As a first step in seeing how studio productions are done we need to take a closer look at the role and responsibilities of the key person in this process -- the director.
The Role of the Director
In addition to the specific duties and responsibilities outlined in Module 1, the director's job is to get the crew and talent to function as a team and in the process bring out the best work in each person.
Any director worth the title can stay on top of things when the crew, talent, and equipment perform exactly as expected.
A crew member or on-camera person may get sick, a key person may refuse to continue unless some special accommodation is made, a studio camera may go out, or a mic may suddenly fail.
A director who vacillates, gives mixed signals or is not being able to make a decision at a crucial time can bring about production paralysis.
In large-scale productions everyone is typically working under pressure. Directors must be able to control their own tension and anxiety while being sensitive to the differing abilities and temperaments of talent and crew.
A heavy-handed approach with the wrong person can temporarily destroy that person's effectiveness and turn a bad situation into a disaster. Conversely, a mealy-mouthed approach that elicits no respect or leadership ability can be just as bad.
Put another way, a director's job is not to dictate but to clearly and effectively guide.
Requisitioning Equipment and Facilities
The director's first job in a medium to large production will be to fill out a Facilities Request Form. Production facilities typically have forms tailored to their own needs and equipment.
Noted on this form will be the production and rehearsal dates and times, studio space needed, personnel required, and the number of cameras, video recorders and mics needed.
Not anticipating a need may mean there will be last-minute delays in getting what you want.
Worse still, you may even have to do without something you need, especially if someone else has requisitioned the equipment for the same time period.
In addition to being used by the studio's Facilities Manager to plan on the necessary talent, crew, facilities, and equipment, the Facilities Request Form is used to anticipate production costs.
The Directing Process
For every audio or video event that takes place during a production several behind-the-scenes production steps are typically required.
Because production involves the activities of numerous crew members -- the number can range from 6 to more than 60 -- the director's instructions must be clearly and succinctly phrased.
Even the word sequence is important.
If the director says, "Will you pan to the left and up a little when you 'lose [your tally] light' on camera one," all camera operators must wait until the end of the sentence before they know who the director is talking to; and then they must remember what the instructions were.
However, if the director says, "Camera one, when you lose light, pan left and up a little," the first two words indicate who, the next four words tell when, and the last six words indicate what.
After the first two words, crew members know that only camera one's operator is being addressed. This will get the attention of the camera one operator, and the rest of the crew members can continue concentrating on their individual tasks.
The "when" in the sentence tells the camera one operator not to immediately pan and tilt, but to prepare for a quick move once the camera tally ("on-air") light is off. This may involve loosening the pan and tilt controls on the camera's pan head and being ready to make the adjustment -- possibly within the brief interval when the director switches to a reaction shot.
Even a two- or three-second delay can make the difference between a tight show and one where the production changes lag behind the action.
Although the specifics of the jargon vary between production facilities, directors tend to use some of the same basic terminology. To illustrate this, let's trace a director's PL line conversation for the opening of a simple interview show.
This production uses two cameras, one of which moves from position A to position B. In position A the camera gets the establishing (wide) shot. In position B it gets close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots.
Since the guests on this show are different each week and will require different opening and closing announcements, only the show's theme music is prerecorded. The opening and closing announcements are read off-camera, live.
Before we get to the actual show, let's look at several things that the audience will not see, but that are important to the production.
Color Bars, Slate,
Countdown Clock, and Trailer
In professional productions there are four elements are typically recorded that are not seen by the audience:
1 . First on the tape are color bars for a minimum of 30 seconds accompanied by a reference level audio tone (generally 0dB) on all audio tracks.
These are used to set proper color balance, and audio and video levels for the video playback. (As we've previously noted, with some playback equipment this is adjusted automatically.)
The white level (note the white block) and the primary (red, green and blue) and secondary (magenta, cyan and yellow) color bars should register correctly on a TV screen and on a vectorscope. You will recall that we explained how to set up your video monitor here.
2. After the color bars is the slate (shown on the right) which is either picked up on a camera or electronically generated. At this point announcer reads the following program information.
This information will vary, depending on the facility and production.
The slate shown above shows the time code numbers that are being encoded on the video. Network requirements typically specify a start code of 01:00:00:00 for the first program on a recording.
After these, there is typically an electronic countdown clock that starts at 10 seconds and goes to 2 seconds.
3. At this point there should be exactly two seconds of black and silence before the program begins. This precise timing makes it possible to roll a videotape (if you are using videotape) on a particular number and then "punch it up" at the exact moment it's needed.
Hard disk recorders and some videotape machines have an instant start capability. This means you can stop and freeze the first second of video on the screen and expect the segment it to instantly start when needed.
4. At the end of the production, network specifications require several minutes of black and silence with continuing time code after the last scene (generally the closing credits) of a production.
Now let's trace the director's dialogue for the first minute or so of a very basic interview show. Here we're assuming an on-camera slate and that videotape is being used to record the show.
Excluding the commercial all of the above takes less than a minute of production time.
During the 30 seconds or so that the interviewer uses to wrap up the show camera one can truck right to the mid-position and zoom back. This shot can be used (possibly with dimmed studio lights) as a background for the closing credits and announce.
Even though this example is a bit of old-fashioned in its format, it illustrates all the things the director is concerned with "behind the scenes" (and it represents a good starting assignment for laboratory exercises).
Note the constant use of the terms "ready" and "standby" in the director's dialogue.
During a production, crew members are normally thinking about or doing several things at once, including listening to two sources of audio: the PL line and the program audio. "Standbys" warn them of upcoming actions.
They also protect the director.
If a "standby" is given in reasonable time, the director has every right to expect the crew member involved to be prepared for the requested action or to quickly tell the director about a problem.
But if the director simply blurts out, "Take one!" when the cameraperson is not ready, the audience may see a picture being focused, complete with a quick zoom in and out. Since no "standby" warning was given, the director can hardly blame the cameraperson.
Studio Hand Signals
Although the studio director can relay signals to the crew via a headset (PL line), getting instructions to on-camera talent while the mics are on is generally done silently through the floor director.
To do this the floor director uses agreed upon hand signals. In order for the talent to be able to easily and quickly see these signals they should be given right next to the talent's camera lens. The talent should never have to conspicuously look around for cues when they are on camera
Photos of the various studio hand signals can be seen here.
In an interview the eyes and facial expressions communicate a great deal often even more than the words the person is saying.
Profile shots (equivalent to shooting the close-ups from camera position A in this case) often hide these important clues. A close-up of the guest from camera position B, as well as a close-up of Dr. Lee from the camera 2 position, provide much stronger shots.
These angles also offer more possibilities for shots. You have a strong close-up of the person talking, plus, if you zoom back slightly, an over-the-shoulder shot that can even be used to momentarily cover comments by the person whose back is toward the camera.
The Need to Anticipate
An essential talent for a director is the ability to react quickly to changes in action.
But "react" implies delay.
In fact, the total reaction time is equal to the accumulated time involved in recognizing the need for a specific action, communicating that action to crew members, having them respond -- or telling the technical director what you want done and having them respond.
That can represent a delay of several seconds.
Although that may not seem long, when audiences are used to seeing production responses in sync with on-camera action, it will clearly reveal that the director is lagging behind the action.
The solution is for the director to try to anticipate what's going to happen.
During an interview a director should be able to sense when the interviewer's question is about to end or when an answer is winding up.
By saying "stand by" early and calling for a camera cut a moment before it's needed, a director will be able to cut from one camera to the other almost on the concluding period or question mark of the person's final sentence.
Also, by watching the off-air monitor in the control room, as opposed to the on-air shot of the person talking, the director will often be able to see when the off-camera person is about to interrupt or visually react to what is being said.
Using these clues, a good director can almost appear to have precognitive powers!
This is easier to see when the cameras and video sources are grouped together on a single, large, multi-view. flatscreen monitor. (We'll talk more about this in the next module.)
On-Camera Talent Issues
Under this heading we'll cover makeup, hair, jewelry, and wardrobe.
Back in the days of low-resolution black-and-white TV, facial features had to be somewhat exaggerated, just as they do now on the stage. However, in this day of color and high-resolution video, this type of exaggeration would look a bit clownish.
Today, makeup is primarily used to cover or diminish facial defects, fill in deep facial chin clefts and "five o'clock shadows" on men, and to take the shine off faces.
In the case of women, judiciously applied "street makeup" is generally adequate for limited on-camera exposure.
However, when professional talent need to appear at their best under different lighting conditions and for long periods of time, things can get a bit more complicated. For this reason, we cover makeup in much more detail here.
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