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Explaining Single Camera Dramas

Format, narravite structure, technical and genre are all included to explain what a Single Camera Drama is and how they are made and why they are so popular and why certain shows are more popular with some audiences more than others.

Sam Dilks

on 19 June 2015

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Transcript of Explaining Single Camera Dramas

A Single Camera Drama can adopt one of the following formats: Serial, Series or single drama.
The story carries on throughout the series and for one episode to make sense, you have to watch the one before or even from the start of the series.
Each episode of a series makes sense on it's own. You don't have watch the one before for it to make sense.
Single drama:
One or maybe two episodes and that's it. This is a one off, a complete story.
The Narrative Structure of a TV programme relates to how one or each episode it structured. Is it chronological, so it goes from the beginning of the day to the end, or does it jump around time? Does it have flashbacks or flashforwards? Why? Even aspects like, is it realistic? All this contribute to the Narrative Structure.
Camera, lighting, sound and editing all group together in the Technical Features of Single Camera Production. The technical features are all aspects apart from those on stage; so behind the camera and in the editing studio. Every production uses technical equipment because the camera is just the start off the technical side, behind the camera is where all the real action happens to create a film or a TV programme.
Genre refers to what a film or a TV programme is in terms of the style of the programme. Comedy, Sci-Fi, Period drama, crime, documentary, soap opera, action/adventure, fantasy and horror. Each genre has a different criteria, usually unique to that particular genre that helps to determine one from the other.
A Single Camera Drama employs one camera to take all the shots for every scene. The various shots and angles are done by the same camera. Single Camera Dramas are actually very popular; a lot of TV programmes you would think use more than one camera, actually only use the one camera.
In a serial, the audience need to watch from the start to understand the story. Soap Operas like Eastenders and Coronation Street are serial Single Camera Dramas because it is following the lives of the characters and the events that happen to the characters will carry on to the next episode.
As it is shown in this clip from Eastenders, the audience wouldn't understand what was happening unless they had watched the previous episode. If Eastenders had a Series format, it would've been revealed what was happening and then this moment and it may not have been as dramatic or tense. The audience who watched the previous epsiode and would've tuned into this one, to find out what was happening; so it builds the tension thus getting more viewers.
A TV programme would be formatted as a Series if each episode could stand on it's own. It wouldn't matter if the audience had seen the episode before because the two episodes aren't linked in story or plot so each episode makes sense on it's own.
"Benidorm", shown left, is a TV series set in Benidorm in Spain. Apart from characters and setting, every episode it is different, so it doesn't matter if the audience didn't see the episode or even the series before and the plot with the episode would still make sense. If it was a serial, the plot follow on to the next episode and it would create a different impact on the audience not usually associated with sitcoms.
Single Dramas are one off (maybe two) episodes that have the complete story within. Single Dramas, howwever trough popularity, often turn into a series but the original Single Dramas are just one or two episodes and nothing more.
"The Road to Guantanamo"
started off as a Single Drama running for 95 minutes. It was a one off episode involving a complete storyline. If it was a series, it would've taken a few episodes to tell the story and it would've lost its flow and it wouldn't have impacted the audience like it did if it had to stop and the audience would've had to watch the next whilst remembering what happen in the last one. But like many others, it was later turned into a series.
Chronologically speaking, a TV programme showcasing reality or a sense of normality would tell the story: beginning, middle, end like ABCD. Downton Abbey is in a linear structure so the plot goes ABCD.

If this had a non-linear narrative structure it would a really different programme. As Downton Abbey is a Period Drama, it makes sense for it to be chronological order (linear) so it makes sense to the audience looking for a realistic performance of that period in history.
A programme is broadcast in a non-linear structure if it doesn't want it show the story in chronological order, probably for reasons leading to tension and mystery. For crime dramas, for example, it is better to show the murder and then go back so the audience can come to their own assumptions or for false security. So unlike the ABCD sequence of a linear narrative, it may be CADB.
The classic example, though, is Doctor Who which is set in a different place every episode and he can travel back and forwards in time so this has a very non-linear structure.
Realism or realist is all about if the story they are trying to convey is realistic. Soap Operas are an example of having realist narrative structure, because a lot of the stories are meant to be relatable for the audience so like it's their life on the screen.
This clip uses medium close-up shots of the characters to get a realist reaction from the characters so the audience can assume what they are thinking and relate to the situation as they may have experienced a scenario such as this so they react like the characters are reacting.
Anti-realist is the opposite to realist, so the story is not realistic. Sci-fi programmes like Star Trek are not meant to realistic as they are set in space. Star Trek is anti-realist so maybe the audience can escape reality and use imagination and go into fantasy.
Having said that, anything broadcast that is unrealistic and couldn't physically happen in real life has an anti-realist narrative structure. As I said, it used so viewers can escape their real life and go into a world of fantasy and imagination.
Flashbacks are used to go back in time. Maybe to a scene that the audience has not seen yet to maybe put the pieces together for a crime drama or to flashback and explain why a character is the way they are. Maybe the programme would flashback to a scene in a previous episode or series/season to again explain a characters intentions or to piece together an assumption.
do the same but go forward in time to a scene in the future. In Ugly Betty, she has flashbacks to previous events to remind her what to do and what not to do.
Without the camera, there would be no film-simple. Camera angles give different impressions on situations and characters. For example if a character needs to look vulnerable the camera would tilt down to make the character look small in size. Alternatively, if the character is meant to look intimidating or threatening, the camera would tilt up to make the character look big and powerful.The angle of the camera is probably more important than the acting; there are are good and bad actors but if the camera does not help in portraying a character, the camera is not doing it's job.
Lighting help set the mood, therefore could assist in determining a character's thought process. If someone has just seen their friend being murdered, the lighting would be dull and dark to portray a poignant scene and the character is now feeling destroyed inside so the lighting would not be bright. If there was no light, films would be bland and it would be difficult for actors to convey their character's emotions especially if the wrong colour or wrong density of light is used. The lighting is important to any production company for this very reason.
For a story to move on, there has to be sound. The characters talking uses sound, the cars whizzing past on a street scene uses sound, the firing of a gun uses sound. Sound is also important for continuity. If there is conversation between two people, it isn't filmed as it seems on screen but if it was on the street and there was the sound of cars driving past on the road and the next shot there was no sound at all, it would distinguish the continuity of a scene. Sometimes the sound operator would stay next to the street to get a sound of cars driving down the road and the sound would be dubbed on in the edit to make it seem it was one continuous shot of a conversation.
Sitcoms are very common in today's TV society. That's because they are portrayed as being easier to make than other genres. Sitcoms require a linear narrative structure because it follows the life of someone or follows the events of a scenario. Sitcoms aren't to make the audience think or manipulate the audience as much as other genres like Crime or Horror. The only manipulation needed is to make them laugh, this could include red herrings to add to the comedic effect. British and American humour is quite different: Americans are brought up to believe they can be President but Brits have an attitude of "it won't work out". Brits cheer for the underdog and don't want to celebrate prematurally, whereas Americans are nice just for the sake of it. British pessimism and America's optimism are often portrayed in the comedy as Brits love comedies that have bad things happening to the characters, like Not Going Out where Lee is often confronted with unforeseen obstacles and mostly fails. Whereas American comedies celebrate good things like Friends, i.e. where Chandler and Monica getting engaged. US comedy focuses on character (like the dumb one or the weird one) whereas British comedy is about funny events.
Facts: http://ideas.time.com/2011/11/09/the-difference-between-american-and-british-humour/
Luther: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1474684/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
Lee is often confronted with unforeseen obstacles and tries over come then. This is clearly a British comedy because Brits love seeing an underdog win or they laugh at it when it goes wrong.
Whereas American comedies celebrate victories, especially if it's romantic like in this clip of Chandler and Monica's engagement. Often the comedic effects in US comedy is through the characters (like Joey) rather than events.
Any Trekkie will agree when I say Sci-Fi and fantasy are popular with every generation. The audience like to lose reality and live in a fantasy world. Like Star Trek, audience may have boring, mediocre jobs in the city but can escape to outer space and momentarily forget their real lives. Fantasy genre is always anti-realist, non-linear creations. They have to be anti-realist, Star Trek and Star Wars can't happen in real life and that is an advantage because, as mentioned before, audience like escaping reality and living a world of fantasy up in space and on different planets. Bright lights and futuristic sound effects help to distinguish the place and time of the programme.
The bright lights, then sound effects and other effects all help to create scenes like this for Sci-Fi and fantasy programmes. This is very anti-realist because this cannot happen in real life and it seems to attract large audiences and a large fanbase because of the lack of realism.
Period dramas and Crimes are not dissimilar to each other. Period dramas develop an understanding for past (or future) eras. Downton Abbey is set the early 20th century and costume and dialogue help it to establish places and times. Period dramas are also quite similar to fantasy shows as they transport the audience back to a time that isn't real, although period dramas have realism in their creations because they are deliberately trying to portray live back in that year.
Crime dramas manipulate the audience into making their own judgements and make the audience want to watch because they want to find out who committed the murder and how. The manipulation of the audience applies to both genres as period dramas need to manipulate the audience so they believe it is a past year and crimes manipulate audiences to come to their own conclusions which helps it's popularity of it's show. Crime shows like Midsomer Murders use this exact philosophy.
Wuthering Heights is a 2 part TV serial drama that is set the 1800s and this was portrayed through relevant costumes and suitable dialogue. The audience is manipulated to think this is actually the 1800s and the story helps the audience want to watch all of it to see what happens.
Midsomer Murders is a murder mystery fictional crime drama set in various villages with different murders taking place. The audience are manipulated to believe these are real villages with real murders and then manipulated to work out their own conclusions. The villages are portrayed by costumes and filming on location.
Horrors want the audience to feel slightly uncomfortable but not too uncomfortable. They want the audience to be on the edge of their seat, expecting someone or something to jump out at them. The secret to a good horror film is timing, the audience will be waiting but it needs to be vital that the moment the audience get scared is unexpected, which is difficult because the audience will be expecting it. That's the challenge of a horror movie maker.
This clip from Scream is effective because even though the audience are expecting a fright, this clip catches most audience member when they aren't as expectant anymore, this is due to timing - the secret of a good horror film. Also good horror films give the audience a false sense of security. Another point, exampled by Ghostface in Scream, he just comes out of nowhere so that's unexpected aswell.
Documentaries are usually linear as they follow the lives of someone or something. Documentaries like "Africa" allow the audience at home to see what a hunting lion or a shade craving elephant does - it opens the door to a time where people at home don't have to leave their sofas to see what it's like in the Africa safari. They need to be informative and interesting and now due to ground breaking technology, the camera quality and the clarity of the picture is phenomenal so the audience can see the detail.
This clip is portraying the elephants ceremoniously touching the bones of an elephant carcass. This is an emotive clip as the audience see how wildlife deal with grief and it is conveyed that this corpse was once a part of this herd of elephants and they are grieving of iit. This is portraying that life is tough and survival of the fittest means that they can't always show a happy clip. This is informative, interesting and emotional.
Soap operas are meant to convey the lives of real people, so they will conform in a realist, linear serial. Eastenders and Coronation Street carry the storyline on endlessly, the audience have to watch the episode before to understand the current one. Soap operas manipulate emotion by using real life situations and scenarios that the audience can relate to and emotionally empahtise with the characters as they have lived or are still living through the same ordeal.
This clip is from Emmerdale, the production team have used a situation that they know viewers can relate to, and this is what soap operas do - they hook people to watch them every day or every week because they portray a scenario and know that viewers would have gone through the same.
Action programmes are exciting and dangerous. An action programme can be anything, which is why it is such a popular genre. Action can include realism (i.e. Die Hard and anti-realism (i.e. Star Trek), they can be linear and non-linear (Breaking Bad). They can be serial, series and a single drama. Action and adventure is the only genre that take anything because whereas comedy HAS to be funny, there are no boundaries to make an action and adventure programme, anything can happen, usually dangerous to make the audience watch as they want the hero to be heroic and win.
Breaking Bad is one of the most popular action programmes around, and that's due to clever writing and producing as they get the audience hooked to find out what happens and/or why he did what he did. It jumps backwards and forwards in time so the audience get uncomfortable but also get an explanation of why something has happened. This is the opening scene from the opening episode and straight from the first couple of seconds the audience have questions they want to be answered.
Editing is the super glue that puts the film together, the oven that cooks it. The shots are the ingredients and the editing is the mixer that mixes it all together. Making a film is a jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces are the shots and they are all over the place but it's the editors who have the job putting it all together, taking one piece (shot) at a time and putting them together. Editing has been developing since a moving picture was invented back in the late 1800s. Special effects for programmes like Star Trek are dubbed on afterwards and sound or music is put on afterward in the editing studio. Editing is the real magic behind movie making.
This may not be a street scene but it is an atmospheric scene in a bar in Only Fools and Horses. Away from the comedy, this bar is noisy and people can be heard chatting but that does not necessarily mean it is live and they are chatting on set. This chatter, to make it seem a busy bar, was probably dubbed on afterwards in the editing studio as the sound operator recorded a real pub scene with real chatter and noise and it got dubbed on afterwards. And the music that is apparently being played in the bar was also dubbed on afterwards.
(2) A crime drama series starring Idris Elba as a near-genius murder detective whose brilliant mind can't always save him from the dangerous violence of his passions.
Luther worked as a DCI in the Serious Crime Unit in the first series and then the Serious and Serial Crime Unit in the following series.
The show ran from May 2010 to July 2013, and was a popular hit with audiences and won numerous awards. It was so successful due to it's editing techniques and the messages it was portraying to it's audience. Like most crime dramas, it is realistic so the audience can empathise. Luther follows the conventions because of the abnormal nature of the protagonist, for example: Luther is violently passionate about his job.
This was an older generation of crime drama. Inspector Endeavour Morse solved crimes from 1975 to 1999 in book form and then was made into a TV programme from 1987 to 2000. Although it finished over a decade before Luther started, the principles of making Inspector Morse were the same. It needed to be realistic so the audience can believe it and empathise with it.
This is more of a murder mystery which follows the 3 part establishment on the subtitle slide (crime committed; investigation; justice).
Inspector Morse is set in upper class English settings, whilst Morse himself is into various interests such as: the arts, opera music (especially Mozart and Wagner), classical literature and poetry etc.
Crime dramas usually use a series format because they have to end the drama somewhere, somehow. Crime dramas are also usually established 3 parts. Part 1: the crime takes place; part 2: the investigation and part 3: finding and framing the criminal.
Crime dramas might use a non-linear narrative structure because the nature of the genre is to have the crime and the investigation before having the explanation with maybe a flashback to show what actually happened. Also another convention of crime dramas is that the protagonist has an unusual life or something abnormal about them. For example, Walter White in Breaking Bad has got terminal lung cancer or the failed relationships of Morse.
The narrative structure may vary from drama to drama but by the end of the entire drama, the conclusion has come and, even though there will be cliff hangers along the way, the drama will come to a conclusion i.e. the criminal is caught and punished.
Luther: Video clip
Screenshot analysis
Establishing shot: This opening shot in the first episode of Luther ensures that the audience gets an initial bad feeling about what is going to happen. It is after dark at what looks like a big incorporation company. This immediately sets the scene for the audience watching at home and the darkness conveys that something dangerous or bad will happen. A crime drama convention is when the scene and time is immediately set from the very first shot, as this means that these questions are answered immediately.
The lighting is still dark in this second shot as this is still portraying that something serious or unwelcome is going to happen soon. Filming the man in gap conveys that the man is trapped and the camera being high up towering over the man makes him seem small and inferior. The slight gap of light from the left casts a shadow which is seen much bigger than the man himself, this makes it seem that the man is the smallest object around.
The first character is introduced. But without a name or description the audience can only make assumptions about him. The fact that he is running, panicked and in the darkness, means that the audience is dropped into the thick of the action and will assume he is wanted by someone or running away from someone who is after him. The darkness still portrays something will happen. Seeing inside the building though, allows the audience to establish more thoughts about the scene and where this drama is taking place. An engaging crime drama needs an exciting opening that establishes all the mundane stuff like scene setting because in order to engage the audience, the audience must be intrigued as what is happening or what is going to happen.
Reaction shot: This is a close-up shot of the man in question. This establishes to the audience that he is scared for his life which further intrigues the audience to find out what is happening. Being dressed in a suit and tie, the audience might assume that he has importance or is a businessman or someone is high up in the society hierarchy. This close-up means that audience is even further into the action and this means they will be more engaged and more intrigued.
This is another establishing shot. But this time it establishes the outside location. The ambulance is a signal for danger or someone is injured or dying, this gives more clues to the audience to intrigue them further. Also this is a neighbourhood with a houses, rather than the big mysterious incorporate building - this is parallel editing to add another dimension into the audience establishing a location for this drama. Crime dramas are meant to intrigue, engage and entertain the audience and this is achieved by the director thinking about what they can show and what they can hide from the audience and so far the audience don't know anyone's name, they don't anything about anyone or where they are - this intrigues the audience because they want answers to these questions.
Screenshot analysis
Inspector Morse: Video
With this shot of classic artwork, it establishes to the audience that this crime drama is based in a upper class, traditional location. Contrasting from Luther, Inspector Morse is a traditional English murder mystery and Morse, himself, is interested in highbrow interests such as art and classical music, so this also establishes what sort of character is going to be in this drama. Also contrasting from Luther, the light is much lighter and the daylight conveys that this is more settled, more relaxed setting to perhaps surprise the audience later with the murder or perhaps to unsettle the audience.
This shot of a church choir further establishes the country, traditional, upper class setting of this drama. The shots are longer and slower this maybe to show the slower, more thorough lifestyle of the characters involved. Whereas Luther opened with a massive, ambiguous building in the city, Inspector Morse is opening with a much calmer, slower, brighter lit scene to establish such a setting. The audience at the time would be engaged because, perhaps, if they were living in the city they could use this as a sort of escapism into the calm and peaceful countryside, or they would, also perhaps, be unnerved by the seemingly unspoilt nature and would want to watch on.
This shot further establishes the highbrow interests expressed in this drama. Morse likes classic cars so the emerging Jaguar logo makes sure that the audience understands that they are in a calmer, classier scene. Whereas Luther had fast editing and ambiguity, Inspector Morse is being very clear with where it is set, what sort of characters will be in this episode. Being a series (the plot starts and finishes in the same episode), Inspector Morse cannot leave the audience with any ambiguity, therefore the director takes time in establishing the settting and the characteristics and mannerisms of the characters in this drama.
This is the first time the audience get to see Inspector Morse himself. They don't know he is but by the calibre of car and how centred he is, the audience assume he is important or central to the drama's plot. Also by revealing him as the driver of this Jaguar, it also establishes his interest in classic cars. The bright daylight portrays a calm setting, as if this was filmed at night with dark lighting, this would portray a feeling of dread and get the audience experience a worrying emotion - but because it is daylight they can stay calm and relaxed. Also in this shot, by rolling down his window the audience can assume he is approachable and isn't mysterious or unpleasant.
This shot then shows the close-up of another essential character to the audience. By showing just her face, the audience can see her eyes and develop a trust with her without her speaking. Also by her singing along with the choir, there is also a sense of peacefulness and trustworthiness. This parallel editing also allows the audience to link Inspector Morse in the Jaguar to this woman and this choir, so the audience will assume they are linked and perhaps Morse is on his way to the choir or they know each other. This develops a bond and link between characters without any words spoken between them, this link means that the audience has more information about the characters and relationships, establishing more about the characters in the drama.
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