Any actor who wants to work in television needs to know and understand the differences between multi-cam and single-cam. With COVID-19, growing measures are being put in place by productions to make sure that you, the cast and crew, are safe. Productions are looking at filming more efficiently, and the use of multi-cam is quickly growing in popularity.
The first thing you need to know about multi-cam, if you have not already guessed yet, is that you have multiple cameras on set filming all the action live. The centre camera will usually film the master shot (a wide, establishing shot showing all the actors and their locations within the set) and the other cameras to the left and right will be filming the mediums and/or close-ups for the reaction shots on the actors.
The biggest advantage is that continuity becomes less of an issue for actors. Multi-cam isn’t limited to sit-com, and actively used by big-screen directors such as James Cameron and Ridley Scott, who famously used up to eight cameras at a time on ‘The Martian’. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski said “It’s knowing where to place them. We shot ‘The Martian’ in 72 days. Normally it would be 100 to 110”. Here the use of multi-cam improved efficiency of filming and allowed any action sequences to be captured in one go giving the editor unlimited options without having to debate continuity.
With multi-cam it is good to think of your scene as one continuous shot. Each take will usually be from the very start of the scene right up to the end, which is why stage actors usually handle multi-cam without any issues! With single-cam, takes can be a bit stop-and-start where the crew may decide to ‘pick-up’ halfway through the scene. Other shots may become unusable or “dead” during a scene (for example, the actors have moved out of frame to cross over to a different part of the set that the camera can’t see) which leads to the director calling for early cuts. Not having to always shoot the full scene from each angle saves a lot of time and money, allowing the camera to move to the next set-up a lot quicker but does impede the actors performance if they’re not adept to it.
With multi-cam, cutting a take early is a rarity as cameras still have usable coveragewhere they’re able to move mid-take and find a new set-up for a better angle. By introducing more than one rolling camera, actors should learn to be more dynamic in their movement and it’s critical they’re comfortable with hitting marks accurately. When the crew run a camera rehearsal, it’s the actors job to find the right lens at the right time without masking another camera or their co-star.
Some of the most well-known multi-cam shows that are still loved to this day are Friends, EastEnders, Coronation Street, Everybody Loves Raymond and Fuller House.
Single-cam shows tend to have longer production schedules to allow more time for filming and for allowing actors to do multiple takes for just one scene. It can be easier for actors because any mistakes during takes can be edited out and stitched back together with other takes. To get a better understanding of this, think of how movies are shot. It is highly unlikely that they are filmed in one continuous shot (unless you’re Roger Deakins filming 1917 but that’s an exception.)
Script Formats, Ever Changing Dialogue & Filming out of sequence.
Using sitcoms as an example, scripts for the single-cam shows are written in a standard form, similar to film scripts. With multi-cam, scripts tend to have double-spacing between lines, allowing more room for annotations by the director. It is not unusual for multi-cam shows to make changes to the script while on-set just before shooting a scene. The extra spacing between lines on the script lets cast and crew to add the new dialogue and any additional notes they may want to add. It also gives the crew space to include any cues for moving a camera or a boom microphone on specific lines.
With continuous drama shows like EastEnders, scripts are often changing to the second and it’s vital actors are comfortable with adapting to these sometimes huge storyline changes on the day. On our upcoming multi-cam course, BBC director Richard Lynn will be exposing you to these curveballs on the day of filming and teaching you the best ways to react quickly.
It’s beneficial to know your scripts formats so you can be prepared for the type of filming you may encounter. With fast-paced productions like EastEnders and Coronation Street, actors are required to understand their character’s continuity between episodes, which are often filmed out of sequence. Actors are required to be a ‘text-detective’ by connecting the dots between scenes you may not have even read yet. Learning to perform out of sequence, yet still deliver a convincing character journey is something that takes great practice and again can be experienced on our upcoming multi-cam course.
Locations and sets
TV multi-cam productions mostly operate on the same sets, which we call ‘fixed sets’. They are used in almost every episode of a TV show to create a sense of realism and familiarity. Single-cam shows will often have a bigger budget and therefore have more set locations than a multi-cam show. There is a lot more content to get through with multi-cam, which is why everything is so fast paced.
If you want to learn more about acting in soap opera and sitcom, join television director Richard Lynn who has directed the UK’s top soap stars in over 100 episodes of BBC’s EastEnders. Get the opportunity to work alongside Richard and take advantage of his directorial experience with multi-cam in this unique chance to bring your performance skills to screen and undertake the challenge of playing to more than one camera.