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Shooting a Multi-Camera Interview

Primer to make your interview shoots look great By Charlie White

Recently a reader asked for a basic plan to shoot an interview with three cameras. It's a very good question, because lots of single-camera DV shooters find themselves in a situation where they don't want to pretend they're using two or three cameras, and with the price of DV camcorders getting more reasonable every day, multicamera shoots are becoming easier to afford as well. So here's a primer on what to look out for when shooting a three-camera interview.

First, is it really worth it to use three cameras in an interview situation? Absolutely. You're suddenly given freedom to see each participant, both interviewer and interviewee, in their real-world essence. Want to see the interviewer's reaction to an outrageous statement? It's there. Want an over-the shoulder shot of the interviewer with the interviewee in the foreground? Then quickly cut to a single of the interviewee, then back to a single of the interviewer as she finishes her question? Got it. All these things can be faked, but they're more believable if you shoot live-on-tape with three cameras. But there's one catch: You have to know what you're doing to get the most out of three cameras. This is where directing skills come to the fore.

Before you begin, make sure your cameras are up to the task of multicam shooting. It works best if all three cameras are the same, where their quality will match and their color will appear to be consistent shot-to-shot. Compare the three cameras' output in the same monitor, and adjust their white balance if possible. It's a lot easier to match the cameras as best you can before shooting than relegating that to post, where it's possible but a lot of extra work to get them to match up. Then there's the matter of synching the cameras to each other. If you have a sophisticated setup, you can do what's called "jam-synching" camcorders, where all three receive the same time code numbers from a central source. I've always found it convenient when jam-synching to use time-of-day timecode, so that as I direct I can simply write in my notes what time it was when a particular take began, and find that spot easily in post. If you can't do jam-synching, select "free run" time code if your camcorders support it. If you can hit the free run button on all three camcorders at the same time, they'll have similar numbers that will run throughout the day, not starting and stopping with each tape roll. Barring that, take along a still camera with a flash, and take a flash picture just before your taping with all three cameras rolling -- then it'll be easy to synch all the cameras up with that flash. If you forgot to bring along that still camera, just have all three cameras point and shoot someone clapping before each take, or use a Hollywood clapboard, which adds a fun, professional touch.  

Now it's time to think about directing an interview, skills which are important when shooting with one camera as well as two or three. The most important thing to remember is to shoot both interviewer and interviewee as head-on as possible. That means that when you're shooting the interviewer and vice-versa, the interviewee's head will be almost in your shot. That way, you won't be looking at a profile of your subjects.

Basic setup: Here's a basic, correct camera placement for a three-camera shoot. Notice that cameras 1 and 3 are almost behind both the interviewer and interviewee. Camera 2 can serve multiple roles. Usually, beginners just have camera 2 staying in the middle getting a two shot of host and guest the whole time. This is the safe way to go, but there's more you can do with camera 2.

Roving Camera 2: Have camera 2 quickly move next to either of the other two cameras, and coordinate the camera people so that 2 is getting a single while 3 (or 1, depending on which side) is shooting an over-the-shoulder shot. This gives you great variety in your shots, and the ability to catch interesting reactions or single-word comments.

None of this will be possible without coordinating what each cameraperson is doing. The best-case scenario has a director communicating with all three camerapersons on a headset, watching all three shots on a monitor while switching live between them. Short of that, create a plan beforehand with your camera people where at the beginning of the interview you first establish a "home base" where cameras 1 and 3 have a single shot of their respective person, while 2 has a two-shot front and center. Then after the interview gets underway, have camera 2 move very close to the camera that's shooting the guest, and get a single shot of the guest (see graphic and captions above). That's when the camera next to camera 2 can get an over-the-shoulder shot. This gives you better shot choices. Have camera 2 roam from one point to another, quickly repositioning so there will be a usable shot most of the time. Toward the end of the show, have camera 2 go back to "home base", giving you a closing shot over which you can roll credits if necessary. Remind your camera people that they need to provide you with a usable shot most of the time, where they need to reposition quickly and efficiently. This is hard to coordinate perfectly, so I would say get a headset for each person and be able to at least see what all three camera people are doing at the same time so you can direct them to make their moves, one at a time. 

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Related Keywords:shoot an interview, three cameras, single-camera DV shooters, DV camcorders, Multicamera shoots, primer, interview, directing, lighting, United Media Multicam, editing, Excalibur


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