A multi-camera production is exactly what it says on the tin: A production that’s shot with more than one camera. There are advantages and disadvantages to a multi-camera shoot, and different scenarios where it is more useful or less useful than a single camera shoot.
The genre of the production massively effects whether you would shoot using single camera or not. For example, the British sitcom peepshow is shot on single camera. You can see this because the way one character responds to another doesn’t seem natural; often reactions are overly exaggerated or said in a different tone to what you would expect. However due to the fact that characters in peep show often break the ‘fourth wall’ and speak to the audience, this just adds to the effect that it is just a story. You will find that a lot of comedy TV programmes are shot on single camera, because the jokes that are used don’t require a lot of close up emotion to make you laugh. A great example of this is Scrubs, the TV show. Scrubs is shot in a way that makes the single camera shooting style look blatantly obvious, however it doesn’t take away from the impact of the comedy; the set is always lit well and the actors can make the most of their space, because there’s no concern of the camera operators getting in each other’s shots or the actor stepping out of a light pool. Most TV shows will be shot in single camera simply because it costs a lot less if you’re shooting on film. There are certain broadcasts that would definitely be shot in multi-camera, such as live events, and sitcoms that have live audiences, where the reaction from the crowd can be vital. This is so that no piece of action is missed. Depending on the scale of a live show it can have anywhere from 2-100+ cameras in a shoot (Such as when a popular act plays Wembley Arena). If for example, we look at a game of football that’s being recorded – it doesn’t matter if the cameras are in each other’s shots because the focus of this kind of coverage relies upon capturing the action flawlessly.
Technically it is easier to shoot single camera, because when it comes to lighting, editing, sound and on-set equipment everything is made much simpler by only viewing one subject at a time. Lighting a subject is difficult in the first place, trying not to make the light look artificial and also not over/under lighting anything. When trying to light multiple subjects there are limits to the light placement, because you have to keep all equipment (such as stands) and crew out of multiple shots at the same time. If you’re shooting single camera, and recording all of one person’s lines of dialogue at one time then you have more control over the set as a whole. A solid benefit of shooting single camera is the increased quality in audio recording. For example, in the special features of ‘Rust and Bone’, Jacques Audiard, the Director, mentions that because of the noise of the fan on the RED camera, there was never a perfect take for the sound technician. Shooting single camera can reduce the impact of this issue as there are less cameras, which means less noise, and less frame space for the microphone to get in the way of – which equates to getting closer to the subject, and ultimately a better take. Editing multi camera can be easier to do, because once all of the shots are lined up on the timeline you leave yourself options of when to cut to another shot. If you’re using a Canon EOS DSLR, they can be temperamental and stop movie recording automatically often at a crucial point, if this happens and you’re shooting multi-camera then you have a backup shot to cut to if this were to happen. Single Camera however takes less time to edit because there will only be one video track on the timeline, this means you can edit them together in a linear fashion, making the edit more managable.
An important use for multi-camera shooting in films is if there are two big stars that are acting together. If you had Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in a room together, in Se7en for example, you wouldn’t want to waste any of their talent by using stand in actors for over the shoulder shots. This is because good directors value their actors greatly and it would be a shame for a scene to lose quality because it was shot using an inappropriate technique.
In single camera productions you can edit two related clips that were filmed at different times together to make it look as if the clips ran seamlessly into one another. There are countless cuts in actions scenes in movies, for example the plane crash scene in Final Destination 1, we see cut after cut after cut, but our mind tricks us into thinking that it’s one smooth motion. In a multi camera production it’s possible to film scenes like these without stopping the cameras rolling, but it takes a lot more choreography to make the scene run smoothly.
In conclusion most productions are made using single camera because it’s cheaper and you have more control of the environment that you’re in. Not only that but it means there is less crew around which gives a more controlled environment on set, and also you don’t need both actors present to film a scene. Multi-camera shoots are just as important; they are best in live events, or if you don’t want to miss any of an actor’s screen time. The most affordable and suitable choice for most productions would be a single camera production.