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Why On-Camera Actors Need to Know Coverage – Video

You’ve seen television shows, movies and commercials.  Have you noticed how you’ve seen them?  Everything you watch is built from multiple takes and camera angles, with rare exception.   On-camera actors do best when they understand what kind of shot they’re in and their relationship to camera.  In this video acting lesson, veteran actor and film director John Walcutt discusses why actors need to know coverage and more essential fundamentals of on-camera acting.

(Scroll down for key terms and definitions.)


So you can see as an actor, you have to understand that you’re going to do these shots many different ways.  And every frame line is a little bit different, and you work a little differently within these frames.

A master shot is usually the first shot that a director will use, especially in television.  And it tends to tell you where the actors are and what the story is.  Where are you in the story?  Are you in the classroom?  Are you in a Starbucks?  And so you’ll see a wider shot with all the actors in the scene, and that just helps us establish where we are and what’s going on.

Generally directors don’t like to stay in a master shot very long because it’s not very interesting.  You can’t see somebody’s eyes, you can’t see what they’re doing.  So they’ll start with a master shot usually, and then the coverage will gradually get closer and closer and closer and closer.  And what’s crazy is that sometimes you do these inserts or you do pieces of coverage, like close-ups or over the shoulder shots, much later than you shot the scene, sometimes months later.  A director will go into the editing room and they’ll start to cut a scene together and they’ll realize, “oh no, we don’t have a shot of the birthday cake,” and they’ll have to go back.  And sometimes it’s a hand model who does that, sometimes you have to go back and match close-ups that you did months ago.  So it’s a very interesting way to work.  It’s a combination of being an artist and understanding the technology.

That’s what’s important in learning the fundamentals of acting on camera.  Those are some of the things we talk about here at 3-2-1- Acting Studios.  So if you’re in Los Angeles, give us a call.  You can always come in and have a free class, see what you feel about it, see if it’s a good fit for you.

If you’re not in Los Angeles, some of this stuff you can practice on your own.  Use a camera.  See the different power you have in a close up.  See what a master shot does to you and how physical it is and how different.  And you can start to get an idea of how these things work for you on your own.  And then, you know, get out to Los Angeles.  Look us up.

Put that dream in action.

(Scroll down for key terms and definitions.)

Terms to know:

COVERAGE:  Shooting a scene from different positions and distances with different frame sizes to capture the raw material of a scene that can later be edited together into an interesting visual and emotional experience for the audience.  Each SHOT, or individual ANGLE, requires a significant adjustment to camera position and lights (and more) or different SETUP.

MASTER/WIDE MASTER:  Recording of an entire dramatized scene, start to finish, from an angle that keeps all the players in view.  The master shot is sometimes referred to as a LONG SHOT and can often serve as an ESTABLISHING SHOT.   The master shot is usually shot first and becomes the guide for coordinating and MATCHING the other shots that will focus audience attention in the scene.

OVER THE SHOULDER:  A medium shot of one actor photographed from over the shoulder of another actor.  This shot is common and especially useful in dialogue scenes to intercut between speakers.

MEDIUM:  A relatively closer shot than a master, the frame showing only a portion of an actor(s)’s body (knees up, waist up, chest up).

TWO-SHOT:  A medium shot framed for two actors.

CLOSE UP:  A detailed view of a person or object, usually without much context provided.  An actor’s close-up is typically framed to show the entire face, sometimes shot wide enough to include some neck and the very top of the shoulders.  This can also be called an INSERT SHOT.







Hi, I’m John Walcutt. We’re here at 3-2-1- Acting Studios in Los Angeles. Our teaching site is www.TopHollywoodActingCoach.com. So check us out there if you want a little bit more information if this looks interesting to you.

Today we’re working with some of our advanced scene study class members and we’re talking about COVERAGE, how when you work on a set, you’re not going to do a scene just once most of the time, you’re going to have to cover it. When you hear directors say “coverage,” they’re talking about going in for multiple shots, angles, to see a scene from different sides and in different frame sizes. Usually a master, medium, over the shoulder, close-ups… Anyway, take a look at this scene. You’ll understand a little more what I’m talking about.

[Title Card: “Coverage” starring: Karen Perez & Rischae Tolentino (Advanced Scene Study)

Fade in:

Caption: Wide Master

(Two young women eat lunch. One is disappointed by her meal.)

Caption: Over the Shoulder “Medium”

Woman 1: What is it?

Woman 2: My sandwich keeps crashing.

Woman 1: Let me see. Wow. I didn’t know they still made those. I think you need an upgrade.

Caption: Wide Master

Woman 2: No kidding.

Woman 1: Check this out.

Caption: Over the Shoulder “Medium”

Woman 1: Taco Bell’s three cheese new quesadilla. Three cheese layering, pre-installed steak. Mmm.

Caption: Close Up

Woman 2: That’s awesome.

Caption: Over the Shoulder “Medium”

Woman 1: Welcome to the twenty-first century.

Caption: Medium Two-Shot

Fade out.


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