The rise of streaming devices is undeniable. And this has given television shows even more of an impact in our everyday lives. With so much variety in content, there is a myriad of shows for viewers to choose from.
One of the biggest ways in which television shows are distinguished from one another is the camera setup. In other words, the tone and production style of a show varies greatly depending on the way in which the show or sitcom is shot.
Understanding this distinction is integral for the writing process. So if you’re working on developing a show, you’ll want to know the number of cameras set up.
The angle that will most often be used and the technique employed will also help you best introduce these newfound characters.
So let’s begin by delving into the inner workings of a single camera comedy.
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Single Camera Sitcom
A single camera sitcom or television show is shot with a single camera. Pretty straight-forward definition, right?
But this is not to say that only one camera is being used to film overall. There might be multiple cameras on set. But the look of the show will always remain from one perspective.
Some examples of single camera comedies include shows like The Office, New Girl, Superstore, or Modern Family. Starting to get the idea?
Each of these shows is a sitcom filmed with single camera setups. They do not have a live audience to witness or have an added laugh track here and there. But this is not to say that there aren’t single camera dramas either.
Shows like Barry, Transparent, and Casual all exist within the realm of single camera drama. And, of course, there are also single camera shows that exist within the 60-minute drama realm. Think of Law & Order or Friday Night Lights.
Essentially, the single camera format allows for more exploration. And a writer can easily fluctuate between writing a sitcom or hour-long drama.
Because of this, single camera comedies have become increasingly popular within the last 10 years. Additionally, a single camera setup is very much like that of a feature film.
There is a dedicated crew and built sets to film in that vary from location to location. And this allows writers to explore beyond the confines of a soundstage setup.
Multi Camera Television Shows
When you think of typical television sitcoms, you are likely conjuring the visual of a multi camera setup. These kinds of programs are shot in front of a live studio audience. And they are filmed on the same set over and over again.
The multiple camera format of these shows also films the action of the scene with about three or four cameras. And all of these cameras are running at the exact same time.
Typically, these cameras are spread all around the set to capture different angles of the same moment. If you’re still having trouble picturing what multi camera sitcoms look like, think about shows like Friends or Big Bang Theory.
Interestingly, all shows in the early days of television were shot with a multi camera setup. But as television evolved, dramas took on a single camera approach while sitcoms remained firmly as multi camera productions.
Now that you know the differences between these two production styles, you might be wondering what the benefits are of each.
Should I Use A Single or Multi Camera Production Style?
You might be a writer just getting started or a director about to embark on your first shoot. If you are, it’s important to take into account the differences present between these two styles.
Below are some of the biggest distinctions between the two. Hopefully, these can help you consider what feels like it will work best for you.
#1. Production Schedule
Single camera television shows tend to require more time in regards to filming. Because there is only one camera perspective involved, there needs to be a more generous time allotment. This allows for more takes of the same scene.
This kind of production schedule is also good for the actors and writers. This way, they each have the opportunity to explore character more ultimately enhancing the entertainment value.
Rather than having to get everything jam-packed and finished within a day’s work, single camera productions can search to find the perfect blend of genres to meet the story’s needs.
On the other hand, multi camera shows can be filmed within a single day. Heck, an entire episode can be filmed within only a few hours. Because of this, multi camera shows are also significantly less expensive to produce.
With a multiple camera setup, multiple takes can be captured all at the same time and from different points of perspective. This makes for many more options during the editing process.
And the actors can easily feed off of the energy of the live audience. Sometimes, this element even helps them to deliver their performances more quickly.
#2. Number of Locations
Single camera sitcoms might have smaller production crews. But this only allows for the crew to film more exterior shots and in more locations.
Because the number of locales increases with single camera setups, writers are also able to explore even more. They can set up a character in a new environment and allow the audience to learn from their reactions.
The point of a single camera shoot is not to make for an exorbitant amount of locations. But the option still stands should the director and writer want to go that route.
Alternatively, multi camera shows tend to have a couple of standing sets. This might include a cafe, apartment living room, or workplace environment.
These spaces are where the majority of the action is filmed. Thus, they are called fixed sets since they are used in most episodes of the show as a whole.
We all know the iconic “Central Perk” from Friends. In fact, you can even visit the famous couch itself at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
The limited options for filming locations in multi camera productions can make for a comforting experience for the audience. They get to know these spaces over a long period of time.
This is often what makes a show feel like home. whether for the viewers, actors, or both, fixed sets can be both predictable and familiar.
Additionally, multi camera sitcoms also use swing sets. Swing sets are less frequently used standing sets. They can be quickly set up to make for an easier filming schedule.
Think about a time a character goes to the laundry mat or the doctor’s office. You know, the kind that affirms the audience that these characters have varied lives outside of the apartment that they dwell?
With swing sets’ easy setup and takedown, production crews can remain on schedule. And that kind of promptness is truly something that cannot be overstated.
As the old adage goes in Hollywood, “time is money.” Thus any set that can limit the amount of time taken to setup and takedown is a godsend that keeps everyone and their pockets happy.
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#3. Pacing & Style
Multi camera sitcoms are known for their fast-paced and joke-driven setups. This makes them predictable and comforting for audiences to enjoy.
The formulaic writing of sitcoms still keeps the viewer on their toes. And it also ensures that audiences are constantly engaged with the action happening on set.
But single camera shows are freer to linger on reactionary shots. Or, they might convey more complex emotions and themes throughout.
Because of this, single camera shows have the luxury of exploring a wide variety of genres. They are not beholden to remaining situation comedies. This way, they can explore different shooting techniques depending on the scene.
Multi camera shows are confined to a more limited perspective with specific angles. But single camera shows can be free to explore more cinematic imagery in their own visual style.
Of course, this factor also varies from director to director. But such liberty also allows for greater action scenes or stunts to be performed. After all, these kinds of feats could not otherwise be accomplished on a soundstage.
Thus, it is clear to see that there are valid opportunities for pacing and style presented by both kinds of production setups. So it’s just a matter of choosing what will work best for you.
#4. Audience Experience
Multi camera productions have the option of having a live audience when filming. And this can make television shows closely resemble a night out at the theater.
Actors remain on the stage while viewers remain in their seats. And this can make for a magical and reciprocal relationship throughout.
As the live audience can provide real-time feedback for the actors to build off of, their genuine laughter can also be inserted in the editing process. This can make for more heightened moments during the show. Most productions also have an emcee or master of ceremonies perform during the taping to keep the audience lively and entertained between takes.
But not all multi camera sitcoms utilize live laughter though. They might decide to rely on a designated laugh track instead.
But ultimately, they have the option of live laughter or prerecorded laughter available to them. And this provides more freedom and resources in the editing process overall.
Single camera productions, on the other hand, provide a more intimate and immersive experience for the audience member watching at home. In this way, audiences can move alongside the actors.
They can explore their emotions more closely and deeply. This might also be a contributing factor to the rise in single camera sitcoms as of late.
Especially with the last year of COVID, everyone has been forced to remain at home. So viewers have become particularly attached to television characters that they can relate to and ride alongside their personal journey.
With such an intimate relationship, viewers have the opportunity to delve into the inner workings of a show. And this is simply by virtue of the fact that the camera allows them to remain in the first perspective continuously.
Thus, single camera productions allow a greater blend of genres and emotions. And this makes viewers feel as though the situations they are seeing acted out are much more nuanced and realistic than your typical situation comedy.
As a writer, it is important to keep abreast of the techniques used to film the program in question. This will also give you profound insight into the way viewers connect with each scene and character introduced.
#5. Script Writing Format
If you’re reading a script and you’re not sure whether it is a single or multi camera setup, start by looking at the spacing used on the page.
Single-spaced pages without act breaks typically mean it is a single camera television show. But double-spaced sitcom scripts are a clear indication of a multi camera setup.
Within the script, the extra spacing allows for members of the cast and crew to write down any additional notes or changes during filming. So the double-space is literally there to provide room for changes as they occur.
Alternatively, single camera sitcoms are written in a more standard format that mimics movie scripts. The structure differs from that of a feature. But the actual format of the script is written in practically the same way.
Of course, depending on the genre and mood of each program, single camera scripts will not always read like movie scripts. But the actual formatting of the written word on the page will mimic that of a film from a visual standpoint.
Now you have a better idea of the techniques, angles, and positions used to film either in single camera or multi camera setup. And hopefully, it is clear to see that both forms certainly have their own merits.
There is no clear answer of whether one setup is better than the other. Instead, each offers a different experience for the viewer, crew, writer, director, and actor in question.
Most often in the writing process, one can get bogged down in the storyline and character development. Those elements are certainly not ones to disregard. But it is also important to recognize how the show will come across.
Keeping a technical eye on the elements that go into a program should be just as important for the writer to take into account. There are plenty of multi camera sitcoms that have garnered massive amounts of success.
But it is also important to note the rise of the single camera comedy. With more fluidity between genres and the liberty to explore different locales and situations, its rise in popularity is certainly one to take note of.
Viewers are becoming increasingly more attached to television programs through streaming devices and close-up’s of their favorite actors. So hopefully, these pieces of information can help you write the new best thing.
After all, there are plenty of stories already out there. But there are still plenty of other stories that remain to be told.
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Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speakers for hire.