Pulling Off the One-Man Show (Pt. III) – Production
Mike Smith is President, CEO and Co-Founder of Zephyr Entertainment , a LA-based production company dedicated to reinventing classic cinema in the new media era and fostering a community of forward-thinking creatives.
Check out the other posts in this series: Pulling Off the One-Man Show – The Basics and Pulling Off the One-Man Show (Pt. II) – Pre-Production.
Welcome to the granddaddy of all one-man show blog posts! Today, we’ll be diving in on some production strategies to help you execute your one-man web series. This is the critical point where creativity collides with calculation – a daunting task, no doubt, but one with a world of possibilities (or in our case, a world of Shans).
You can duplicate your actor/actress within a shot or scene using one of three methods: altered basic scene coverage, “split-screen” or green screen.
(NOT-SO) BASIC COVERAGE
Despite the heading, this is probably the most efficient method that you will want to use for the majority of your shot list. More specifically, this will involve Single and Over the Shoulder coverage.
In Single coverage, you are only shooting one character at a time. When several of these shots of your actor playing multiple characters are edited together, it creates the effect that these distinct characters are interacting with each other. The only factors you need to be aware of are costume changes, continuity, and camera & lighting positioning. The shots themselves can be a wide variety of angles and focal lengths for almost any moment, though I highly recommend using this method for dialogue scenes. For example, in Mr. Shan Episode 3: “100 Bucks”, much of the comedy stems from dialogue between Mr. Shan and Mr. Wang about who’s paying for dinner, yet you don’t see them in the same shot for 90% of the episode. It works, and trust me, your editor will love you for it (but more of that in my next post).
The same general rules apply to Over the Shoulder (OTS) coverage, but with a bit of a caveat. In this type of shot, your focus is on one character, but you catch a little bit of the character he/she is talking to in the foreground (usually the shoulder). This is where having Body Doubles comes into play, as you can dress them in the costume(s) of the other character(s) in the scene and then have your actor switch costumes with the Body Double to get the reverse coverage. Ultimately, this has the same effect as Single coverage, but even more so since you can “see” multiple characters in the same shot. This strategy became especially helpful in Mr. Shan Episode 4: “Boba War”, where variations on OTS coverage were needed to achieve action sequences.
And in case you were wondering, a la my last post, there were THREE Body Doubles in “Boba War”. Thank you to all those who didn’t submit their guesses!
Yeah… no; not like that at all. The “Split-Screen” Method for the one-man show is much more subtle, yet more editing/VFX intensive than a traditional split screen. You use this method to clearly showcase multiple characters in the same shot, which is essential for world building. To demonstrate how to accomplish a “split-screen,” let’s break down this shot from “Hot Dog”:
To start, we had camera and lighting set up the frame on a tripod. Once that was all figured out, we locked down camera and lighting for the entire shot , including both sides of the split screen. Next, we measured the total frame to divide it into two halves dedicated to each character. We recorded a few takes of Eddie playing the character on the left and then, without touching camera, lighting or any production design, had Eddie change costume and recorded a few takes of Eddie playing the character on the right. Our editor and VFX artist was able to take it from there.
At the outset, this appears to be a simple method, but it is very time-consuming and even the slightest adjustment of camera, lighting and/or production design can throw the whole thing off. Therefore, you’re going to want to use “split-screens” sparingly.
GREEN SCREEN METHOD
In general, the Green Screen method is used in the same situation as a “Split-Screen”, with the addition of knowing that your characters might cross in front of/behind one-another. So basically, whereas “Split-Screens” operate in 1 dimension (horizontal or vertical), the Green Screen method allows you to operate in 2 dimensions (horizontal/vertical plus depth).
We only used this method once in the Pilot of Mr. Shan and the effect was pretty awesome:
As you can see, the two background characters follow the same rules as the “Split-Screen” – locked-off shot, consistent lighting & production design, and no crossing the centerline. After grabbing those two shots, we kept lighting and camera as is and put up a green screen in front of the wall while positioning Eddie as Mr. Shan in the foreground of the shot. While we executed well, this shot took almost an hour to record in full and many many more hours in Post-Production to make it all work. But it was worth it, right?
That’s all for now! Tune in next week where I will be discussing Post-Production tips & tricks for your next One-Man Web Series.
If you’d like to see the first season of Mr. Shan , you can stream it for free with your Amazon Prime Subscription. Don’t have Prime? Mr. Shan is now available on Kino!