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Cinematography in Multiple-Camera Sitcoms

by Jeremy Butler

Multiple-camera conventions of cinematography facilitate the capture of Jerrod Carmichael (Jerrod) and Amber Stevens West's (Maxine) performances within the mise-en-scene of The Carmichael Show.

Framing the two actors at eye-level, “medium” distances—not too close and not too far—provides ample space for their active gesturing and makes it less critical for the actors to hit their marks. Also, in terms of aesthetics and TV’s common craft practices, super tight close-ups are typically associated with the intense emotions of soap opera and not the “light,” comic emotions of the sitcom. Tight close-ups are not that difficult to achieve in multicam productions. After all, daytime soap operas are multicam shows that have used them for decades. But in a comic scene such as this one an intimate close-up of either character would not suit the mood of the scene.

Further, shooting the scene in relatively deep focus simplifies the blocking job for directors like Gerry Cohen, the director of this episode. He’s able to quickly and efficiently position actors on the set without fear of them falling out of focus.

Further, this scene has no subjective shots and only minimal camera movement that merely reframes actors as they move. Thus, in The Carmichael Show, budgetary and logistical constraints fit together with aesthetic choices to result in a very distinct, highly conventionalized, zero-degree cinematographic style (as John Caldwell would say) that showcases the actors’ performances and the writer’s dialogue—marginalizing the director’s job of choosing camera angles and framings. It reinforces the old Hollywood maxim that the cinema is a director’s medium while television is a writer’s medium. Not coincidentally, Carmichael does not just star in the program that bears his name, he also was instrumental in creating it, continues to be one of its producers, and co-wrote the episode from which these figures were taken.

Sitcom Style: Multiple-Camera Mode of Production

THE CARMICHAEL SHOW (2015-) illustrates the image and sound style of multiple-camera sitcoms of the 2010s.

from The Carmichael Show (2015)
Creator: Gerry Cohen
Distributor: NBC
Posted by Jeremy Butler