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Camera Challenges

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By Henry Turner
One of the classic conflicts in the aesthetics of filmmaking is the use of long takes, versus rapid cutting, or montage. Think Orson Welles’ long “sequence” shots that covered many pages of dialogue in uninterrupted takes versus Sergei Eisenstein’s montage fragments. Indeed, film theorist Andre Bazin dedicated much of his writing to this schism, which he defined as a mainly artistic issue. But in film production, new techniques often arise out of practical considerations. In television, rapid schedule demands force directors and crews to come up with practical solutions that wind up revealing the essence of the art.
Cinematographer Michael Price points out that the usual ratio between script and screen time is a minute per page, but for his work on WBs’ Gilmore Girls the length of the scripts has increased dramatically. “We have 30-second pages and 84-page scripts. Our show has such rapid-fire dialogue that some people say that these women talk too fast for normal life, but that’s what we have to do for the pacing.”
In order to accommodate the increased dialogue, Price shoots much of the show in lengthy oners or walk-and-talk takes. Camera motion presents one of the main difficulties of this style of filming. “We have a full-time Steadicam operator, Steve Clancy, and he’s amazing. Before, there would be a Steadicam on the set only two or three times a week. But the trend now is to have either your A or B camera operator be a Steadicam operator, because the writers are putting in so much dialogue.”
Another difficulty is lighting. Gilmore Girls’ domestic settings differ from the sets on shows such as ER or West Wing, which also use walk-and-talk shots, but those are set in hospital or office environments where lighting is easier to control. “In our show the actors go from their couch to the kitchen to outside, back to the hallway and then upstairs. We can’t have our lighting be too flat, dark or hot. It’s quite a little dance with electricians and grips, all of whom work as hard as the camera assistants during the shot, either using flags to double off lights as actors come closer, or dimming lights down on the dimmer board.”
Working with 16 mm presents further problems. “It’s nice for the Steadicam operators because the equipment weighs a lot less, but I don’t have the ability to underexpose as much as I’d like. I use the new 500 ASA but I can’t use 800s or lower speed stocks, because underexposing 16 mm is not possible. I’ve done 35 mm shows where practicals actually work for lighting sources, but here, with 16, you have to overexpose, so as to accentuate each practical.”
Once the pacing is worked out, scenes can play with great flow, often eliminating the need for other coverage or inserts. “We had a scene last night set at a big party, where we started on one girl, and she took us to another girl, who took us to another guy, and then a couple. The whole scene flowed beautifully, and by the fifth or sixth take we realized that it was all pacing out perfectly, and we didn’t need coverage.”
Despite the difficulties, Price prefers walk-and-talks to cutting because of the latitude it gives the actors. “They can create their character from the beginning of the shot to the very end of the master—they don’t have to stop for the arc of the scene—especially an emotional scene, they can just motor through it.”

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