In Conclusion

This semester, we were asked to explore something. We decided to explore different formats for shooting comedy. Mockumentary, Stoner Circle and multi-cam live audience were our chosen formats. We’ve come away with three rough drafts, but with a greater understanding of what it takes to write and make a comedy.

Multi-cam seems to have been my main focus over the semester. Some of my favourite TV shows are shot in this style, and I was interested to see why it is losing traction in the industry. Reflecting on our work on this format, I can see that it is limited, hard to write for, and difficult to get right. It is cheap and efficient, yes, but at the cost of great humour and fantastic improvised moments.

The mockumentary format is in it’s hey-day, with shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation proving that this format makes for great comedy. Other shows, like Veep, show how the style can be altered to fit specific narratives. The mockumentary was the easiest form for us to film. It allowed us the greatest freedom to improvise, and the format naturally lends itself to humour.

Finally, the stoner circle shot was a bit of a curveball. It’s not used often, and it suits a very particular style of comedy. We did our best to create a good scene, and Athena’s script worked well. In editing, we made an effort to make it sharp and punchy, speeding up the pans and cutting quickly between lines.

Filming and writing each piece taught us a lot about the different formats, as evidenced in my individual posts about them. They also allowed us to work collaboratively. Being able to write with the creative writing students meant I could get my ideas across through in their writing. At times, the group work became tiring, especially towards the end of the semester, but being able to go off an edit individually meant we could still maintain some independence in our work.


Editing is not my favourite thing. I don’t hate it, I just don’t actively pursue it.

Editing each format of comedy was different. The mockumentary consisted of a lot of short clips, but not many that provided an opportunity for jump cuts. We didn’t really shoot multiple takes for coverage, which was stupid, but made our lives easier at the time. This made it harder to edit, especially when some of our funniest moments were ruined by breaking that could have been covered if we’d bothered to shoot more takes.

Tahni made the first rough-cut of the mockumentary. I then went in and made a shorter, punchier cut. While my cut was more polished, Tahni’s was funnier, so that is the one we’ve been screening and showing around. I found that the mockumentary was a pretty simple edit, it took me about an hour to finish my cut.

The stoner circle was also relatively simple to edit, but it was different. Most of the footage was in long, continuous takes, which could not really be edited together, given the nature of the filming (outlined here). Even though we couldn’t really piece together this scene, we made sure when we were filming to have everything as perfect as possible. This made editing easy; each segment was broken up with our green screen shots, and the end result is cohesive and quick.

The multi-cam was near impossible to edit. Because we used three cameras, and didn’t start and stop the recordings simultaneously, we had to watch through ridiculous amounts of footage to match up the clips in a sequence. We found that we had used too similar angles when we shot, so there is not much difference from camera to camera. The end result looks like a school concert that has been filmed by two parents sitting in the same row but at opposite ends, and edited together by the same parents who think they know how to use a computer but still go to toolbar>file>cut>paste.

Multi-Cam = Shit-Cam

Multi-cam was a bust. It sucked. We sucked. Everything sucked.

I have already outlined the script-writing process of our multi-cam experiment. That part went well. However, the script did not translate to filming, which probably means it wasn’t a very good script.

The first issue we had when shooting was purely fatigue. We have been working with the same people for weeks, and we have been working on the same project for weeks. To be honest, we are sick of it, and want it done. When we met on Monday to film, it was early, and it was going to be a full day. The general feeling within the group was that we couldn’t be bothered, but that we had to. This led to us being lazy. We didn’t really care about the camera set-up. We didn’t problem solve when there were problems, we worked around them. We were terrible actors.

Logistically, the shoot was a nightmare. We booked three cameras, which Paul said was fine but the techs said was not. They let us have them but were muttering away about how terrible Paul is (just kidding but you probably got an email). The room we booked was small, and so the cameras were set up relatively close to each other. We only had one camera operator, so she panned and zoomed with one camera as the others were just left rolling. The projector didn’t work, so we had to use a laptop for our slides (central to pretty much every joke in the script) and do close ups later.

This week, I spent some time at the Neighbours studio. I watched a full day of filming on set, and got to see how the professionals do it. Firstly, their sets are stagnant (obviously) and are used for dozens of scenes a week. This means that the cameras (neighbours has two) are wheeled into positions already marked on the floor and don’t really move much. When they do move, it’s all been done before so they know exactly where to go. They film a mid-shot, a wide angle, and then generally two close ups (one on each face) since most scenes involve two characters. They are incredibly efficient, shooting five or six episodes a week.

Looking at Neighbours, I can see that any successful multi-cam show would require a similar set-up. Even though we were shooting comedy, the angles would stay similar (maybe a few less closeups), as would the reusable sets. I don’t want to blame our failure purely on set up, because we clearly did a bad job as well, but it definitely played a role.

This is misleading - none of us were that happy

This is misleading – none of us were that happy

If we were to do the multi-cam thing again, these are the things I would do differently:

  1. Set up a proper set
  2. Rehearse and work out camera positions and angles
  3. Rehearse, and then rejig the script
  4. Not do it at all, it is painful and a dying format anyway


Statement of Intent

Michael and I’s intention is to to represent our work over this semester in the best way possible. Even though we think that our scripts and blog posts show the true progression of our work, the screeners and poster will allow us to showcase our ‘final’ products. We hope that our goal of experimenting with comedy formats is clear in these final presentations.

In order to do this, we will out together our screeners tomorrow morning (Friday 23 October), as well as the poster. Michael will then write a post for the website.


That 70’s Style Circle Shot

Our second format was shot this week, the stoner circle style shot from That 70’s Show.

We began this week with a consult and a group meeting, which led to lots and lots of ideas being thrown around for the circle shot. Athena was tasked with writing the actual script, but we all contributed to it in some way. The idea to pass around a box of shapes (classic munchies food), the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Kyles’, and the final scene in which we run around like morons all came from a brainstorming session on Monday. This sort of collaboration was fun, and led to a better finished product.

We discussed two main ways of shooting this scene; A) we could use a hand-held camera and a swivel chair, or B) we could put the camera on a tripod and swing it round. We also considered filming each bit of dialogue separately, editing them into a cohesive piece later. This idea was quickly ditched, mostly because none of us are strong editors and we felt it would be too time-consuming.

After trying the swivel chair technique, we decided it was too shaky and uneven, and worked with the tripod after that. We found the most difficult part of filming to be remembering whose line was next, and panning accordingly. Tahni, our camera operator, was holding both a boom mike and the camera, and couldn’t really hold a script as well. We ended up editing the script so that the lines were always delivered in a clockwise pattern around the circle, making it a lot easier for Tahni to keep up. It was then just a matter of rehearsing until we got it right.

Coming into this week, I had assumed that the acting would be easier, given the simple dialogue ad lack of movement. Looking back on the footage, I am still a terrible actor and it is even more obvious, since the all the shoots are mid-shots to close-ups.

A very flattering still of me from the stoner circle footage

A very flattering still of me from the stoner circle footage

One thing to note about shooting this scene, we changed pretty much none of the script. Athena wrote a great script that translated easily to filming. The lines were easy to memorise, and with no movement involved, it was simply a case of sitting and waiting for the camera to pan around to you again.

Looking back to the mockumentary shoot, it was definitely easier to shoot that than the stoner circle. We could improvise as we pleased, and Tahni was able to just keep shooting until we started breaking. However, both worked, both were fun, and both offered an insight into how the different formats work.

Week Two of Actual Productivity

After shooting and editing the green screen scenes last week, there was a general air of greater confidence in the group. This partly had to do with the fact that we finally settled on an idea to base our scripts around.

The group project project was born last week after we got sick of throwing around the ‘bad date idea’. After going round in circles, and generally just not getting anything done, Michael commented that ‘maybe this should be our project’. And so now we are writing and shooting scripts based around a uni group project; genius and maybe a little bit lazy.

This week we shot our mockumentary scene. We had a great script, written by Michael, and an idea of how we were going to film it. This fell apart within five seconds of entering the room. We cut Tahni out of the script completely, so that she could be our sole camera operator. We also lengthened some jokes, and changed lines to suit memory and delivery.Image (6)

Image (7)

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My annotated mocku script

The actual process of shooting the scene was relatively easy. We used plain walls and whiteboards as backdrops for the talking heads segments, which were filmed using a tripod. The format of mockumentary also made it very easy for Tahni to simply hold the camera and move around as she pleased. As we rehearsed, she was able to pick up who to film, when to use a wide-shot or when to be close in. Since we didn’t really repeat takes to get more coverage, we have really created a documentary ‘feel’. We also utilised the zoom function perhaps a little to liberally, but it was fun to get those direct-to-camera shots.

This was our first time working as a complete group, and it worked well. Everyone was able to get their ideas out, and we were able to try out different lines and styles of shooting. We figured out who is a good actor (Kyle), and who isn’t (me). It helped that Michael wasn’t too protective of his script, and was happy to make changes as we worked.

Writing for Multi-Cam

With our mockumentary shot and edited to a rough cut, and a script ready for our stoner circle scene, this week I began writing a script for our final experiment; the live-audience, multi-cam sitcom.

We knew that this was going to be our hardest scene to shoot, but I didn’t want to limit my writing, so I didn’t take much care for logistics when writing. Writing the scene, I was primarily focused on making it seem like a multi-cam show. I was conscious of writing for a laugh track, as well as for a simplistic set. The jokes had to be simple, the type that are almost lowest common denominator, or would be at home in an episode of Friends or The Big Bang Theory.

My first draft of this script was just over a page in length. It was basically five jokes, one after the other. These weren’t very funny jokes, but they were the kind that would work in a PG rated, 6pm syndicated, unfunny sitcom. The second draft was lengthier, with jokes that were longer than one-liners, and slightly more intelligent (though still not great).

While the main focus of the script was on the group members, we were also experimenting with the comedy format, so I brought the live audience to the forefront. I wanted to do this in a way that was not simply just making the TV viewing audience aware of the live audience. I didn’t want to simply incorporate a shot of an audience or a voice-over stating their presence. Instead, I wrote the script to be based around the group presenting in front of a group of people, with one character sitting in the audience to ‘measure audience satisfaction’. This is my favourite aspect of the second script; it breaks the fourth wall, but it also adds to the narrative and comedy of the scene.

After finishing this draft of the script, I posted it to Facebook to get feedback from the group. I also encouraged them to edit it and re-draft it.


This is Tahni's post in our Facebook group explaining her changes to the script

This is Tahni’s post in our Facebook group explaining her changes to the script

Tahni pretty much took my script and made it work logistically for us. There’s no way we would be able to get a big enough group of people to form a ‘live audience’, and we couldn’t guarantee we could shoot Paul’s shots on the same day as our own. Tahni also lengthened some of the jokes, and made them more like the sort of jokes that would appear on a good sitcom, like Seinfeld (I know that good/bad sitcoms are a matter of opinion but I’m going to keep referring to Seinfeld as a good example and the Big Bang Theory as a bad example).

This is my original script, with Tahni’s changes tracked in red.

This is where I think this studio worked how it was supposed to. Tahni, as a creative writing student, took my work and made it better. We discussed the changes and I was able to see where improvements were made. I still got to write, and I got to explore my ideas, but I also got to collaborate with a writer. The end result may not have been great, but the process helped me to explore script-writing in relation to the media I am passionate about.

Experiment #1: Green Screen

During our consult this week, Paul floated the idea of our final product being a bunch of small experiments, rather than the three,  more polished scenes we were originally intending on making. With this is mind, we decided to use the Thursday class to shoot in front of a green screen, something none of us have done before.

Initially, the most challenging part of shooting in front of a green screen was setting the thing up. Paul had recommended we hire the pop-up green screen, so we could set it up anywhere we liked. Trying to attach the stupid thing to the stands was impossible; we ended up just clamping the screen to the poles using the gaffa clamps. We then found that the green screen was too small, and that we wouldn’t be able to get any decent shots with it. So we gave up and returned it to the techs.

Next we tried shooting in the green screen room, which was about 6 million times easier and more fun. After an initial struggle with the lighting in the room, we were able to get a bunch of great shots of the entire group, as well as some individual ones.

I spent the next little while putting some backgrounds into the shots. The process was a lot easier than I had anticipated, the hardest part being finding the best animated loop to install as the background.

Here is crappy GIF I made from the final Green Screen shot in our stoner circle scene

Here is crappy GIF I made from the final Green Screen shot in our stoner circle scene

This has week has by far been our most productive yet. We have a schedule, we have scripts, we have an idea of what we want to submit as our final product. We actually shot some footage and edited it as well. For me, the main thing that I have taken away is that planning, organisation and motivation are more important than anything else. It didn’t matter that we’d never used green screens before, or that we were daunted by the task of editing the footage; starting the process and making time to finish it meant that we got it done.

Multi-cam comedies: shit because of the format?

Recently there has been a dearth of good multi-cam comedies. Yes this is a subjective statement, but I think that anyone who knows anything about TV and comedy can tell you that The Big Bang Theory and Two Broke Girls are not great. As part of my research for our upcoming critiques, I have been looking into the current state of multi-cam comedies.

There is a divide amongst Tv critics I have read, regarding what has caused multi-cam to go out of style. Some say that the weaknesses of the format are to blame, while others say that the sheer number of failed/bad multi-cam shows are deterring producers and networks from making them.

According to Jaime Weinman, in an article for SlitSider (2011), there are some inherent problems and difficulties that come with shooting multicam shows. Weinman states that multi-cam sitcoms are ‘hard to defend, conceptually, because there are so many limitations: few sets, an audience laughing after every joke, actors shouting to be heard in the back row’. For him, the lack of quality multi-cam sitcoms comes from a hybrid of the two arguments I stated above. The difficulties in filming multi-cam shows mean that producers have been moving away from them. A lack of shows being produced means that, even for the creators willing and looking to make a multi-cam, there is little network interest in them.

Recently, a favourite comedian of mine tried his hand at creating a multi-cam show for a large US network (Fox). John Mulaney, with the help of Lorne Michaels (the guy behind SNL and a lot other very funny thing), created Mulaney, a true throwback to the multi-cam comedies of the past. It featured John and his friends in a New York apartment, as well as clips of John performing stand-up a la Seinfeld. The show was filmed in front of a live studio audience, as viewers are reminded at the start of each episode. The show also featured Martin Short, who is a terrific performer and thrives in front of an audience.

Mulaney was cancelled after 13 episodes. People were turned off by the format. The stand-up segments were too close to Seinfeld, and many saw it as a blatant rip-off. The reminder of the live studio audience at the start of the episode made it too obvious the show was trying to recreate a format that had its heyday long ago. Personally, I liked the show. It was inoffensive, easy to watch and fairly funny at times. I also however, don’t think it ever stood a chance.

Mulaney exemplifies the idea that the shooting format of multi-cam comedies is responsible for shows being bad. Maybe Mulaney would have flourished as a single-cam show (though probably not, given that the multi-cam aspect was its defining appeal). Shows like Two Broke Girls are so obviously following a format that they’re hard to watch. The forced personalities and awfully cliched jokes of The Big Bang Theory could never work. Unfortunately, for fans of multi-cam like myself, the format seems to be dying.

In our project, I am hoping to explore the aspects of multi-cam comedies that are both good and bad. Maybe hybrid shows, such as How I Met Your Mother are the future of multi-cam. I hope to be able to produce something in a similar vein; no live audience, but a laugh track; multiple cameras, but a lot of set changes and flashbacks. We want to experiment with taking parts of one format, and adding it to another (placing a laugh track on a mockumentary, for example). Shows like Mulaney stick to a formula which doesn’t seem to work; we want to figure out why, and then make it work anyway.



Weinman, J. (2011). In Defense of the Multi-Camera Sitcom. Available: Last accessed 7th September 2015.