Covering All The Bases

The sum of all the camera shots required for the realization of a scene is called the coverage. The coverage is worked out by the director in collaboration with the DOP in the preparatory phase. To do this, they imagine the positions of the actors in the room and how they want to behave with the camera. The coverage is communicated either as a shot list, as a floorplan with the drawn positions of the actors and the camera and in the form of blocking drawings or as a storyboard. Especially for the preparation of technically complicated sequences such as stunts or digital effects, the storyboard is an important basis. In the shooting phase, the coverage is checked after the staging test and adapted to the actual conditions of the shoot.

The coverage required for a scene depends on a variety of factors: the director's vision and style, the script scenario, the number of figures on screen, the movement of the characters in the room, and dramaturgical and practical motivations, such as the available shooting time. It is therefore not generalizable - some directors shoot from the outset "on cut", that is, they have a concept of the finished film in their head and shoot only those sections of the plot that they also want to use. Other directors cover a scene from many different positions to provide themselves with options for editing. In some cases, the abandonment of coverage and the restriction to only one shot per scene (or for the whole movie) is an artistic tool.

In the coverage, there are a number of formal rules to consider, which have evolved from film history and today correspond to the visual expectation of the audience. In a dialogue scene with two characters, shots of each character are intercut with each other so that the cut does not attract any attention. The so-called 'axis of action' ensures that the perspectives of the characters are coherent, so that each figure within a scene faces the right direction in relation to the other character at all times, based on the 180-degree rule (which imagines a straight line running directly through the heads of two characters, on one side of which the actors should be filmed). A violation of this is called jumping the line, because the camera leaves the 180-degree range on one side of the actors which makes things look noticeably off.

In general, a cut is considered to be least invasive if it includes at least two shot sizes of difference (i.e. the two characters are not filmed in mirrored shots, which would look odd when following each other in sequence). These rules are generally followed by directors to make sure cinematic convention is followed. The deliberate flouting of one of these rules has a strong dramaturgical effect and can therefore sometimes be sought out by a director looking to break convention.