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"Cheating" in Film Coverage

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/15/2010

Learn how to cheat your coverage in a way that will be seamless to your audience.

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    Film Coverage

    As much as we would like to believe that film or digital video projects reproduce the world in a realistic way they do not. They actually manipulate real time and space into one that serves the story, and is not really a reflection of the actual world in which it was filmed. To really accommodate your film you are often going to have to change the position of objects and location definers for each individual shot. This is to say that the environment does not remain the same in each angle of the coverage, even though in the scene nothing is supposed to have changed. This is often called cheating.

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    Film Scene Cheating

    When you are changing different angles you will often 'cheat' the items in a given location, among other things. This means that from the master shot you are not going to maintain the spatial relationships that were established. In the story space all the objects are in a fixed location, as they are in real life until they are moved. This is established, but to get other angles you may have to move objects around to get the proper image. It is no to appear as though those objects have moved, but they are so as to accommodate your needs. It is in this way that you cheat the scene. For example, you may have a master shot with two people sitting on a couch. That couch may be pushed into a corner, with the back and side against the wall. If you want to get a shot from the side that is against the way you will have to move the couch over so as to get the camera in there. This form of cheating involves accommodation for camera position, but there are other types as well. This can take place so as to space things out for better motion of the characters, a better framing for the shot, or any other individual need. This will happen in between shots in your coverage.

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    Hiding Your Cheating

    The most important thing to remember about cheating the film scene is to make sure that it is not obvious to those watching. In most cases you can get away with cheating a lot of different things without the audience noticing, but if the change in environment is too dramatic then the audience will pick up on this and then will not be able to suspend their disbelief. Make sure that the art director is on set making a very clear marker of where each thing has moved and where it was established in the master shots. This is going to become even more noticeable if the spatial position of objects in the location plays quite a bit into the story space. If, however, you just need to open up space or move things so that the actors can interact with them easier from specific angles you will usually be alright. This will all be somewhat pre-determined by the master shot, but the space will end up being different than the master shot. In this situation the master shot is just as important, if not even more important, than in coverage that does not utilize cheating.

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    Location Cheating

    If you are cheating a location you often have different issues. This can happen if you have shot on a location for the master and possibly some of the coverage and then must then shoot in a different or altered location for the rest. For example, if you only have a partial set on a sound stage you may have to build a partial one for certain parts of coverage. You are cheating in that you are portraying a room that is one, but in reality it does not exist that way in the real world and is instead a series of small pieces. Those pieces are put together in the editing room in a way that makes it appear as though it was really in a complete location.