cutting is that the editor can create the timing, while with a single shot, the actors will be creating the timing through their performance. This is something that works best with extremely good actors.

There's also a style to cut fast with every line of dialogue, so you'll need more coverage for that.

Of course, there's also the time limitation of the schedule and the director needs to be decisive in selecting their shots for a scene, otherwise they can quickly break their schedule.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 05:30 PM

One of my favorite scenes is in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is just after Indiana's meeting with the government guys at the school. We are now at Indy's house and Brody arrives to tell him that "you've got the job!" What's great about that scene is that (if memory serves correctly) it is one shot with zero coverage. The camera points at what's important throughout eventually landing on the gun as Indy says, "Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am."

Naturally, shooting an entire scene like that takes guts and confidence in knowing that it will work and that it works within the context of the entire movie. Then, of course, schedules and budgets and resources can have a lot to do with the question of "how much coverage should be shot?"
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#4 George Ebersole

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 09:30 PM

One of my favorite scenes is in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is just after Indiana's meeting with the government guys at the school. We are now at Indy's house and Brody arrives to tell him that "you've got the job!" What's great about that scene is that (if memory serves correctly) it is one shot with zero coverage. The camera points at what's important throughout eventually landing on the gun as Indy says, "Besides, you know what a cautious fellow I am."

Naturally, shooting an entire scene like that takes guts and confidence in knowing that it will work and that it works within the context of the entire movie. Then, of course, schedules and budgets and resources can have a lot to do with the question of "how much coverage should be shot?"

Wow, only two replies.

I've never liked films with lots of cutaways, nor do I like films that rely solely on masters. But older films, for me at least, hold up well, and they don't have all of the edits you see in a lot of today's offerings.

Just me.
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 12:43 AM

I think it boils down to the story that someone is trying to tell and how best to tell it. Some stories "demand" that the "mood" be set by a variety of things including, perhaps, lots of shots and edits to perhaps heighten "drama."

Other stories are inherently "slower" and more "thoughtful," so a lot of coverage and cuts wouldn't necessarily be appropriate.

I think that some of the "Olden Day" movies relied on less cuts because the equipment was more cumbersome which impacts schedules and such. If it's hard to move a camera and arc-lights around, then a Director simply won't have the freedom to put six cameras on a shot and get fifteen setups a day. So dance sequences (Fred Astaire, for example) are best shown in one or two wide shots to tell that part of the story. But something like Fast & Furious would be ridiculous in wide masters with few cuts.

It always comes down to the story being told. If the story demands coverage, then you get it. If it demands less coverage, then you shoot only those shots needed.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 11:40 AM

There are no rules per se, but there are some general guidelines to think about:

1. Rhythm. The editing of a movie can be somewhat musical -- you don't want each scene to be cut exactly the same way, you want variations in tempo, shot length, style - long passages followed by short ones, cutty scenes followed by flowing scenes. Even within the same scene: look at the opening of the truck chase in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"... some quick montage-like cuts of trucks being started, doors being slammed, etc. followed by a high, wide shot of the convoy that cranes down to reveal Indiana Jones in the foreground watching, who then turns to camera in a close shot. Short-Short-Short-Long... like the rhythms of a poem or a piece of music.

2. Pacing. It's hard to force a pace in editing to a scene that was paced differently by the actors, but it is possible and often necessary to pick up the pace later by making a few cuts. For this, you need some coverage.

3. Ins and Outs. You should think about how you get into a scene and how you get out of the scene. And if the scene feels long, how and where you would make a trim later.

4. Shot size relative to dramatic content and needs. This is the meat-and-potatoes of directing and camera work in general, how close do you need to be, where do you need to look, etc. and when. Maybe all of those beats can be contained in one shot with some camera moves or actor staging, but maybe not. It's all rather subjective of course, there are no rules but sometimes when you read the scene, it is clear that certain moments need to be seen tight or wide, so the question is whether that happens in cuts. A variation of this are scenes where POV shots are indicated, which traditionally means a POV shot intercut with the reaction shot of the person watching.

5. Cheating. You make cuts to hide things, cheat things, all the time... as in "we'll shoot the reverse angle when they leave on another location to fake that we are there instead of here" sort of thing, or "the actor will have a stunt double in this shot".

So much of this demands some coverage, but how much? Few people have time to cover every possible editing scenario, nor should they because that just promotes lazy thinking on the set -- "we'll figure out what this scene is really about in the editing room". That can lead to all sorts of mistakes because you may put the camera in the wrong spot on the wrong people if you don't have an understanding of the dramatic needs of the scene. Plus there is an art to staging action for the camera, otherwise you are just shooting everything like a documentarian as if they have no control over the situation (sometimes that's appropriate too.) You don't want to be forced into intercuts right at the top of the scene simply because you staged it badly, you want to plan those cuts.

But you do need a little bit of flexibility in editing, though my general tendency is to shoot and cover the scene for what you feel is needed in the final cut, not give yourself too many options in editing (and truth is, many editors -- with short schedules -- prefer getting footage shot with a directorial point of view, not a mountain of coverage to sift through.) But experience starts to give you a sense of which scenes need more options to change or shorten in editing, or which scenes should be naturally cutty, and which to play out in moving masters with no cuts. Ultimately, edits should have some justification dramatically, so if you can't find any justification for a certain camera angle or shot size, why shoot it?
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#7 Tom Jensen

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Posted 18 February 2012 - 03:28 PM

Roger Ebert once said that the most overlooked shots in a movie is the reaction shot. If something wacky is happening on the street, somebody has to see it to be funny.
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#8 George Ebersole

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 01:56 AM

There are no rules per se, but there are some general guidelines to think about:

1. Rhythm. The editing of a movie can be somewhat musical -- you don't want each scene to be cut exactly the same way, you want variations in tempo, shot length, style - long passages followed by short ones, cutty scenes followed by flowing scenes. Even within the same scene: look at the opening of the truck chase in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"... some quick montage-like cuts of trucks being started, doors being slammed, etc. followed by a high, wide shot of the convoy that cranes down to reveal Indiana Jones in the foreground watching, who then turns to camera in a close shot. Short-Short-Short-Long... like the rhythms of a poem or a piece of music.

2. Pacing. It's hard to force a pace in editing to a scene that was paced differently by the actors, but it is possible and often necessary to pick up the pace later by making a few cuts. For this, you need some coverage.

3. Ins and Outs. You should think about how you get into a scene and how you get out of the scene. And if the scene feels long, how and where you would make a trim later.

4. Shot size relative to dramatic content and needs. This is the meat-and-potatoes of directing and camera work in general, how close do you need to be, where do you need to look, etc. and when. Maybe all of those beats can be contained in one shot with some camera moves or actor staging, but maybe not. It's all rather subjective of course, there are no rules but sometimes when you read the scene, it is clear that certain moments need to be seen tight or wide, so the question is whether that happens in cuts. A variation of this are scenes where POV shots are indicated, which traditionally means a POV shot intercut with the reaction shot of the person watching.

5. Cheating. You make cuts to hide things, cheat things, all the time... as in "we'll shoot the reverse angle when they leave on another location to fake that we are there instead of here" sort of thing, or "the actor will have a stunt double in this shot".

So much of this demands some coverage, but how much? Few people have time to cover every possible editing scenario, nor should they because that just promotes lazy thinking on the set -- "we'll figure out what this scene is really about in the editing room". That can lead to all sorts of mistakes because you may put the camera in the wrong spot on the wrong people if you don't have an understanding of the dramatic needs of the scene. Plus there is an art to staging action for the camera, otherwise you are just shooting everything like a documentarian as if they have no control over the situation (sometimes that's appropriate too.) You don't want to be forced into intercuts right at the top of the scene simply because you staged it badly, you want to plan those cuts.

But you do need a little bit of flexibility in editing, though my general tendency is to shoot and cover the scene for what you feel is needed in the final cut, not give yourself too many options in editing (and truth is, many editors -- with short schedules -- prefer getting footage shot with a directorial point of view, not a mountain of coverage to sift through.) But experience starts to give you a sense of which scenes need more options to change or shorten in editing, or which scenes should be naturally cutty, and which to play out in moving masters with no cuts. Ultimately, edits should have some justification dramatically, so if you can't find any justification for a certain camera angle or shot size, why shoot it?

Sage advice.

I'm just in awe of the pros who had the vision to plan the shots they wanted ahead of time. And then when they shoot what they envisioned, it comes out as expected, or better. I remember my days behind the camera hoping to hell I wouldn't f-up the project and get fired or something. A few years before that on my student projects I was shooting from the hip; i.e. "a wide master or long shot feels right here", kind of thing. But it worked.

I shot a video montage for a series of Tae Kwon Do videos that never got to market. I dragged my crew and talent to beaches, forests, colleges, and wherever, and even though I had a shot list and a rough story board, I was essentially doing things on the fly. But the end result was damn good.

I think I got lucky in that situation. Another project I worked on more recently the cameraman had free reign. Shooting over the shoulder he just went everywhere, shot everything, everybody, and when it came to editing the thing, it was essentially a documentary. Again, it was free form. We used one set of shots as cutaways for another, even though it was essentially the same sequence.

All the industrials I worked on in my life were pretty straight forward affairs. Master, then one to two cutaways interspersed with slide or shots of pertinent data and exposition of what the video was about. It was pretty cut and dry stuff. There's no real "magic" there, other than to make the thing look professional.

This is why shooting anything beyond a small indy really terrifies me. But, I guess part of the battle is having confidence (or perhaps not thinking about) in your taste and ability to grab images. A lot of my education was pretty much on the set. In film school my emphasis was in screen writing, though I did take the theory courses and was manning cameras outside of school on stage. But I didn't take any cinematography courses, and that's why I always get weak kneed around a moviecam, Arri or Panaflex, even though I've been around them hundreds of times.

I don't know. It seems like there's more riding on your ability when you're with the big boys than just playing hooky with a camera crew on some indy. So when things like pacing and size of shot to match dramatic content come into play, it's like you know that, and it matters, but it doesn't matter because you know your material and how it should look. When working on something a bit more "professional" I always got the sense that there was a strict Major Hollywood Studio Formula for grabbing shots. And I still get queasy with that.

Just me.
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#9 Bruce Greene

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 10:22 AM

How do you decide how much coverage you need for a scene?

What inside you says you need some cutaways or reverse angles? How can you tell?


Telling a story in a movie involves three basic elements:

What characters are in the scene, and their relationship in the space?

What do they see and hear?

How do they react?

Determine who's story you're telling and you should have some idea of where to put the camera and which angles you'll need to tell that story.

Also think about the sequence in which you want to reveal this information. " the camera starts high on a wide shot of the aftermath of a battle. It cranes down revealing our hero arriving at the scene. Cut to CU of the hero's reaction" etc... Cut to tighter POV: a single soldier rises from the pile of corpses. Cut to extreme CU of the hero to see his reaction...

Then you'll know how to cover the scene :)
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#10 George Ebersole

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 11:50 PM

Telling a story in a movie involves three basic elements:

What characters are in the scene, and their relationship in the space?

What do they see and hear?

How do they react?

Determine who's story you're telling and you should have some idea of where to put the camera and which angles you'll need to tell that story.

Also think about the sequence in which you want to reveal this information. " the camera starts high on a wide shot of the aftermath of a battle. It cranes down revealing our hero arriving at the scene. Cut to CU of the hero's reaction" etc... Cut to tighter POV: a single soldier rises from the pile of corpses. Cut to extreme CU of the hero to see his reaction...

Then you'll know how to cover the scene :)

More sage advice, Bruce.

The few times I was in charge I was always scared out of my mind that I wasn't getting enough coverage. The crew looks at you, and you've got to put on a good front by pretending to look contemplative, as if you got some really rockin' shots and grand master plan for the film unfolding in your mind, when what you're really thinking is "Oh dear lord, please don't let me BLEEP-up" :)

Yeah, emotional context is everything. Wide for comedy or drama, close for extreme drama... at least that's what mister Kitses and Laumer used to say. I think they were lock in step with Dean Coppola, though he rarely graced us with his presence :rolleyes:

Okay, I got a plan now. Oh dear lord, please don't let me ... ;)
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#11 Bruce Greene

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 10:07 AM

More sage advice, Bruce.

The few times I was in charge I was always scared out of my mind that I wasn't getting enough coverage. The crew looks at you, and you've got to put on a good front by pretending to look contemplative, as if you got some really rockin' shots and grand master plan for the film unfolding in your mind, when what you're really thinking is "Oh dear lord, please don't let me BLEEP-up" :)

Yeah, emotional context is everything. Wide for comedy or drama, close for extreme drama... at least that's what mister Kitses and Laumer used to say. I think they were lock in step with Dean Coppola, though he rarely graced us with his presence :rolleyes:

Okay, I got a plan now. Oh dear lord, please don't let me ... ;)

George,
You must have an easy schedule if you have time to pretend to look contemplative!

Relax, there are always crew that think I'm a moron. I really don't care. You shouldn't either.

I remember working on a film many years ago, and the crew kept gossiping that the director didn't know the technical side of his job. The picture was a huge hit...not a moron at all!
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#12 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 10:54 AM

George,
You must have an easy schedule if you have time to pretend to look contemplative!

Relax, there are always crew that think I'm a moron. I really don't care. You shouldn't either.

I remember working on a film many years ago, and the crew kept gossiping that the director didn't know the technical side of his job. The picture was a huge hit...not a moron at all!

It's funny how crew are so quick to judge a director, yet many of them have never done the job themselves! But I find that a common tale about directors. A large part of any film also being a hit is a testament to a good crew, I hope that they see themselves as an integral part to the whole thing they really are. The director may be a moron, but the crew can carry the director through to a successful piece of work.

As much as I know about coverage from my little experience would be that I tend to just go with the gut instinct, the script and I'm always trying to keep momentum. Momentum's probably the most important part, try to keep shooting and try to be shooting effectively. On bigger jobs it's probably wise to stick to the storyboards and your coverage will be smashed out with those. If you drift too far away clients probably won't be too impressed.

But just back on efficiency, this may mean you have an entire wall of shots with a certain person or people, or maybe you wanna get every shot on a high angle, crane or a dolly, then get everything done with that specific wall or tool, then continue on. You'd be surprised how many directors waste money and time by not getting that process efficient and that kind of thing is what leaves most hard working crew annoyed.

The sun is always moving as well, so sometimes coverage on location just comes down to the time of day. Sometimes you just can't keep hang on something too long cause the light's already gone.
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#13 George Ebersole

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 08:32 PM

George,
You must have an easy schedule if you have time to pretend to look contemplative!

Relax, there are always crew that think I'm a moron. I really don't care. You shouldn't either.

I remember working on a film many years ago, and the crew kept gossiping that the director didn't know the technical side of his job. The picture was a huge hit...not a moron at all!

Bruce, you rock :)
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#14 George Ebersole

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 08:35 PM

It's funny how crew are so quick to judge a director, yet many of them have never done the job themselves! But I find that a common tale about directors. A large part of any film also being a hit is a testament to a good crew, I hope that they see themselves as an integral part to the whole thing they really are. The director may be a moron, but the crew can carry the director through to a successful piece of work.

As much as I know about coverage from my little experience would be that I tend to just go with the gut instinct, the script and I'm always trying to keep momentum. Momentum's probably the most important part, try to keep shooting and try to be shooting effectively. On bigger jobs it's probably wise to stick to the storyboards and your coverage will be smashed out with those. If you drift too far away clients probably won't be too impressed.

But just back on efficiency, this may mean you have an entire wall of shots with a certain person or people, or maybe you wanna get every shot on a high angle, crane or a dolly, then get everything done with that specific wall or tool, then continue on. You'd be surprised how many directors waste money and time by not getting that process efficient and that kind of thing is what leaves most hard working crew annoyed.

The sun is always moving as well, so sometimes coverage on location just comes down to the time of day. Sometimes you just can't keep hang on something too long cause the light's already gone.

A couple years back I interned for Rob Nilsson when I was making a bid to get back in. He uses the verite method. No setups, just continual hand held stuff (mostly, anyway), with kind of rhythm that I think comes from talent alone, and not planning. I guess that's why I get a little weak kneed. How much planning substitutes for talent and vice verse?

We'll find out this year.
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#15 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 03:48 AM

The director may be a moron, but the crew can carry the director through to a successful piece of work. .


In a narrative piece the director needs to achieve the performances from the cast. If they can do that a good crew can usually manage the rest. If you haven't got the performances you probably have got that much... Although, that may depend on the genre.
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#16 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 06:24 AM

In a narrative piece the director needs to achieve the performances from the cast. If they can do that a good crew can usually manage the rest. If you haven't got the performances you probably have got that much... Although, that may depend on the genre.

I absolutely agree, they need to at least get the performance right. I've seen it on a few productions, I would still say they're good directors, but they're not the most visually motivated and can sometimes be very clueless about the process. Although they can afford to be if they have a good crew behind them.
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#17 George Ebersole

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 12:16 PM

Can a film be carried by good performances alone?
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#18 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 10:54 PM

Can a film be carried by good performances alone?

I don't think so, in my opinion a film really has to fire off from all cylinders. Maybe if one is so exceptional then it could worth watching, but hand in hand, editing and acting can sometimes be very much of the same. Even cinematography and sound come into play in helping get the best out of a performance.

But there was once this film that didn't even have great performances or technical quality, but the pacing and writing kept me very much hooked. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0756683/ The Man From Earth.

It's an absolute testament to fantastic writing, it's actually just shot on HDV :lol:
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#19 George Ebersole

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 01:05 PM

I don't think so, in my opinion a film really has to fire off from all cylinders. Maybe if one is so exceptional then it could worth watching, but hand in hand, editing and acting can sometimes be very much of the same. Even cinematography and sound come into play in helping get the best out of a performance.

But there was once this film that didn't even have great performances or technical quality, but the pacing and writing kept me very much hooked. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0756683/ The Man From Earth.

It's an absolute testament to fantastic writing, it's actually just shot on HDV :lol:

A lot of older films that don't have many edits hold up well. Today it seems like there's a ton of editing for newer films, but I guess it depends on the genre.

I'm still fully impressed with guys who know how to wing it off a shot list.
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#20 George Ebersole

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 09:55 AM

Another question, I'm watching a made for TV production, and being a made for TV film it's plainly shot. No drama in the shots whatsoever. That verse a theatrical release where cinematography is at a premium.

So, how do you know what lens is appropriate for what shot?
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