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What is Live Switching?

Streaming Media Producer kicks off its "What Is...?" series tackling essential topics in the streaming media production world with a look at live switching, touching on the differences between switching and mixing, assembling the components and crew of a live switch, and the basics of "punching" a multi-camera show or event for live delivery.

Live switching is something we take for granted every time we watch a TV program. If it's an episode of serial TV, we expect the camera angles to change while the action appearing on screen continues in a fluid manner. We expierience the action on screen via a mix of wide shots, close-ups, 2-shots, reaction shots, and so on.

Switching angles is no less significant in our own professional production work, especially when we're shooting live events for online delivery. And whether we're streaming video live, or producing it for on-demand online viewing, live switching is either the only way to get the job done, or—in many instances—simply the most efficient.

Single-Camera Production

Producers of feature films and episodic TV generally shoot with one camera. They have to move the camera to get each of these different angles. Then, in the editing suite, the footage captured in all these different "takes" is assembled to create continuous action.

There's even a person in charge of making sure everything within the scene progesses according to how it will look when things are edited. This person is usually called the "Continuity Director." They watch the cups with drinks, plates of food, the clothing, and anything else within the scene that changes so that when the camera is moved to another location to shoot the scene from 5 minutes ago, the grips know that glasses have to be refilled, food put back on plates, etc. They do this with a lot of photographs and notes.

Continuity notes from the Jim Carrey comedy The Mask

Multi-camera Production

Another way of shooting was pioneered by television producers in the early '50s, including, most famously, Desi Arnaz, but other producers too. In this approach, the crew set up multiple cameras for each take, with each camera covering part of the action, or covering the action from a particular angle. One camera can start on a wide shot, and then go to a close up of one actor, and then a 2-shot. The second camera could stay on the lead person in a close up through the whole scene. The third could stay wide to get the entrance of a third actor in the middle of the scene, and so on.

All these cameras would record to film, and later videotape, and then hard drive- or flash-based systems. All the raw footage would then be edited together from within that one scene, or even different takes of the same scene, to produce the final program.

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