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The difference between cinematography for movies and television series


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hello dear Friends, what do you think about differences between cinematography for television(series)  and for cinema? In fact, except for the aspect ratio and framing. Is there really any difference today? I hope that master Mullen Answer to my question ...in fact, My main problem is my thesis. My thesis should be about cinematography for tv , but any topic I choose is rejected by the referees because it is for cinema, not television.!! thank you

 
 
 
 
 
 
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Edited by amirali mohammadi
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Many of the bigger streaming series today have the same recourses and budgets and time as a feature film.  So, no difference there.

Other "tv" series, less so.  It's not so much as a difference between TV vs movies, but smaller budgets vs larger budgets.  Artistically, I think all aim for the same goals, they just all don't make it to the finish line 🙂

Edited by Bruce Greene
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1 minute ago, Bruce Greene said:

Many of the bigger streaming series today have the same recourses and budgets and time as a feature film.  So, no difference there.

Other "tv" series, less so.  It's not so much as a difference between TV vs movies, but smaller budgets vs larger budgets.  Artistically, I think all aim for the same goals, they just all don't make it to the finish line 🙂

many thanks for your comprehensive explanations  dear master .🌷

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2 hours ago, Jingtian Wang said:

Neil Oseman wrote this blog about how lighting styles of TV (including Netflix) and film have "changed place". which after I started paying attention to it, seems to be true:

http://neiloseman.com/what-does-cinematic-mean/ (the section I'm referring to is about half way down the article).

 

thank you Jingtian

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I would also say TV is often made by multiple teams/directors - for instance on a season with 12 shows might have 6 directors doing 2 episodes each. It's not always possible for the same director/dop to do every episode, because they shoot back to back.

Because each episode then needs to look like they are from the same series - the directors and DOP's have to match their work across episodes - which could reign in some more edgy choices. In a movie it's the vision (usually) of a single director/dop and that allows for a stronger look/choices.

If Tim Burton for instance was directing an episode of Gilmore Girls (for instance) they probably wouldn't change the production design to gothic black and white and replace Lauren Graham with Helena Bonham Carter (although that would be great) 

Some shorter TV series do have single directors (Spaced - Edgar Wright, Twin Peaks the Return - David Lynch) which are more recognizable in the specific directors style. 

 

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My experience is that in Episodic TV production the producer/show runner has the authority to determine the look of the product even down to a shot by shot basis.  The DP lights the set but the producer/show runner accepts or rejects the results and the Director pretty much has to accept the situation.  This does not apply to Pilots which shoot much like feature films.  On a feature film the DP is usually the strong ally of the Director and the Director decides how much license the DP is allowed in designing the look of the product.  The studio (if there is one) is very cautious in approving the hiring of a strong DP as once the production is shooting the Director and DP team are hard to move from the course they set in the look of the show.  The very strong DP's at the top of the A-list of course are hired for what they bring to the table and are allowed a long leash in building a look for the product - and that is in both TV and Theatrical productions.

Kind regards,

Neal Norton
DP

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3 hours ago, Neal Norton said:

My experience is that in Episodic TV production the producer/show runner has the authority to determine the look of the product even down to a shot by shot basis.  The DP lights the set but the producer/show runner accepts or rejects the results and the Director pretty much has to accept the situation.  This does not apply to Pilots which shoot much like feature films.  On a feature film the DP is usually the strong ally of the Director and the Director decides how much license the DP is allowed in designing the look of the product.  The studio (if there is one) is very cautious in approving the hiring of a strong DP as once the production is shooting the Director and DP team are hard to move from the course they set in the look of the show.  The very strong DP's at the top of the A-list of course are hired for what they bring to the table and are allowed a long leash in building a look for the product - and that is in both TV and Theatrical productions.

Kind regards,

Neal Norton
DP

Good points Neal!

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I myself do not have any real experience with either feature films or TV series.
But I've producer and directed a few short things and I'm just now getting ready for my first pilot episode for a tv series.

I actually don't see much of a difference between the cinematography of the shorts that we've shot or the pilote episode. The main difference for me might be for having a budget to work with if we get approved. As far as how much everything might change if we actually get the series I can not tell but I'm guessing it will be somewhat the same except planning will be a little different.

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  • 3 weeks later...

From what I have observed here locally in Australia, movies seem to have  more elaborate sets ups for camera positions and movements compared to television. When I was an extra on the film Hey Hey It's Esther Blueberger, I saw these guys on set spending a good amount of time putting scaffolding together to construct a tower on which to place the camera and an operator to film a group of dancers from an aerial perspective. And of course you have other movies with crane shots and all kinds of elaborate tracking shots with cameras soaring through the air high above a city or harbour etc.

As an extra on the  McLeods Daughters TV show, I saw more simple setups for their cameras. Like a tracking shot on a set of rails on the ground. And I heard from one the show's camera operators that there have been occasions when they mounted a Bolex to a motorbike. 

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A director told me once a TV show is like a magazine, you casually read it once and that's it. But a movie is like a book, you read it with full concentration. And even after you finish it you feel like reading it from time to time. Perhaps this is why movies are made with more care and attention to details. Even though nowadays we live in the golden era of (TV), the mass audience still value movies more than TV series. for example Oscars get far more attention and discussion than Emmy awards.

Edited by Abdul Rahman Jamous
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3 hours ago, Abdul Rahman Jamous said:

A director told me once a TV show is like a magazine, you casually read it once and that's it. But a movie is like a book, you read it with full concentration. And even after you finish it you feel like reading it from time to time. Perhaps this is why movies are made with more care and attention to details. Even though nowadays we live in the golden era of (TV), the mass audience still value movies more than TV series. for example Oscars get far more attention and discussion than Emmy awards.

That's a really interesting explanation and one I would tend to agree with as well as that most TV shows don't complicate with some shots as much.

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Traditionally television and film have had very different approaches up until very recently, say the last decade or so. Television was born for the small screen. Up until the mid-90s a 35" TV screen would've been considered huge, as the average home was watching on 13" and 20" televisions. This necessitated a different style of photography that was much more centered on the closeup with shallow focus. The speed in which shows are produced (an average episodic TV show might only have 7-10 days to get through 45-50 pages of script) also necessitated an economic approach to lighting, camera movement and coverage with much more of the show being put together in the edit. Lighting in particular tended to be high-key until the 70s. As mentioned above, TV directors are guests on most shows and can only go so far in dictating a look of a given episode, and everything on a TV set is really built for speed and efficiency. That's why so many shows come down to a master and two dirty overs for every scene. The number of setups in a day is staggering compared to a feature film and directors are often forced to find the most economical and efficient way to pull of a scene if time is of the essence. Sometimes on a CSI type show the master might be doing something crazy like a circular steadicam shot on a long lens or something, but generally the approach tends to be about simplicity. You can name on one hand TV shows that had a more complex philosophy and most of those were directed by people like Paris Barclay and Tommy Schlamme in the 90s (ER, The West Wing) or have come along in the HBO/Netflix-era where you have a auteur directors like Fincher doing Mindhunter, large budgets and a little bit more time. For all of its stylishness even Mad Men was fairly conventional in approach. The show that really brought, I think, more of a big action-adventure film look to TV was Lost, which was helmed by JJ Abrams and shot by Larry Fong originally, but that show was insanely expensive and tended toward more conventional coverage for a lot of the meat of episodes.

It's hard to tell these days because right now we live in an era that is something of a hybrid between an old-school movie look and television techniques. In the last 20-25 years the TV way of doing things (especially since the proliferation of digital cameras) has begun to overpower the film ways of doing things. Ridley Scott, Michael Bay and David Fincher were early adopters of this style in features and have probably helped it along a bit. It used to be that you could do a scene with just a great master and maybe some inserts or cutaways for safety. Many great directors like Spielberg and Tarantino still direct this way and Spielberg is notoriously fast. But this more classical single-camera approach has been supplanted by an approach of multiple cameras shooting simultaneously (which is a very TVish mentality), insane amounts of footage being shot (the shooting ratios have gotten out of control - I once had 40 hours of footage in editorial for a 30 second commercial), and much, much less thoughtful composition (a lot of shows have adopted almost a verite/documentary philosophy regardless of whether or not it's appropriate for the setting or narrative). Attached is a screen grab from Star Trek: Picard and you can see they are shooting with three cameras like a sitcom, a far cry from the simple, precise elegant single-camera work of Marvin Rush on TNG and Voyager. Again this is a product of the digital age because hard drive space is infinitely cheaper than film stock.

It should also be noted that film production has generally had a high barrier to entry. You had to live in LA or NYC and either work your way up through the trades or go to film school. Technology has changed all of that and democratized film making, in much the same way digital audio technology created home studios in the 1990s. All of a sudden people who were stuck making film on camcorders and DV equipment now have access to many of the same tools that professional filmmakers use and the tools are philosophically much closer to video cameras than an organic film workflow, which fewer and fewer people understand. Today's DP's often do not have photography backgrounds as they were born out of a video world, or if they have studied photography its been during the age of the DSLR and smartphone. You can clearly see this phenomenon when you read camera reviews and so little attention is given to the way the camera looks as opposed to its technical specifications. The "film look" is reduced to technical considerations like depth of field, dynamic range, resolution and sensor size, which is not at all how film DPs used to think of things. Today the expectation is that things will work in a video-ish way in terms of technical approach (multiple cameras, video villages, instant results, extensive color grading, piecing it together in editorial) rather than a traditional film-style approach and this new ideology is now the default perspective even among executives and producers. Film has become the equivalent of a 9 foot concert Steinway piano. Nice for concerts at Carnegie Hall but completely impractical to have for most work.

Even the current craze with shallow depth of field comes more from TV than it does movies. Movies traditionally have not been so obsessed with shallow focus, and its actually not nearly as common as you'd think, with the exception of a handful of directors who prefer longer lenses. Feature directors tend to prefer wide angles and deeper focus, but TV being a closeup medium didn't have the choice. I would say the average TV lens is probably a 50mm. In broadcast television this is further exacerbated by the fact that on TV you often can't put the camera as close to the subject as you'd like. Even on a sitcom, which up until recently were shot on broadcast cameras, and is more like theater, the cameras are a good 10-12 feet back from the talent or more. Same with news and information shows. Soap operas are a strange animal as well with entire episodes being taped in a day. On a sporting event the camera could be hundreds of feet back meaning longer lenses are just a way of life on TV. The combination of having to favor closeups and having to use longer lenses, the 4:3 aspect ratio along with the speed in which you have to work has given television a unique visual identity. (A similar thing is happening now with social media video -- which was born out of webcams and smart phones and has a fish-eye wide angle look that is becoming popular).

The other thing with television is that it is generally much more of an apprenticed craft. TV education is much less formal than film education. Unlike film where there is film school and a general approach to how movies are shot and who does what on set that are basic universals with only minor cultural differences, broadcast television shows can vary wildly from show to show and studio to studio. The tools and techniques are often dependent upon "house rules," and sometimes even basic terminology can be different from place to place. I remember listening to Chip Dean direct Monday Night Football and his commands were very precise ("Ready One. Take. Set three. Dissolve"), where someone like Hamish Hamilton who directs The Super Bowl Halftime and Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is basically dancing in the truck and yelling out Austin Powers-esque stuff like "yea baby do it!" and somehow his TD/Vision Mixer interprets that into what camera to cut to. Narrative shows are a bit different but even then there has traditionally been a huge difference in the look and approach of British and European dramatic television as compared to American dramatic TV and we all know the Mexican soap opera/telenovella look is very unique to that market.

394689693_StarTrekPicard.thumb.jpg.5219c93804ed3520c6faf3fe6640e052.jpg

Star Trek Picard set photo

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4 hours ago, Phil Jackson said:

Traditionally television and film have had very different approaches up until very recently, say the last decade or so. Television was born for the small screen. Up until the mid-90s a 35" TV screen would've been considered huge, as the average home was watching on 13" and 20" televisions. This necessitated a different style of photography that was much more centered on the closeup with shallow focus. The speed in which shows are produced (an average episodic TV show might only have 7-10 days to get through 45-50 pages of script) also necessitated an economic approach to lighting, camera movement and coverage with much more of the show being put together in the edit. Lighting in particular tended to be high-key until the 70s. As mentioned above, TV directors are guests on most shows and can only go so far in dictating a look of a given episode, and everything on a TV set is really built for speed and efficiency. That's why so many shows come down to a master and two dirty overs for every scene. The number of setups in a day is staggering compared to a feature film and directors are often forced to find the most economical and efficient way to pull of a scene if time is of the essence. Sometimes on a CSI type show the master might be doing something crazy like a circular steadicam shot on a long lens or something, but generally the approach tends to be about simplicity. You can name on one hand TV shows that had a more complex philosophy and most of those were directed by people like Paris Barclay and Tommy Schlamme in the 90s (ER, The West Wing) or have come along in the HBO/Netflix-era where you have a auteur directors like Fincher doing Mindhunter, large budgets and a little bit more time. For all of its stylishness even Mad Men was fairly conventional in approach. The show that really brought, I think, more of a big action-adventure film look to TV was Lost, which was helmed by JJ Abrams and shot by Larry Fong originally, but that show was insanely expensive and tended toward more conventional coverage for a lot of the meat of episodes.

It's hard to tell these days because right now we live in an era that is something of a hybrid between an old-school movie look and television techniques. In the last 20-25 years the TV way of doing things (especially since the proliferation of digital cameras) has begun to overpower the film ways of doing things. Ridley Scott, Michael Bay and David Fincher were early adopters of this style in features and have probably helped it along a bit. It used to be that you could do a scene with just a great master and maybe some inserts or cutaways for safety. Many great directors like Spielberg and Tarantino still direct this way and Spielberg is notoriously fast. But this more classical single-camera approach has been supplanted by an approach of multiple cameras shooting simultaneously (which is a very TVish mentality), insane amounts of footage being shot (the shooting ratios have gotten out of control - I once had 40 hours of footage in editorial for a 30 second commercial), and much, much less thoughtful composition (a lot of shows have adopted almost a verite/documentary philosophy regardless of whether or not it's appropriate for the setting or narrative). Attached is a screen grab from Star Trek: Picard and you can see they are shooting with three cameras like a sitcom, a far cry from the simple, precise elegant single-camera work of Marvin Rush on TNG and Voyager. Again this is a product of the digital age because hard drive space is infinitely cheaper than film stock.

It should also be noted that film production has generally had a high barrier to entry. You had to live in LA or NYC and either work your way up through the trades or go to film school. Technology has changed all of that and democratized film making, in much the same way digital audio technology created home studios in the 1990s. All of a sudden people who were stuck making film on camcorders and DV equipment now have access to many of the same tools that professional filmmakers use and the tools are philosophically much closer to video cameras than an organic film workflow, which fewer and fewer people understand. Today's DP's often do not have photography backgrounds as they were born out of a video world, or if they have studied photography its been during the age of the DSLR and smartphone. You can clearly see this phenomenon when you read camera reviews and so little attention is given to the way the camera looks as opposed to its technical specifications. The "film look" is reduced to technical considerations like depth of field, dynamic range, resolution and sensor size, which is not at all how film DPs used to think of things. Today the expectation is that things will work in a video-ish way in terms of technical approach (multiple cameras, video villages, instant results, extensive color grading, piecing it together in editorial) rather than a traditional film-style approach and this new ideology is now the default perspective even among executives and producers. Film has become the equivalent of a 9 foot concert Steinway piano. Nice for concerts at Carnegie Hall but completely impractical to have for most work.

Even the current craze with shallow depth of field comes more from TV than it does movies. Movies traditionally have not been so obsessed with shallow focus, and its actually not nearly as common as you'd think, with the exception of a handful of directors who prefer longer lenses. Feature directors tend to prefer wide angles and deeper focus, but TV being a closeup medium didn't have the choice. I would say the average TV lens is probably a 50mm. In broadcast television this is further exacerbated by the fact that on TV you often can't put the camera as close to the subject as you'd like. Even on a sitcom, which up until recently were shot on broadcast cameras, and is more like theater, the cameras are a good 10-12 feet back from the talent or more. Same with news and information shows. Soap operas are a strange animal as well with entire episodes being taped in a day. On a sporting event the camera could be hundreds of feet back meaning longer lenses are just a way of life on TV. The combination of having to favor closeups and having to use longer lenses, the 4:3 aspect ratio along with the speed in which you have to work has given television a unique visual identity. (A similar thing is happening now with social media video -- which was born out of webcams and smart phones and has a fish-eye wide angle look that is becoming popular).

The other thing with television is that it is generally much more of an apprenticed craft. TV education is much less formal than film education. Unlike film where there is film school and a general approach to how movies are shot and who does what on set that are basic universals with only minor cultural differences, broadcast television shows can vary wildly from show to show and studio to studio. The tools and techniques are often dependent upon "house rules," and sometimes even basic terminology can be different from place to place. I remember listening to Chip Dean direct Monday Night Football and his commands were very precise ("Ready One. Take. Set three. Dissolve"), where someone like Hamish Hamilton who directs The Super Bowl Halftime and Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is basically dancing in the truck and yelling out Austin Powers-esque stuff like "yea baby do it!" and somehow his TD/Vision Mixer interprets that into what camera to cut to. Narrative shows are a bit different but even then there has traditionally been a huge difference in the look and approach of British and European dramatic television as compared to American dramatic TV and we all know the Mexican soap opera/telenovella look is very unique to that market.

394689693_StarTrekPicard.thumb.jpg.5219c93804ed3520c6faf3fe6640e052.jpg

Star Trek Picard set photo

Wow. Thank you. This was very informative and interesting.

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On 3/23/2020 at 6:07 PM, Abdul Rahman Jamous said:

A director told me once a TV show is like a magazine, you casually read it once and that's it. 

A very good observation and nice analogy. An exception to this would be the Wonder Woman TV series. I could watch Lynda Carter doing her thing over and over again. 

Edited by Patrick Cooper
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On 3/23/2020 at 7:37 AM, Abdul Rahman Jamous said:

A director told me once a TV show is like a magazine, you casually read it once and that's it. But a movie is like a book, you read it with full concentration. And even after you finish it you feel like reading it from time to time. Perhaps this is why movies are made with more care and attention to details. 

I don't know shows like "The Wire", "Twin Peaks", "(BBC)Pride and Prejudice", "The Sopranos", "Edge of Darkness", "State of Play" are on my re-watch list. The are very few movies that are remotely as good as "The Wire" 

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Just now, Phil Connolly said:

I don't know shows like "The Wire", "Twin Peaks", "(BBC)Pride and Prejudice", "The Sopranos", "Edge of Darkness", "State of Play" are on my re-watch list. The are very few movies that are remotely as good as "The Wire" 

Ah yes I remember watching "Edge Of Darkness" back in the 80s with my Dad. Very well made and intriguing.

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1 hour ago, Phil Connolly said:

I don't know shows like "The Wire", "Twin Peaks", "(BBC)Pride and Prejudice", "The Sopranos", "Edge of Darkness", "State of Play" are on my re-watch list. The are very few movies that are remotely as good as "The Wire" 

I think its because TV at its best can really get into deep dives into character and setting. Especially since good shows last several years. A lot of TV shows are basically Groundhog Day where the main character/s basically just repeat a version of the same story over and over again (which is like Monk, Criminal Minds, Law & Order, Murder She Wrote, Star Trek--basically any non-serialized show). You would think the audiences would bore of the same formula but shows like ER or Law & Order went on for decades. Hell The Simpsons is on a 33 year run and Family Guy has been on for 21 years (minus the few years the show was cancelled).

I'm actually not even sure that people actually make a psychological or emotional distinction between a story about a fictional character and a story about a real person they've never met. I think that's why audiences can get so emotionally invested in good characters or a great story on TV and be so upset if someone gets killed off, even though they know intellectually that its not real. I think the emotional response is still genuine as if this was someone we'd actually gotten to know over the years. This is not something that really happens as much with movies because you don't get as much time with the characters in a film. Everything is simplified down to 2 hours and while movies can have compelling characters, TV can go deep. Hundreds of hours. I mean something has to account for the 121 million(!) people who tuned in to the end of MASH in 1983, which is more than watch the Super Bowl (the US population at the time was only 230 million so that was an insanely large audience).

 

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In my experience, television is more created by committee than film, and creative people are much more interchangeable, which is not my inherent way to work. I need a clear and focused and consistent approach, and otherwise become lost in generality without consistency and decisive creative rules. Film more often allows me to be my fussy and overly-precious self. For now. That said, my one successful television endeavor was an episode of "Servant," which encouraged originality and wore its single-camera approach as a badge of honor. It was great, and I took my time beforehand in designing the episode as best I could. My other real TV experience was obsessed with quantity of shots rather than quality. At one point the line producer was grabbing the camera and grabbing who knows what, material that was completely out of my hands but would have my name on it, which is a breaking point for me.  We had our differences, the producers were actually very lovely people, but not a good creative match and I soon stepped out for the benefit of all.

 

J

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On 3/5/2020 at 4:33 PM, Bruce Greene said:

Many of the bigger streaming series today have the same recourses and budgets and time as a feature film.  So, no difference there.

Other "tv" series, less so.  It's not so much as a difference between TV vs movies, but smaller budgets vs larger budgets.  Artistically, I think all aim for the same goals, they just all don't make it to the finish line 🙂

I'll disagree here. With exceptions, TV is generally not a director's medium and is not even interested in the pretense. There is much more to look at than money.

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I’ve been lucky on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” in that respect, almost everything is written and directed by the two showrunners, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Dan Palladino. So there is a stylistic consistency driven by the directors. The only difference is that I don’t get the level of preparation I would on a feature film, but on the other hand, after three seasons a lot of stylistic issues have been settled.

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