Directing

As with all TV productions, studio work is a collaborative process. Students work as a team to produce shows, but it is the director who is the creative force behind any studio production.

Directing Multi-Camera Studio Productions

During studio productions, directors call the shots. They run the show making sure that the crew and talent work the best they can and perform exactly as expected.  Directors issue their calls using succinct and consistent cues that are standard throughout the broadcast industry. Directing is one of the most highly respected positions in the industry because it requires a person who has a complex understanding of the tasks, who stays in control and keeps a cool head, who knows how to troubleshoot and improvise, who is confident, assertive and capable of making quick decisions.

Prior to the show the director will hold production meetings with the crew, go over scripts with the talent, set up camera shots and coordinate a variety of checks to make sure all the show elements are ready to go. During the show, the director calls out the camera shots, when to roll video and audio elements and when to cue talent. The role can be immensely challenging, but over time directors develop a routine that makes their job rewarding and fun.

Directors are excellent communicators and multi-taskers, but they are also great listeners. During chat shows, directors follow conversations and even learn to read body language to help them anticipate when to change shots. They need to dictate clearly and concisely, using a specific word sequence. For example, if a director needs Camera 1 to pan left, they must first indicate the operator (Camera 1) and then instruct them what to do. It’s important for operators to respond immediately to the director’s cues. Any delay could make the difference between a tight show and one where the production lags behind the action.

The cues used in our class will be consistent with what is heard in most of the industry. But in other places where the terminology is slightly different, remember the axiom, “When in Rome….”


Directing Cues

(See pages 353-357 in Zettl's Television Production Handbook, 12th Edition, for a list of commonly-used cues)

During any multi-camera production, the director assembles the production elements (video, audio, graphics, etc) using a specific sequence of commands or cues. Generally, multi-camera directing attempts to create as close to a finished product as possible without resorting to post-production editing. During a live show, there is usually no chance to fix any element. Therefore, the director needs to be able to communicate clearly to coordinate all the production elements, as well as the actions of the talent. To some extent, students will find that directing is all about being about to communicate to people effectively.


Ready and Execution Cues

Cues are always given in two parts: one is a Ready cue, which is then followed by the Execution. The ready cue gives production operators time to prepare. For example, when a director wants to fade up to a specific camera shot, the cue would be,

Ready fade up Camera 2 (pause)…. Fade up Camera 2.

A more succinct way of saying it would be: Ready fade up 2.… Fade.

The technical director, or TD, will execute the fade. When the director gives the Ready cue to fade up on Camera 2, the TD will then set up the proper sequence of buttons on the video switcher to fade, but they won’t execute it until the director gives the execution cue. The Camera 2 operator will also make sure to ready their shot by holding it steady.

The next cue might call for the use of a title to be superimposed over the camera shot. When the director wants the title to appear in the shot, they would say,

Ready insert title (pause)….. Insert.  Another way of saying would be: Ready insert CG…. Insert.

Other stations might say, Ready super CG…. Super. But when in Rome….

When a director wants to perform a straight cut between camera shots, they use the expression Take. For example,

Ready take Camera 1…. Take! Or a succinct way of saying it: Ready Take 1… Take!

Often, a straight cut is implied if the director doesn't say Take. The ready cue then sounds like, Ready 1..... Take! Or if doing a series of quick cuts between cameras, the director might simply call out the camera numbers, 1.... Take. 2.... Take.... and so on. 

The Take

A Take (in some markets the term used is Cut) is an expression that applies only to video sources and is not used for elements like audio or CG. You Take camera shots, but you Insert CG, or you Fade music, or you say, Sound On if the audio is coming from a video source.

For example, when opening a show on Camera 2 with CG title and music, the director will say,

Ready Fade Up 2, Ready Fade Up Music, … in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Fade All,…. Ready Insert CG…. Insert CG.

At the start of the show, the countdown is helpful so that the TD and Audio Operator fade up the camera and music together. Countdowns also get used again at the end of the show when the director needs the video and audio to fade to black at the same time. 

The Fade

Fade is an expression used when the director wants to either fade to a camera shot from black or fade from a camera shot to black. Although fades are technically dissolves, a fade is used specifically when black is used at the start and end of a show.

Directors will always start a show in black. Therefore, the cue is.... Black on line. The TD operator switches to black, which is a source on their switcher.


The Dissolve

Dissolves are used between camera shots, or between camera and video inserts that get rolled into the show, or between camera shots and graphics. Dissolve cues must always begin with a Ready cue. For example,

Ready dissolve Camera 2… Dissolve Camera 2. Or more succinctly, Ready Dissolve 2… Dissolve.

Directors need to be clear with their cues and not confuse operators. If the intention is to dissolve between camera shots, then the director must not say, Ready dissolve 2… Take, since a Take is a straight cut. The director must be consistent, but if they need to change their cue, then they should say, Cancel, and start over with the new cue. For example,

Ready dissolve 2…. Cancel… Ready dissolve 1… Dissolve!

The timing between cues is determined by the director, but they shouldn’t leave too much of a pause between Ready and Execution. The director uses their best judgement on what works creatively for the show.

Try to keep the Ready and Execution cues close together when you say them. 


Sneak and Mic and Cue

After the show open, the director may want the music to fade out gradually instead of fading suddenly with the video. The cue they would use is called a Sneak (other stations might say something different). For example, the director would say:

Ready sneak out music…. Sneak it.

The Audio Operator then gradually fades out the music. Whilst the music is sneaking out, the director may also ask the Audio Operator to open up the talent’s microphone. Then they will ask the floor director to cue the talent so the talent can start talking. The words chosen by the director would be:

Ready open mic and cue talent… Open mic and cue. The succinct way to say it would be: Ready open mic and cue… Open mic and cue. Or yet more concisely: Ready mic and cue.... Mic and cue.


Headsets

During the show all of the major operators who need to communicate back and forth between the control room and the studio floor will wear headsets, which are equipped with microphones. The headset is especially useful when the director needs to communicate with the floor director, also known as a floor manager.

The floor manager works as the director’s liaison to the talent especially when the talent has no way of hearing what the director says. Therefore, when the talent needs to sit up straight or speak faster, the director will relay instructions to the floor director who will then relay it to the talent.

Floor directors use a variety of hand-signals that consist of mostly timing and directional cues for the talent. Different stations may use slightly different cues, but for the most part students can learn the cues that are in the Zettl textbook (pp. 332 - 335). 

Studio personnel and talent need to react to cues immediately. 

Whilst the production is underway, the director’s headset microphone is the only one that remains live. All other personnel must make sure to switch off their headset microphones to help the director avoid any distractions or interference that may prevent them from issuing cues in a timely manner. Even when a microphone is live and the operator is not talking, sometimes the microphone will pick up their breathing and other sounds caused. During the show, when an operator needs to speak with the director, they do so only when absolutely necessary, but they must whisper and speak briefly, and never when the director is issuing another cue. Wait for an appropriate moment to speak up, and speak only if it’s relevant immediately to the production and the director needs to hear it.

TV-1 Director’s Checklist

  • Set up the camera shots so they all have the correct composition.
  • Practise camera moves.
  • Make sure the audio operator has performed sound checks for microphones and other audio elements.
  • Check to make sure the prompter operator has loaded the script and that the prompters in the studio can be read easily by the talent.
  • Check to make sure all of the CG’s have been built by the CG operator.
  • Check to make sure the CG operator has typed up a program slate.
  • Check to make sure all video elements are loaded in the server and are ready to go.
  • Make sure the TD knows what type of transitions will be used and has time to practise.

At the start of the show

  • Director issues Standby command to the crew. At this point, all headset chatter is hushed. Floor director gives Standby to the talent. At this point the talent gives the show their full attention.
  • Director makes sure that Black is online in the program monitor. They say, “Black online.”
  • Director gives command to roll for record (Roll for record and confirm speed). The video server operator starts the recording and says to the director “Speed” to confirm the recording has begun.
  • Director inserts the slate (Ready insert slate…. Insert) Keep slate up for about 5 seconds and then lose it. (Ready lose slate… Lose it)
  • Director wishes everyone a good show and gives the opening cues.


Check out this behind-the-scenes video that shows the work behind directing the Academy Awards.           Advisory - some strong language is used.