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  • Frasier and Friends and Caroline in the City and Murphy Brown and I Love Lucy all have

  • one thing in common.

  • No, it's not all the audience laughter.

  • They all kind of lookthe same.

  • And the shots and lighting all are kinda the same.

  • These are three camera sitcoms, with very familiar camera angles and lighting.

  • And the guy who perfected the style of light that would one day shine upon Urkel's face?

  • Did I do that?”

  • It's Karl Freund.

  • The same guy who made...this.

  • He was the German cinematographer behind the look ofMetropolis,” the 1927 classic.

  • And there was actually a good reason that a genius decided that going from this

  • to this was a challenge worth betting his career on.

  • This right here is cinematic history.

  • It's from 1924's “The Last Laugh.”

  • For this movie, Karl Freund invented what was probably the first dolly shot in history

  • - that's when a camera moves on a cart or a track.

  • When Freund moved from Germany to Hollywood, he continued to make visual masterpieces from

  • directing the originalThe Mummy,” to being the cinematographer onDracula.”

  • This scene from Dracula is emblematic of his work, with shadows and light serving as powerful

  • tools in the scene.

  • With 1937's “The Good Earth,” he won an Academy Award for Cinematography.

  • Freund's art came from powerful imagery and stark contrasts, like in this scene from

  • Metropolis.

  • I Love Lucy looked good - but pretty flat.

  • That's why it's so surprising that he thought it could be a breakthrough.

  • We know Freund was nervous about making a transition from movies like this to television

  • filmed in front of a live audience.

  • Traditional movie lighting wouldn't work in that environment and on a tight TV schedule.

  • Here's why.

  • Dramatic lighting is cool.

  • But if I move, the way people move in sitcoms, I lose the light and the shot.

  • You also can't reset and move that light in front of a live audience.

  • The shot also has to be lit so that it can be shown by three different cameras at the same time.

  • That challenge appealed to Freund, and, laugh track jokes aside, he wrote that a live studio

  • audience hadan astonishing effect in stimulating performers.”

  • There were earlier experiments with live taping, but Freund perfected it.

  • You can see how he did it in I Love Lucy's very first episodes and in this on set picture.

  • First, he put three cameras on his trademark dollies - which is why these are called three

  • camera sitcoms.

  • Usually it has one camera in the middle, for wide shots, and two on the sides for closeups.

  • You can see it here, as well as in the tape he used to mark the cameras' positions.

  • This is how it workedletting cameras move on the fly, without relighting.

  • Cameramen coordinated at all times using headsets and they were connected to the control room.

  • To light this set up, Freund used an overhead grid of lights like these and even put floor

  • lights on the bottom of each camera to flatter actors' faces.

  • This?

  • This is not like I Love Lucy.

  • He also placed microphones around the set so they wouldn't get in the way.

  • Lucy and Ethel could bounce around the living room without needing to stop tapingor

  • stop the laughter.

  • All of this let them keep a strict shooting schedule with minimum reshoots after the show.

  • For Freund, all this visual work was in service of making one sound possible.

  • This is still kind of how it's done today.

  • Freund's tricks established a template for the three camera sitcom that's still in

  • use today. As you can see it inVox” - the first workplace sitcom where people

  • actually work.

  • Anyway, as you can see, there's no need to relight Dean as he crosses the room in

  • this scene, only to be ignored by Ashley, because she's too busy working.

  • Freund's techniques did have drawbacks, some of those drawbacks are visible in today's

  • sitcoms, and some are specific to the time in which he worked.

  • He had to put darker makeup on his actors so they wouldn't be blown out by the lights

  • - and you can see it on Lucy and Ethel here.

  • In this scene, they were probably wearing pastel clothing as well, because nothing could

  • be too brightfilm processing gave everything higher contrast than normal.

  • Even today the three camera sitcom has a less adventurous lookas you can see

  • as AJ and Ashley go through all their unread emails.

  • It affects focus, too - look at the Big Bang Theory next to its prequel, Young Sheldon.

  • Big Bang Theory, the 3 camera sitcom, looks pretty much like I Love Lucy.

  • There are very few, or faint shadows, everything's in focus, and the camera angles are familiar.

  • Young Sheldon is single camera, like a movie, and that allows it to have light and shadow

  • and a gorgeous blurred background.

  • But Freund's innovation did help a live audienceand ussee Friends, and Seinfeld,

  • and Frasier.

  • As he wrote in 1953: “To have had the opportunity to play a part in the success of the I Love

  • Lucy show, which is now the No. 1 rated Television show in the nation assures me the efforts

  • to overcome the handicaps have not been in vain.”

  • Karl Freund was a genius.

  • And sometimes even genius has a sense of humor.

Frasier and Friends and Caroline in the City and Murphy Brown and I Love Lucy all have

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Why so many sitcoms look the same

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    Samuel posted on 2018/06/07
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