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USA vs European Television

Published : 12th April 2005

Tom's comment about the differences between USA and European shows warrants a reply. I have first hand knowledge of both and don't think the difference in the way they look is so much related to either time nor money but in their cultural background and approach. Its true that North American shows shoot very fast compared to what we can manage. When "The Raven" moved from Canada to France they had great difficulties matching the pace here. What I noticed was that American shows are producer driven and British shows are director driven. A British director will shoot scenes the Hitchcock way so that no one can go in afterwards and re-cut his show. This has evolved into a very aesthetic way of making TV. An American director will find him/herself surrounded by producers on the set, and some of those producers are even in front of the lens.

Everybody wants the best but it doesn't allow for much risk taking. It has taken, IMHO, for HBO to start to take risks to bring out the best in American TV. In France there is another phenomena at play. TV is still regarded as slightly inferior to film and lives in a world apart, only recently did French film actors start doing TV films and you'll hardly ever see a French TV actor easily move to the silver screen. Out of such an inferiority complex grows pandering to the master so most French TV movies resemble little cinema movies without having developed their own style like in Britain. Not having undergone the rigorous training his British counter-part may have had in making TV, as he will have come from art-house film back ground, a French director won't have done anywhere near the kind of preparation when he appears on set and will make decisions once there. A 1h30min French TV movie gets shot in 22 days (of course, we don't work 16 hour days either!)

Of course, there will always be exceptions to the generalizations I have stated above and I purely speak from personal observation but I do think its worth noting that we as DP´s can only do our best within the framework created for us and that "the look" or visual result is not as much in our hands in TV as we'd like it to be.

Roger Simonsz
DP/Operator
Independently in Paris


Apologies for my ignorance in not speaking about European shows, but I do know about UK shows.

US shows generally look way better than UK shows, this is because in the UK we are under-crewed, production work for themselves, for an easy life and not the show, we have inferior studio facilities and a poor pay level.

You can work fast if you have the personnel and equipment, plus the US local authorities and councils are much more helpful to filmmakers than they are over here. (In London, anyway)

When faced with a scene to shoot on a British TV drama, you reject your ideal lighting and shooting plan because it'll take longer than 15 minutes, then you reject your second idea for the same reason. So up goes a couple of Kinos at the expense of your soul, the accountant is happy cause he gets home for tea, the producers are happy because they're on a 10% bonus of the underspend, and the public get another piece of shit TV drama about the emergency services.

But I'm not bitter about it.

Dan Bronks
DP (although not on UK episodic TV drama ever again)
London


--- Daniel Bronks wrote:

> But I'm not bitter about it.

Ha!

The problem is money - the big US shows that screen in the UK are sold all over the world. That revenue is reflected in the programs budget. In the UK, by comparison, we tend to make very parochial drama. Our trump card has traditionally been period costume fodder. The US trump card is.....everything else.

There's no dearth of technical expertise, acting talent or well equipped studios in the UK (for a price). There IS an attitude problem from a lot of UK production.

Finally, the bottom line difference between the kind of US product that screens in the UK and most home grown shows is the quality of the writing. A well written script attracts money & enthusiasm and ultimately sells.

Perhaps this should now be in a thread called, 'The relative merits of US and UK television production and how both countries are capable of making good programs and shit ones'.

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.


Tom Townend wrote:

>Perhaps this should now be in a thread called, 'The relative merits of >US and UK television production and how both countries are capable of >making good programs and shit ones'.

It must have been an almighty bender that started this one Tom do I detect a hangover?

Ed Mash
London DoP



No arguments about the writing in good quality American tv however there are also a hell of a lot of bad shows also. I think its a matter of talking sheer volume, if you shoot 100s of shows you are bound to get some excellent product somewhere in there. It also comes down to sheer population, as well as the gravity effect that LA excerpts on the rest of the world.

Nick Paton
Director of Photography
High Def./Standard Def./Film
Aaton XTR Prod owner operator
Brisbane, Australia
www.npdop.com


Tell you what - A funny show like "The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin" it didn't matter what it was shot on! Hilarious!!!

It was however much like other Brit comedies, mixed video and reversal film.

I have to find it on DVD...

John Babl



>__ Tell you what- A funny show like "The Fall And Rise Of Reginald >Perrin" it didn't matter what it was shot on! Hilarious!!!

It's out, but only on region 2 PAL DVD. It was the usual mix of
live-in-front-of-a-studio-audience and 16mm.

Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"
Local resources : http://www.artadams.net/local

Q: "Good, fast, cheap: which two would you like?"
A: "Can I pick fast twice?"



Reggie Perrin interiors in studio on video exteriors shot on Eastman / Kodak neg 7254.

John Holland L/cameraman London.



>Reggie Perrin interiors in studio on video exteriors shot on Eastman / >Kodak neg 7254

Well I remember it _was_ a long time ago ., . .,

7254 was the old ECN1 process, phased out between 1974 and 1976. The exteriors in all those great BBC comedies of the 70s always looked so grainy compared with the video in the studio. Flat, too - but that's the British weather.

Dominic Case
Atlab Australia



I was a camera assistant in the 70's working on those B.B.C. shows , you are right about the British weather, but what ever the weather was like rain or shine there was always a brute arc right against the camera flooding everything with flat hard light most B.B.C. cameramen were very set in their ways and thought comedy should be bright and flat!

John Holland

L/cameraman London.


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