Coverage is a term used by film-makers to describe the shots they need to get a scene off the script and onto the screen. It’s always made to sound more complicated than it is, so let’s give you an example.
For a basic two-person conversation you would normally shoot a wide angle that covers the whole scene and both participants. Then a medium shot of each character, perhaps looking over the shoulder of the person not in shot. Then close-ups for drama or the bits where you really want to drill into the characters. That’s it. Basic scene construction 101. Most soaps are built like this. Check it out next time you’re slumped in front of Stenders.
The issue with coverage is how many cameras you use. Traditionally TV, especially the live studio stuff, is shot with several to make sure all the action’s captured. Film, which is able to take more time over setups, uses far fewer. Christopher Nolan sticks to one camera for everything – but then he uses an IMAX, and they’re not easy to come by.
There are arguments for and against the use of multiple cameras in film projects. Sometimes it’s essential – stunts and big bangs need plenty of coverage, as they are by their nature unpredictable. And it’s true that you could get the medium shots of the conversation we looked at earlier in one hit with a camera per character (which is what soaps do, of course).
But at the same time, two cameras means twice the set-up and twice the crew, which can bite into any perceived time or budget saving. Soaps can work that way because they’re largely studio based and work under a very predictable set of conditions. On location, things are different. Its a situation I’ve become used to, as DocoDom likes to throw any camera he can lay his mitts on into the mix. High end digital, Betamax (yes, he owns a Betamax camera), phone cams, all are fair game. Between us, we have the setup down to a fine art, but it’s not what you’d call grab and go film-making.
Out Of Hours was shot with two Panasonic GH2s, and Simon and Andy spent an awful lot of time making sure they were set up the same way. I appreciated the effort when it came to the grade, of course – I had to do very little to match the colour balance on the two cameras – but it did lead to quite a few longeurs on set while they matched settings. A single camera shoot, depending on the operator, can end up as a quicker and more flexible option.
Not always, of course. In 1991, The Pixies were one of the biggest bands on the planet, and one of the most stubborn. They made the almost unthinkable decision not to shoot music videos to promote their songs. They could be talked round, but you had to think creatively. Which was kind of the point. The Pixies were sick of generic performance vids, which was all they were offered.
So when they agreed to make a promo for their cover of the Jesus And Mary Chain’s Head On, they knew how to stretch the director, Scott Litt. The shoot would be done completely live. One take. A single run through of the two and a bit minute song was all he was getting.
The initial response would be to ring the band with cameras, hopefully capturing every last pluck and howl. But Peter Lubin, who ran A&R for Elektra, the Pixie’s American record company, had a better idea. Taking advantage of the band’s notorious stillness on stage, he advocated a 12-camera set-up that split each band member into three. It was an elegant solution to a tricky problem. It also won The Pixies MTV’s Breakthrough award for 1991. Not too shabby for a band who didn’t believe in music video.
Now that’s what I call coverage.