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Diagram showing a multicamera setup.

The multiple-camera setup, or multiple-camera mode of production, is a method of shooting films and television programs. Several cameras—either film or video—are employed on the set and simultaneously record or/and broadcast a scene. It is often contrasted with the single-camera setup, which uses just one camera on the set.

Generally, the two outer cameras shoot close shots or "crosses" of the two most active characters on the set at any given time, while the central camera or cameras shoot a wider master shot to capture the overall action and establish the geography of the room. In this way, multiple shots are obtained in a single take without having to start and stop the action. This is more efficient for programs that are to be shown a short time after being shot as it reduces the time spent editing the footage. It is also a virtual necessity for regular, high-output shows like daily soap operas. Apart from saving editing time, scenes may be shot far more quickly as there is no need for re-lighting and the set-up of alternate camera angles for the scene to be shot again from the different angle. It also reduces the complexity of tracking continuity issues that crop up when the scene is reshot from the different angles. It is also vital for live television.

While shooting, the director and assistant director create a line cut by instructing the technical director to switch the feed to various cameras. In the case of sitcoms with studio audiences, this line cut is typically displayed to them on studio monitors. The line cut may later be refined in editing, as the picture from all cameras is recorded, both separately and as a combined reference display called the q­ split. The camera currently being recorded to the line cut is indicated by a tally light on the camera as a reference both for the actors and the camera operators.

History and use

The use of multiple video cameras to cover a scene goes back to the earliest days of television; three cameras were used to broadcast The Queen's Messenger in 1928, the first drama performed for television.[1] The BBC and NBC routinely used multiple cameras for their live television shows from 1936 onward.[2]

Although it is often claimed that the film version of the multiple-camera setup was pioneered for television by Desi Arnaz and cinematographer Karl Freund on I Love Lucy in 1951, other filmed television shows had already used it, including another comedy on CBS, The Amos 'n Andy Show, which was filmed at the Hal Roach Studios and was on the air four months earlier. The technique was developed for television by Hollywood short-subject veteran Jerry Fairbanks, assisted by producer-director Frank Telford, and first seen on the anthology series The Silver Theater, another CBS program, in February 1950.[3] Desilu's innovation was to film with a multiple-camera setup before a live studio audience.

The multiple-camera mode of production gives the director less control over each shot, but is faster and less expensive than a single-camera setup. In television, multiple-camera is commonly used for sports programs, soap operas, talk shows, game shows, and some sitcoms. Multiple cameras can take different shots of a live situation as the action unfolds chronologically and is compatible with events that have a live audience. For this reason multiple camera productions can be filmed or taped much faster than single camera. Single camera productions are shot in takes and various setups with components of the action repeated several times and out of sequence; the action is not enacted chronologically so is unsuitable for viewing by a live audience.

Sitcoms shot with the multiple camera setup include nearly all of Lucille Ball's TV properties, as well as Mary Kay and Johnny, The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Three's Company, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, and Friends. Many American sitcoms from the 1950s to the 1970s were shot using the single camera mode of production, including The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Get Smart, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan's Island, Hogan's Heroes, and The Brady Bunch. These did not have a live studio audience and by being shot single-camera, tightly edited sequences could be featured, along with multiple locations, and visual effects such as magical appearances and disappearances and actors playing doppelgangers appearing on screen together could be created. This would not have been feasible with a multiple camera production. The majority of British sitcoms from the 1950s onwards would usually be filmed with four cameras and a live audience, one of the earliest being Hancock's Half Hour, however, unlike American sitcoms, these would be broadcast live[4]

While the multiple-camera format dominated in the 1970s and 1980s, there has been a recent revival of the single-camera format with programs such as Malcolm in the Middle (2000–2006), Scrubs (2001–), My Name Is Earl (2005–2009), The Office (2005-), 30 Rock (2006-) and Samantha Who? (2007-2009).

Television prime-time dramas are usually shot using a single-camera setup. Between the 1950s and the early 1990s, many BBC and ITV drama series and serials in the UK, were recorded primarily using the multi-camera setup, but the late 1990s, as technology advanced and video cameras became more portable soap operas were left as the the only TV drama being made in the UK using multiple cameras. Most films also use the single-camera setup. In recent decades larger Hollywood films have begun to use more than one camera on-set, usually with two cameras simultaneously filming the same setup, however this is not a true multicamera setup in the television sense. Sometimes feature films will run multiple cameras, perhaps four or five, for large, expensive and difficult-to-repeat special effects shots, such as large explosions. Again, this is not a true multicamera setup in the television sense as the resultant footage will not always be arranged sequentially in editing, and multiple shots of the same explosion may be repeated in the final film — either for artistic effect or because the different shots are taken from different angles they can appear to be different explosions to the audience.

The choice of single-camera or multiple-camera setups is made separately from the choice of film or video. That is, either setup can be shot on either film or video.


  1. ^ "The Queen's Messenger", at Early Television Foundation and Museum. The first drama performed for British television was Pirandello’s play The Man With the Flower in His Mouth in 1930, using a single camera. Richard G. Elen, "Baird versus the BBC", at Baird: The Birth of Television.
  2. ^ "The Alexandra Palace TV Station", at Early Television Foundation and Museum. "The Birth of Live Entertainment and Music on Television, November 6, 1936", at History "Telecasting a Play", New York Times, March 10, 1940, p. 163.
  3. ^ "Flight to the West?" Time, March 6, 1950.
  4. ^

See also



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