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Single-Camera Vs. Multiple-Camera Editing in Mad Men

by Jeremy Butler

Mad Men’s implementation of the single-camera mode of production allows it to employ editing patterns that would be difficult or impossible in the multiple-camera mode used by soap operas. Close examination of the ordering and framing of shots in the kitchen scene shows how important characters’ looks—that is, whom they look at rather than how they look to others—are to this episode, the program, and television drama in general. And this dance of looks is achieved largely through editing, as in the eye-line match cut from Sally to Betty. Multiple-camera programs can also be fundamentally about looks, but this single-camera scene contains shots that would be too time-consuming or troublesome to capture during a multiple-camera shoot. Specifically, the camera has been moved to several positions well inside a four-walled set, showing us the Draper kitchen from virtually every angle. Multiple-camera shows, with their three-walled sets, cannot bring the camera as close to the characters’ perspectives as Mad Men does. A seemingly simple shot such as the low-angle, medium close-up of Betty with a camera positioned deep inside the set would be nearly impossible to achieve in a multiple-camera production, whether As the World Turns in 1963 or a 21st-century multiple-camera program such as Two and a Half Men (CBS, 2003-present).

Mad Men Scene Analysis

Mad Men’s implementation of the single-camera mode of production allows it to employ editing patterns that would be difficult or impossible in the multiple-camera mode. A breakdown of a kitchen scene--as edited by Tom Wilson--illustrates this point.

from Mad Men (2009)
Creator: AMC / Matthew Weiner
Distributor: AMC
Posted by Jeremy Butler
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