I write this blog after watching one of my most favorite productions… American Idol. The production team, week to week does a great job of making sure the viewer has an excellent seat for the drama that is about to unfold. Nigel Lythgoe, Executive Producer for Idol, has done a great job of concentrating on quality. His team has employed some of the fundamental Directing and Videography techniques to create one of the greatest rating successes of the last 7 years.
While you may not be producing Idol, these principals are applicable to you as well and can propel your production into new levels. The concept is called Planning the Coverage. In essence, how will your program be visually covered as you produce it while you consider how it will be viewed at home.
An overriding thought in this process: Protect the image!
You only have one chance to create a first impression. You must make extra effort to ensure that the image is secure and presented in the best light possible. Establish a minimum threshold of quality for all efforts. This requires that you recognize what your limits and opportunities are. People recognize professional quality and it reflects on the way people respect and responds to content.
Delivering the message as effective as possible and minimizing the distractions is an absolute imperative. A clean image is a good image.
There are 3 Key Activities that will provide excellent coverage planning
- Site Survey
- Plan out the setting
- Block the coverage
As the director it is your job to transport the audience to the setting via the eye of the camera … Understand what the camera will see.
The Site Survey
The Site Survey is really about logistics. At its heart its purpose is to determine what resources will be needed and where they will be placed during the production. See my Site Survey blog for a checklist for your next remote or field production. In production surprises are your enemy but are to be expected. Surprises could come in the means of unwanted noise, lighting issues, location permits, disruptions, space limitations, parking issues, and weather considerations. A site survey will reduce these types of surprises and enable you to focus on the production at hand.
Plan the Setting or Environment
Settings refer to staging, set design, lighting and the production environment. Every setting is designed based on the target audience. For example Rachael Ray’s cooking program has a very female environment. The Monday night football pregame show environment is all male focused. Likewise your setting must be audience focused. Establish settings that create dimensional stage composition lines …drawing the viewer or audience attention to a focal point.
In the same light prepare backgrounds that do not distract from the focal point —distance – luminance value – business of color and design – activities. In creating the setting remember to put first things first; whatever you are communicating is first. And the setting or environment supports that.
I wholeheartedly encourage directors to use storyboarding as a means of helping to build the production settings and to block the camera angles.
Block the Coverage or Camera Blocking
The camera blocking is how and where the cameras are placed on or within the set to capture for the best emotive delivery to the target audience. On Rachael Ray’s cooking set one of the key shots is provided by the overhead counter cam. It shows what she is doing with her hands and with the various utensils and ingredients. Likewise during a football game the Skycam have become the calling card of the replays; seeing the game clearly from above. In your production you need to define what shots are pivotal in helping you to deliver your message, consistently.
The coverage can be planned with a single camera and often requires assembling the material in post production – editing… Or the coverage can be done with multiple cameras, that allows for various views to be selected from which to observe the event.
The bottom line is answering this question: What will give your viewers the most effective view of the action? What view will transpose the event into they’re living space and into their minds? You have to orient the viewing audience and that is what we call the establishment shot…or wide cover shot… But the real effectiveness of television and film media is to deliver the close up
The close-up is important in a production to introduce the audience as a participant in the event. By staying wide the audience is an observer. In normal conversation with another person, where do you look? You look into the eyes. This goes back to the very basics of good communication…if you can’t get your receiver involved in what you are trying to say, you have failed in delivering your message. It takes more than passion and shouting loud. It takes more than a fancy set, flashy colors, and special effects. Beyond all the flash and dazzle, you must involve your audience! You make eye contact with them.
Remember the old saying, “the eyes are the mirrors of the soul,” is a loosely translated proverb attributed to Cicero that goes back to 1545 A.D. The actual translation from Latin is, The face is a picture of the mind and the eyes are the translator.. You look carefully, you see truth…or you see lies.
With the EYE of the camera it transports a mass medium that will often reach people one on one. Planning the Coverage will help you get there
Each project is like music… it has its own unique time signature, a rhythm, if you like. That rhythm is governed in part with the content of the program or feature, and in part by the content of the audience. In planning the coverage you consider these options to help bring your project into the mind of your audience. Settings and the position of the cameras will help tell the story. Remember pictures say a thousand words.