How does an actor know...?

How does an actor/actress know when the camera is on her, directly? In some sit-coms, for example, the character will look straight into the camera for effect. Sometimes, it will be at the end of a bunch of other actions making me wonder how it is timed so well…

I will have to watch more closely to see if I can describe this better…

  • Jinx

I can’t speak for sitcoms, but I’ve seen some TV shows shooting on location, and they shoot several versions of the same scene. Each time, they change the camera position. So, they’ll have one version with one actor’s face showing, one version with the other actor’s face showing, one view with them both in profile, etc. etc. Then they edit these together for the final product. I don’t work for the “industry”, so I may have some details wrong, but I think I got the gist of it.

I also believe that (on nightly news shows, etc.) that they’ll have several cameras directed at the news anchor. The anchor will know which camera to look at because it’ll have special indicator light on when it’s the one they are supposed to look at. (If you can follow all of that.)

Sitcoms with a live audience typically use a three-camera format. This means that instead of shooting several versions of each scene (which would ruin the flow for the studio audience and take many hours), they shoot the entire show with three cameras. Typically in three-camera, one camera is focused on a closeup of each of the two primary actors in the scene, and the third is the long shot which includes multiple actors and the set. So an actor doing a close-up just has to look into the camera that is focused on him or her and the shot will be picked up. After the shoot, the video editor puts together the camera shots to creat the finished show. Next time you watch a sitcom, try to figure out which camera is being used for each shot. You should be able to pick them out fairly easily.

Typically the actors do not know for certain which camera shots will be used in the final version of the show, since the video editor will put the shots together after the show is filmed. However, sitcoms are carefully blocked, which means that before filming in front of an audience, the movements of both the actors and the cameras are mapped out. So during a rehearsal, the director may have asked a particular actor for a reaction shot, and made sure that a camera would be there to capture it.

It’s also possible to do “pick-up shots”, which are shots that are filmed after the primary filming to get a particular look or reaction.

Cameras with lights are used for live broadcasts, such as T.V. newscasts. Of course these programs will not be edited, so the light is there to tell the performers which camera’s shot is going out to the audience at that moment.