Beautiful Shots Versus Coverage

I just wrapped on a lower budget film and it seemed that every day we were facing the same issue: to spend more time on a certain setup to make it look as beautiful as possible or to get coverage in simpler setups that allow for more control in post production? This of course doesn’t need to be a debate at all as these discussions should happen in preproduction at the scheduling and planning stage. But this is the nature of lower budget shoots where preproduction time is extremely limited and most discussions about shots and coverage happen on set.

As Scripty I always ask, push, demand and scream for more coverage. I don’t even mind shooting overtime if it’s for that cutaway that will cover the action and help tell the story, or a few more takes with better continuity. It might seem a bit single-minded to always suggest more shots even when the style of the film doesn’t need them. But I know how difficult it is for editors to try to compress time or get good rhythm in a film that has no variable angles for certain actions. It’s impossible to cut into a single shot – unless jump cuts are what the director had in mind in the first place, though it’s very rare for straight drama to adopt this more experimental style of editing. I don’t remember working with any director who liked jump cutting. Even if the shots don’t end up getting used in the final film I believe it’s a good idea to shoot extra angles, as backup.

Ultimately it’s not my decision how many setups and what angles will tell the story. But the issue of storytelling needs to be on everyone’s mind. I’m not talking about directors here. They always want what’s best for their film. They will often want more coverage and will also want their film to look as beautiful as possible. In an ideal world they’d have all the time and money to get the coverage AND the beautiful looking shots. It’s just a reminder for all DP’s that the story is more important than anything and if one setup takes two hours and that’s all the time left for an entire scene that can’t be covered in a single shot, then maybe they need to rethink the shot, make it simpler, and allow some time for a few other angles to help tell the story – even if that won’t win them the ACS award. No wonder I get in trouble with the DPs and the 1st ADs…

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5 Responses to Beautiful Shots Versus Coverage

  1. MsKemosabi says:

    Don’t get me wrong – I love long shots or scenes covered with only a few takes where there’s careful choreography between camera and action. This type of shooting is daring, shows skill and is truly what cinema is about. I like them as audience and also as Scripty – there’s less that can go wrong when cutting on action between fewer shots :)
    I hate it though when the practicalities of being on set get in the way of achieving these ambitious shots and when an editor ends up with one or a couple of takes that run for 2 minutes for the equivalent of 30 seconds of screentime. And that’s a wrap… because the budget doesn’t allow for over time to get that other angle that would make the scene editable.

  2. johnbrawley says:

    Of course it’s always better to have more options in the edit.

    I’d like to think as a cinematographer, I also have a storytelling responsibility that goes beyond simply making a “pretty” shot.

    Whilst coverage is always good and great for options, I’ve also found the storytelling to be better when you can try to shoot to reduce the need for coverage. Isn’t it better to be as efficient as you can with the shots ? Isn’t it better to say more with less ?

    Coverage gives you options int he edit. It means you can choose different performance and use the edit rhythm to create an extra layer of subtext.

    But it’s also more of a construction. Sometimes it’s worth spending more time to get less coverage because it tells the story better than you can with “coverage”

    I find this is often the case with Steadicam. It takes longer to conceive and to choreograph. You spend more time doing it and i find AD’s and Directors getting nervous as you appear to burn more and more time getting things ready. But then when you can execute it, it’s a great way to capture performance that’s like no other.

    In fact, I was talking with an actor and she told me she loves doing long steadicam walk and talks because she knows that they will only use one take. She said for comedy, she feels it’s much better when she’s working of the performance of her co-actor and they both know they have to get their acting “right”…I didn’t have the heart to tell her we normally do a steadicam follow so we CAN choose to hinge different passes of the steadicam.

    it’s the same with cross shooting. I’m always prepared to do it even though it’s nearly impossible to make it look good, and very limiting in terms of actor movement. It does mean you can overlap dialogue. It does mean continuity should match (hey you’re happy now right?) and the actors LOVE doing it like this.

    Actually, I hate the term “coverage”. Anything that sounds like a formula should be banned.

    Great post.

    jb

  3. sannekurz says:

    I feel the point of yes or no getting another shot in a similar setup is all about story telling, pace ans speed. Do you want to be able to tell your story in the editing room slow or fast? Do you want to keep the option of speeding something up? Or are you certain already when writing your script that you will create this odd and slightly scary mood coming from single long shots covered as a master shot in a plan-séquence. Such as Christi Puiu does it in his 2010 Aurora or such as done in Tarkovsky’s movies.
    I usually go through a script several times before shooting it. Reading to know the content, reading to get the technical and visual hints and requirements, to understand the directors vision and visual world and:
    Thinking about turning points and speed of the narrative. I do mark pages with signs for slow and fast pace. Later, I can advice the makers that way on covering more or less in a certain scene – or: I can stop working on winning an ASC award and move on :)

    • MsKemosabi says:

      I love that you’re giving Puiu’s film as example (it makes me feel this irrational patriotic pride … even though Aurora is his only film I haven’t seen yet)
      It seems pretty straight forward at preproduction stage: this scene needs a slower pace, will cover it in less shots but this one is full of action, we need lots of coverage to increase its rhythm.
      On set though, it’s so easy to get crazed by the idea of achieving that amazing looking crane shot (no matter what the original plan was) that will cover the entire action of the scene in one shot, taken from the middle of the lake, of the actor walking through the water and finding the object at the bottom of the lake, then swimming out to the shore in… 30 seconds.

      • sannekurz says:

        The strength of our minds shall keep us from the alluring temptations of the empty-silly kind and make us strong to resist and cherish the story. :) Originally planned or not. Coz I do agree on set things do change and we all should work towards a versatile version of the vision. :) I’m on your side. :) – PLUS: Watch Aurora. Changed my life.

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