TV/FILM PRODUCTION NOTES
text by Prof. Mark A. Hauck
The producer is an individual who develops and orchestrates TV or film productions from start to finish. This can be a very broadly interpreted title within the industry, but typically, they are the people who organize all the creative and business elements to ensure the smooth completion of the production.
The 3 phases of production are
At the beginning of the semester, students, in the role as producers are in pre-production. This is the conceiving and planning of the television program. Every program begins with an idea that is developed into a program topic. The program topic is the basic premise or subject of the program. Although an entertainment program like Seinfeld likes to advertise itself as a show about nothing, it is in fact, always about something, whether a certain episode’s topic about the problems of maintaining relationships or dealing with meddlesome parents. The program topic of a network expose on politics is rather clear-cut to an audience. Little explanation is required here, except during pre-production when the idea for the program is being pitched to the executives who will green light, or approve the production.
During the pre-production phase, the producers brainstorm and decide what resources they would need to produce the program. Who is going to be in the program? What will they talk about? How much is it going to cost to produce the program? How much time will I need to rehearse the talent? What will the technical crew be responsible for? What will be needed to be shot and edited before the show taping? When those questions, among others, are answered, then they are ready write a script. The script is the blueprint for the program. Think of it as an architectural plan. Without a solid and well-organized script, the show will be poorly executed. For the purposes of this class, students will be asked to notate on their scripts the program purpose. The program purpose of a Seinfeld episode could be “to entertain by exposing the pitfalls of dating the opposite sex.” The program purpose of a documentary type program on the History Channel could be “to inform and educate the audience about the key events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.”
Every show that is produced for television is targeted to a particular audience. Target demographics are aimed at gender and age group. A show like “Will and Grace” is targeted at males and females 18-49. NFL football programs are targeted at exclusively male audiences between the ages 25-54, which is also known as the “money demographic,” because advertisers have determined that this is the age group with the most disposable income. This why you see so many commercial spots for cars, vans, and other so-called toys that men like to buy in their free time. Programming found on the Lifetime network caters directly to an exclusively female audience of 18-49, with the abundance of highly dramatic stories dealing with families and relationships under duress. The products being marketed during a program on Lifetime are strikingly different from the products being showcased on an “NFL Sunday” type program. Think of “Palmolive vs. Budweiser.”
With the advent of cable and now satellite TV, the concept of niche programming was create to serve narrowly defined audience demographics. Satellite distribution revolutionized the way programming is conceived and sold to advertisers. Cable pioneers like TBS, CNN, MTV, ESPN, and yes, even the Weather Channel, proved that niche programming could attract audiences and interest advertisers. As is still the practice, cable distributors like Comcast are charged a percentage of their subscriber fees for every cable network they carry, based on audience size. Prior to cable and satellite TV, audience assessment was less complex. Each of the Big Three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) that “owned” every TV viewer in the country up to the 1980s were not remarkably different in programming variety. In the estimation of the advertising business, programming is the hook to draw attention to the products on display in the commercial spots.
The script format used in this class is the two- column or documentary format. This used because we tape our programs live in the studio with three cameras. If we were shooting all of our projects with just one camera film style, we would be using a single-column film-style script.
Script samples are available for study on my homepage. It may be helpful to have a script sample copy to look at during this portion of the lecture.
The left column of the documentary format contains all the video directions and cues. Camera shots, video transitions, and shot elements are notated here. They are listed in sequential order in relation to the audio directions, audio cues, and dialogue notated in the right column. All our programs begin and end in a standard format that includes and opening graphic or title, with theme music, which then leads to a cueing of a host. Students will be expected to follow this format, as doing so will reinforce an organized fundamental approach to producing a TV program. If you were watch any TV show that’s taped live, you’ll note that they begin and end pretty much the same way. TV shows always end with credits and some kind of theme music that is appropriate for the topic of the show. A show like X FILES would not seem the same if you used Mozart for the theme music. Likewise, a kids’ show like Telly Tubbies would not work if a RATM tune were used as a theme song. This is an extreme exaggeration to reinforce the notion that the right music is important for any show.
The production phase of the TV program begins on the day of taping. The cast and crew are assembled to rehearse and tape a show. Anxiety and apprehension will be high, but that is to be expected. Even the cast and crew of SNL still get the same jittery feeling every week just prior to the first minute of the show being broadcast to millions of people. What will greatly diminish one’s anxiety level is to be as prepared as possible. In most productions of live TV, such as the Academy Awards show, ample time is allotted for rehearsals.
Typically, the postproduction phase commences after the taping of the show on location or in the studio. In COM 3210, postproduction occurs earlier when the producers edit the video clips to be included during the final production. In the broadcast television industry, if something went wrong or if the show ran longer than its intended length, the producers could later edit out any offending material or shorten the show to the exact desired length.
We are going to use our studio camera to model the parts of the camera you should be familiar with. The central part of the camera is the camera head, which contains a majority of the electronic circuitry to control the vast number of functions a video camera can execute.
The lens is essentially a metal tube comprised of ground glass disks engineered to operate in tandem to produce photographic type effects like focusing and zooming. The lenses come in a variety of focal lengths and are interchangeable on most pro models.
The viewfinder is a very tiny 5” television monitor sitting on top of the camera head. It allows the operator to monitor what the lens is capturing now. Viewfinders like this one are used primarily for studio style production when multiple cameras are covering a live event and mixing the images in real time. This is the opposite of single camera film style.
The tripod is the three-legged base that supports the camera components. Tripods are made of aluminum tubing and lightweight plastic and are crucial to ensuring a steady well-composed camera shot.
Dolly wheels can be attached to the feet of a tripod, permitting the tripod to move about easily on a studio floor.
A CCD is an acronym that you do not need to know what each letter stands for. You do need to know that a CCD is an electronic chip that processes image information captured by the lens. The best cameras have three chips to record the holy trinity of additive TV color:
RGB: Red Green Blue
Actually, its magenta (red), cyan (blue) and green, but simply RGB is fine for now.
Aspect ratio in TV relates to the dimensions of the signal displayed on TV monitors.
4:3 is a ratio expressed simply as 4 parts to 3 parts. The TV that you grew up with had a screen that was 4 parts wide and 3 parts in height.
NTSC has been the broadcast engineering standard for television since the 1940s. It borrowed the 4:3 or 1.33:1 aspect ratio from pre-widescreen Hollywood. Federal law decrees that the HDTV broadcast engineering standard will replace NTSC during this decade. The aspect ratio of a HDTV screen is 16:9 or 1.79:1. What does that mean to you? Not a big deal in the level of production you are working on now. Many digital cameras used today allow the user to capture images in both 4:3 or a method that imitates the 16:9 aspect ratio.
Framing and proper shot composition is crucial to an aesthetically correct television program. Here are the 4 basic shots you need to know for this class.
The Close Up shot frames the talent from around the subject’s neck area to around the top of the forehead. This shot is used in certain interview and dramatic situations. More is revealed about the talent or the subject in this shot.
The Medium Close Up frames the talent from around mid chest to the top of the head. This shot is also known as the talking head, as that is what fills up the frame. This shot is perfect for inserting character generator information in the lower third of the frame, as shown here.
The Medium Shot frames the talent from around the waist to the top of the head. This shot is used in demonstration shows where equal parts of the talent, props, and the set need to be seen on screen.
The Long Shot frames the talent from the feet to the top of the head. There are instances where the framing of a Long Shot can exceed the top of the talent’s head to include important information behind them, such as a stationary building or some activity like a sporting event.
Headroom is the tiny bit of space allowed between the top of the talent’s head to the upper horizontal edge of the camera frame. Certain shots look awkward of there is not enough headroom.
Nose room is allowing enough space in front of the talent’s face in the shot. The viewer needs a psychological clue as to where the talent is looking. Generally, if the talent is looking stage right, their head is positioned a bit more to the right side of the frame. The opposite is also true.
Lead (leed) room follows the same principle and is applied to physical movement in any direction. If a person or object were moving from left to right in the camera frame, then they would be positioned closer to the left side of the frame. As before, the opposite is also true.
The XYZ axis borrows its name from the advanced algebraic principle of plotting points in three dimensions. All the camera movements (or transitions) you will learn (pan, tilt, zoom) fall into the XYZ axis.
The Pan is a movement along the horizontal or Y-axis. This is performed by gripping the tripod handles and swiveling the camera left and right.
The Tilt is a movement along the vertical or X-axis. This is performed by again, gripping the tripod handles and swiveling them up and down.
Whenever panning and tilting, make sure that the Pan Lock and the Tilt Locks are open.
The Zoom is a movement along the Z-axis. The camera does not have to be moved. The lens provides the movement, or in reality, the illusion of movement. The lens is also controlled mechanically by the zoom servo mounted on the tripod handle. Tiny gears work together to move the series of lenses inside the tubular enclosure. This creates the zoom effect, the illusion of bringing the subject to the viewer.
Focusing technique for any camera operator is very simple and essential.
The camera operator hears the Director’s command and frames the shot. Next, they zoom in on the main subject as far as the zoom lens will permit. The camera operator can adjust the focus until the subject is sharp. Then, they zoom out to the shot they want. Now, if they want to zoom in to change their shot, the subject will stay in an acceptable focus range throughout. Lighting conditions play a big part in this as well.
White balancing is a video camera’s method of electronically setting the proper balance of color in the image. To complete this process you will need a somewhat flat and reflective white surface. The video camera lens takes a reading of the present lighting conditions reflecting off the white surface and sends that data to the camera’s “brain” for processing. Why? In the color spectrum, which we will discuss later, all color wavelength (remember ROY G. BIV?) blended together creates white light. For a video camera to decide how it should set its own colors, it needs to examine the entire color spectrum present. This is discussed further in the next section.
All light in the universe is a series of electronic pulses similar to radio waves or microwaves from your oven. All light has, among many other things, a color temperature measured on the Kelvin scale. However, this scale has nothing to do with measuring how hot or cold something is.
In order to measure any kind of temperature, we need a scale to measure it. Three temperature scales are used today. The Celsius scale (°C) is used in most of the world to measure air temperatures. In the USA, the Fahrenheit scale (°F) is used to measure temperatures at, or near, the surface.
The Kelvin (°K) scale is used by scientists and for astronomical temperatures. This would also include light from manufactured sources (light bulbs) as well as from natural ones (stars).
Recalling ROY G. BIV would be helpful in remembering color temperatures of different light sources. Ranked from “warmer” to “cooler” color temperature are as follows:
Studio light of the type that is in the VU TV studio is measured at 3200 degrees K. This color wavelength exists in the red end of the color spectrum. Incandescent light bulbs used in the home are in this wavelength. Tungsten is the metal from which light filaments on the red side of the spectrum are constructed. Tungsten emits a constant color temperature.
Going up the scale, the next light source to be aware of is fluorescent light. Fluorescent light is odd because the majority of the bulbs found in public use contained a mixture of different electrically charged gasses, each with their own color temperature. The video camera reads this, becomes confused by the conflicting data, and defaults to a setting that lies closer to the “safe middle” of the spectrum, where the “ugly” green resides. Ugly only in the sense that certain video footage shot under standard fluorescent light tends to have an unnatural looking greenish cast. This is approx. 4500 degrees K. There are more expensive professional photography grade fluorescent light bulbs with more stable color temperatures used in the TV and film industry.
Direct sunlight reaches in to the blue end of the color spectrum at 5600 degrees K. The light waves from the sun have a direct shot from the upper atmosphere to the surface of the earth. That is, unless there are cloud layers present.
Cloudy days can increase the color temperature of sunlight to 10,000 degrees K. Clouds act like mirrors and bounce the light waves from the sun around like crazy, especially when more cloud-cover is present.
The grid is the network of steel pipe and braces on which TV studios hang lights, or lamps, as they are commonly called in the industry.
A lamp is very simple in design. A metal housing contains a bulb rated anywhere from 100 to 1000 watts. The bulb can be exposed or housed behind a glass lens.
The most versatile light on a studio grid is the fresnel, (frah-NELL) named after the 19th century French physicist Augustin Fresnel, who researched how light waves can refracted by ground glass disks. Fresnel’s work led to the development of a lens with concentric grooves cut into each glass lens. This specially engineered lens allows the light to either be tightly focused on an area or widely diffused by adjusting a control.
A broad is a lamp that diffuses light into wide areas. It is especially useful as a fill light, which we will discuss later. A broad is a lamp that typically has no lens or covering, unless someone in the studio crew affixes a gel or a scrim in front of the bulb for a special effect.
A scoop is like a broad, except instead of being rectangular shaped, it is round. Other than that, its functionality is similar.
A spotlight is like a fresnel, but it uses a series of lenses to create the tight focus/diffusion effect with the light. In many studios, spots are used for special lighting effects.
Gels are heat resistant plastic sheets. They come in all colors and are usually mounted in frames and affixed to studio lamps with the proper mounting hardware.
A studio dimmer board, a.k.a. the light board, controls all the studio lamps. The dimmers raise or lower the intensities of the lights on the studio grid.
The “point” of 3 Point or Triangular Lighting is to create the illusion of three dimensions on a flat two dimensional screen. Light and shadow work in tandem to create this illusion.
Key light is the main component. It hits the talent at an approx. 45-degree angle from their downstage side, preferably. Fresnels are best used for key lighting, as they are able to provide a near pinpoint beam of light anywhere on the stage.
To balance the sharpness of the key light, a fill light from the upstage direction hits the talent at the same 45-degree angle, but at about half the intensity. The fill light’s function is to soften the shadows created by the key light. It also adds to the enhancement of the 3D effect. A fresnel or a broad can be used as a fill light.
Directly behind the talent is the back light. It hits the back of the head at approx. 45-degree angle and spills off onto the shoulders. Back light separates the talent from the background, enhancing the 3D effect. Fresnels work best as back lights.
Those are the basic three. You need to be familiar with one more.
A background light illuminates the set area and/or a cyclorama. Any type of lamp will do. Broads work the best.
Gels and patterned metal disks called cookies can be used with lights to create shapes and color schemes. Thousands of dollars could easily be spent building sets, so careful considerations are made when lighting them properly.
MICROPHONES AND SOUND
You should be familiar with the two main types of microphones used in TV production.
These two groups encompass a wide variety of similar and divergent characteristics, but for your purposes, you only need to know these basics Ľ.
Dynamic microphones are sturdy and very shock resistant. They are best utilized for remote productions. You can drop them on the floor and most cases; they will not be damaged to the extent that they will not work at all. Because of this rugged design, they are not as sensitive to the subtleties of sound waves like condenser microphones. The handheld microphones that are included with our camcorder kits are dynamic microphones.
Condenser microphones are fragile and very sensitive, so they are best utilized in the studio environment. They are engineered more elaborately than dynamic microphones. If dropped on the floor, the mics would likely be damaged. Our lavaliere lapel and boom microphones are condensers.
Microphones can be further broken down into smaller classifications. Pick up pattern is feature of all microphones that are used in TV production.
A cardiod (a.k.a. directional, or unidirectional) microphone is one that picks up audio waves from one direction only. The word cardioid is derived from the Greek work cardiac, or heart shaped.
An omni-directional microphone is just what it says. The pick up pattern includes all directions away from the microphone. This microphone is useful for recording in areas where there is a lot to cover.
Lavaliere microphones take their name from a French word for a type of pendant that hangs around the neck, as that is what they best resembled when they were introduced in the 1950s. In later decades, clips and tie pins replaced the obtrusive cord around the neck. Lavalieres, like any microphone, must be correctly placed or clipped to the talent to ensure a clear sound signal.
Handheld microphones are used for musical performers and programs being produced on a very large theatrical type stage. In recent years, headsets have replaced handheld microphones. Handheld microphones are also used extensively in news production.
Boom microphones are used in certain applications where complex audio requirements have been planned for a production. This type of microphone is perfect for production where the talent cannot hold or wear a microphone, or where it is very noisy. This type of microphone is used primarily in the film, documentary, and news industries.
Microphones can be hard wired or connected with XLR cables or use wireless technology. The lavaliere lapel microphones we use in the TV studio are wireless only. The part you clip to your belts are little radio transmitters that send the audio signal to little receivers under the console in the control room.
We have wireless handheld microphones for the studio for extra large
productions. Handheld microphones can be wired or wireless
in our studio.
Choosing wired vs. wireless must be suited to the needs of the production. If taping in areas subject to lots of radio frequency (RF) interference, then wireless microphones will be problematic.
There are microphones to record every type of sound under any condition, extreme or otherwise, known to humankind. However, in order to be heard, they must be plugged into an audio mixer.
The audio mixer routes any sound source, whether it be a microphone, CD player, or a videotape deck. The signal from the mixer can be sent to different destinations, such as the studio monitor or the program VTR.
See the schematic diagram of the Mackie 1604 on my homepage. The faders control the volume of the sound coming and going out of the mixer. They must all be in proper balance to avoid problem like feedback and over modulation.
Feedback occurs when open microphones are too close to audio monitors, and the open microphones pick up and repeat the sound coming out of the audio monitor. An unwanted loop of sound is created inadvertently. A loud ear-piercing squeal is a sure indicator that feedback is present.
Over modulation occurs when a few things possibly are happening. A microphone is too close to the sound source. A fader on the audio mixer is not adjusted properly and it is permitting the signal to break up.
The TV studio’s Character Generator (CG) is a video typewriter that allows us to create and insert graphics into the program feed. We have a choice of fonts, colors, backgrounds, and other effects. It is set up with a standard QWERTY keyboard and a vast array of edit menus for all the different features.
The video switcher routes all the video signals on the same principle the audio mixer employs. There are two buses or rows of buttons on the video switcher…
Every video source is on the preview bus and the program bus. Think of the video signals going through the program bus (hence the term program feed) as what is going out on the air or what is being recorded on a VTR.
Think of the preview bus as the next video source to which you can transition. If you are going to transition using a dissolve or a wipe, you need to use both busses. To transition using cuts only, the preview bus is not required. Each bus has its own video monitor on the control room console.
You can transition between busses with the fader bar or the PLAY button, which, when pressed, serves as an auto run feature.
The transition menu contains literally hundreds of video transitions that can be selected.
The “basic three” are
All 500 transitions on our video switcher are basic derivations of the above.
All shows begin and end in a Federal engineering signal standard called 7.5 IRE black. For our purposes, we will just call it black. A Director would call for a fade from black at the beginning of a show and a fade to black at the end, or anytime commercial breaks are to be inserted later.
The video switcher keys or mattes one image over another image. Our character generator has a built in chroma key feature that processes the program feed downstream from the video switcher.
A cut is an instantaneous transition similar to the blinking of an eye. Perspective and tempo can shifted with the use of a cut transition. It is the most basic transition in all the visual media. It traces a direct line to the primitive film editors from 90 years ago who glued together pieces of nitrate film stock. Since the advent of MTV, cutting from shot to shot has become far more rapid in TV and films. You have mostly likely absorbed billions of cut transitions in the time you have been watching TV or films. A 3-minute music video can easily have hundreds of cuts or other transitions.
The dissolve is an overlapping of one shot over another. In TV and film, it is used to indicate psychologically a passage of time, especially in fictional narratives. The staging of musical pieces can be enhanced by using the dissolve as the primary transition.
Wipes are used to show simultaneous action taking place elsewhere and make useful scene transitions in comedies and dramas. Picture in Picture (PIP) is an often used form of wipe that mixes two windows of real time video.
VTR stands for video tape recorder. It is named to differentiate from the consumer level videocassette recorder. Use of the acronym VTR indicates a more professional level tape deck. While better consumer grade VCRs range from $100-300, our studio grade VTRs range from $4000-5000.
The record and playback the program feed from the video switcher and the character generator.
The TV studio can import/export video to digital or analog format. What are they?
Digital formats the TV studio supports:
Analog formats the TV studio supports:
Props (or properties) are physical objects used in the program, such as the pots and pans used on Food Network shows.
The Cyclorama or Cyc (sike) is the flame retardant curtain that adorns the walls of our studio. It is mounted to drape runner styled tracks and moved around easily. Cycs come in many colors and can be used as backgrounds for chroma or luminance keying.