One camera or two
Lately, I’ve been shooting a lot of two-camera theatre shoots, which used to be quite rare because they were too expensive. Guess what! They are still pretty expensive, because they can be a lot of work!
The choice to go with 2 cameras is one that warrants a bit of discussion between the videographer and the client. Here are some helpful things to think about.
First off, if you’re considering bringing in a second camera, you have a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do I have room in my budget for this? It may seem that a two-camera shoot should cost double a single-camera shoot. This is not always the case, especially if you are wanting the two videos edited together for you. The added amount of time in post-production can be a considerable expense.
- Do I want a second, unmanned camera? A way to cut down on costs is to throw a camera up on a wide to capture everything. This is not really useful if (A) the subject moves in and out of the frame, or (B) there are drastic changes in the lighting of the piece (because auto exposure is the worst thing). A lot of inherent risk is involved. I can’t always bounce between two cameras easily in a packed house, so if a camera shuts off/gets knocked, sometimes I don’t even know about it until after the shoot is over.
- Do I really need two cameras? If your end goal is to have documentation of the show for future remounts or for funding applications, one camera is all that is expected. The extra camera is definitely nice, though! I would say that if you are hoping to tour with the show, a second camera gives potential presenters a more clear idea of how the audience experiences it. If you have a lot of movement across the stage (using the farthest corners), the camera will need to be in a wide to catch it, but if you want to see the performers’ faces clearly, too, we gotta get that second camera in there.
As I see it….
- Security. If one camera gets bumped, or the image goes out of focus, or (heaven forbid) the battery dies mid-shoot (it does happen), you have coverage from the other angle.
- Production Value. A 2-camera edit shows dedication to quality. It prevents people from having to squint at pixels to see details.
- “Rewrites”. We can cover up errors in the performance, as we can more easily cut out a line flub or misstep with a cut to another angle or close-up that cuts it out of the frame. I’ve even taken whole sections of someone’s stand-up comedy performance and moved them to later on in the show. It’s a way of rewriting what actually happened.
- Close-ups. Often, I shoot dance or theatre, and the use of space/whole-body movement needs to be document. With a second camera angle, you can see those close-up moments you desire. When you watch a show, you are able to experience the fullness of space WHILE focusing in on details like facial expressions, but the camera can only show you what’s in the frame.
- Pacing. Editing can echo the pacing of a show or even improve upon it. Sometimes, when there is a moment in a performance that hangs too long in the air, a cut to another angle can reveal subtle details that provide interest (that would be missed in a wide shot). If a scene becomes frantic or violent, quicker edits can further emphasize this change of pace. Editing can make a bad show good and a good show greater.
- Cost. You are paying for: two cameras, two tripods, two camera operators, and time spend capturing, editing, converting, and burning, as well as any material (DVD, hard drive storage) costs.
- Seats. This depends on the theatre. You’re probably used to blocking off seats for a single camera operation. Be prepared to block off more! If you sell out your house, this could be seen as an extra cost, since those seats cannot be sold. And don’t push us or the venue technicians too much – fire regulations dictate where we can and cannot set up in the house.
- Distraction. Having many video cameras can be distracting in the house. Then again, it could also contribute to an air of excitement for the event. So, a con/pro combo!
- Slower turnaround. You’ll have to wait for those 2 angles to be edited, or use the wide in the interim. Patience is a virtue!
- Simple. Setup is easy. Few seats taken up, more flexible to move in house and find a spot.
- Flexible. Can zoom in to get occasional close-ups if desired, but often stays wide on whole bodies of performers, sometimes going extra wide to show use of set/space.
- Elegant. When done right, a single camera angle shoot can be amazing. The camera can feel like it’s dancing along with a dancer (I like to shoot as if the camera is just a half-step behind the dancer, so that each change of direction feels even bigger), or being moved by an actor’s emotion (maybe I will zoom out when an actor starts talking about bigger topics than the storyline or zoom in when it becomes an intensely personal monologue). That said, this kind of magical shooting is not always in the cards for every performance.
- Fast turnaround. For me to capture and build a DVD of one of these puppies is much faster than having to edit the whole thing.
- Lack of coverage. Battery dies, or someone trips over a cable, or operator accidentally bumps the camera, or someone decides to stand up in front of the lens in the middle of a performance? A million things can go wrong, and they can all be featured in your video.
- Illusions. Without other angles to cut to, illusions can be created or destroyed. This is sometimes intended by the show. Maybe there is a dance line down the centre with cool arm movements – if I am shooting from dead centre, the illusion is completely effective, but if I’m off to the side (which is sometimes necessary, depending on the theatre and seating situation), we see something very different. If I’m shooting from a corner, I often will find actors blocking one another (not an illusion, just a problem). Lighting can create illusions, too (especially when dancers are lit with shins only to create the illusion that there is no floor – panning with the dancer is super disorienting, because it’s hard to see them travel). It’s better in these cases to have other angles to explain the illusion or to properly hide any explanation.
- Too wide. Sometimes movement spans the entire stage. I will usually shoot it all, even if there is someone at the centre doing a solo bit that is SUPER important, because most often I’m shooting for archival purposes only (so we need to know what corps member 22 is doing on stage as well as the principle). But we certainly do lose out on seeing details.
- Inability to edit. Something goes wrong on stage? That may be hard to trim out without that other angle to cut to. If you want to take clips and make it into a promotional/highlight video, the video may feel “flat” with only the one angle.
If you’re thinking about getting a two-camera shoot for your next performance, I hope that you take these pros and cons into account.