photo credit: Bob Bekian
In the old days of film, the only person who got to see what was happening in the frame was the camera operator. The director was usually not this person since the cameras were bulky and complex mechanical machines.
So what did the director do? They trusted their crew to get the shot they wanted. And screened dailies. And if the director’s vision didn’t align with the celluloid frames, well, someone would have to pay.
In came the modern invention of the monitor. No longer were the eyes behind the production blind to the frame of the film. Like a frontiersmen weary from the travels of a worn down trail, this new generation of filmmakers slowly built up a civilization in the wild west of film monitoring.
And thus video village was formed.
What is Video Village?
Video village is the nickname for the area around the monitor on set. It earned this name because of the amount of people that tend to form around the tiny screen(s).
Some of them need to be there, most of them don’t.
The main purpose of video village is to enable the director and key crew members to see what the camera and its operator see without looking into the camera themselves. This keeps the area of the camera clear for camera assistants and operators to do their work, while also enabling key crew to make informed decisions based on the frame of the film.
Another driving purpose behind video village is the ability of the director to see the film as it plays out.
In the frame of a film, performances can be amplified or understated, camera moves can appear dynamically exciting or incredibly boring, and props can find themselves in scenes they don’t belong. Having the ability to see the film within its intended frame allows the director to do their job better.
Who Gets a Seat at Video Village?
Video village is one of those Hollywood stereotypes you see come to life on set. It’s where the director, producers, and stars have their folding canvas chairs.
As a result, video village is typically mobbed with people. Here’s a list of people who deserve and need to be there:
- Assistant Director
- Script Supervisor
- Art Director and/or Production Designer
- Stunt Coordinator
- Actors (Sometimes…)
- And many more specialized crew…
And then there’s an equally long list of people who clog the view:
- Production Assistants
- Friends of crew
- Craft Services
- And many more unspecialized people
You know that feeling when somebody is reading over your shoulder? Imagine that with an entire set of people while you’re trying to focus on performance, camera movement, and the tiny nuances turn a good film into a great one. The truth is the only person who really needs to be living in video village is the director, especially during takes.
I constantly look over at video village and watch a number of people who don’t have to be there simply get in the way. I understand why they gravitate to the monitor — it’s instant gratification for all the work you see happening — but the monitor is almost like sacred ground ruled by His Holiness the Director.
That’s why, when in charge of setting up video village, you want to maximize privacy for the monitor. It’s a village, not a town, and certainly not a city.
How and Where to Stage Your Video Village
The duties of staging (or placing) the monitor usually fall upon the camera assistants (AC). On productions with higher budgets, there is a Video Assist crew member who will take over this duty, but in the low budget or small indie realms, the AC’s are the ones shuffling the monitor around set.
Setting up video village isn’t as simple as it may seem. You may have the urge to throw the monitor anywhere behind the camera and jack in the BNC cable, and while that will do the job, it isn’t the best way to take care of the situation. There are certain considerations that come into play.
There are three questions you should ask before you setup the monitor:
1. What direction is the camera shooting?
This may seem obvious, and it is, but your monitor absolutely cannot end up in the shot nor can the people standing around it.
The real reason this is a consideration is you want to find the ideal spot for the monitor to stay and not move for the entire scene. This means you have to think where the camera will shoot for the wide, for the closeups, and for any other shots.
If you have a shot list or an idea of the scene blocking, you will be able to plan your attack even better.
While not all sets or locations have them, there is often a sweet spot where you can place the monitor so it is out of the camera’s view in all of these shots. Sometimes that means placing it in a bathroom or in a hallway.
2. Where are the actors’ eyelines?
OK great, so you found a neat little spot where the camera will never shoot towards. But are the actor’s looking that way? Never, ever let the monitor face the actors in the scene.
Let’s repeat that: never have the monitor in the eyeline of the talent in the scene.
Imagine how difficult it would be for you to lose yourself in a performance when, out of the corner of your eye, you could see a little version of you on a screen. It doesn’t work and a lot of actors get really pissed off about this. You don’t want to be the person that pissed off the talent.
It’s OK to turn a monitor to face the scene during rehearsals or lighting if somebody requests it, but always make sure you turn it back the other direction before shooting.
3. How far away is it from set?
Directors love their monitors, but they also love their actors. Actors love themselves, but get lost without their directors.
That’s why, after considering all other things, you should try and get the monitor as close as possible to the set. Most directors prefer a level of intimacy when directing their talent and the monitor can become a wall between these interactions.
If a director has to yell to give notes to their actor, it’s not an ideal situation.
If you can’t get them very close, make sure there is easy access between the monitor and the set so when the director steps away it’s not a difficult journey.
Other crew also need to get to and from the monitor with ease, not just the director. Often one crew member needs to talk with another when adjusting some set dressing or a light. Without walkie talkies, the ability to hear each other is crucial to making these tasks go smoothly and within the time frame of the production.
Dealing with Video Village Tourists
If you haven’t figured it out yet, video village has a tendency to fall under the “too many cooks in the kitchen” spell. There’s a lot — and I mean A LOT — of people who find their way to the monitor and stand over the shoulders of the directors, producers and whoever else has got a front row seat to the show.
We can call these visitors “video village tourists.”
On the other hand, a lot of people do need to see the monitor at once: the assistant director, the director, and the script supervisor, at the very least, are three people who definitely need to get access. Depending on your situation, you may have to toss in a spot or two more for an actor or producer.
I know I’m being confusing. First I say there’s too many people at the monitor and only the director should watch. Now I’m telling you that you should make room for at least five people.
When you are looking for a place to stage the monitor, you have to play within this delicate balance. The easiest way to do this is to find a space that is big enough for this small group of people while not being too large as to attract unnecsssary eyeballs.
My own theory is that if people can’t easily get to the monitor to see what is going on, they usually will hang back so they’re not in the way. However, if you place the monitor in an open area with tons of open space behind it, you’ll watch them all line up. Whoever is bored and curious is going to find a spot behind that screen and trust me, everyone on a film set who isn’t working is bored and curious.
It helps to have an assistant director who is on top of their extras and crew and knows how to clear a space, but the best way to deal with these video village tourists is to find a space that is cozy enough only for the right people to watch the monitor.
A Busy Video Village
Video village is a necessary part of any film set and as a camera assistant you will most likely be put in charge of it. You’re the town planner, so to speak, and the director is the mayor. Try your best to keep the traffic unclogged, the streets clean, and you will good to go.
Once it’s set up, try not to worry about it too much — you undoubtedly have many more important tasks to attend to.
And if an impatient first assistant director taps on the screen yelling, “no picture!” just ignore them.
How do you handle setting up video village? What factors do you think about when choosing where to set it up? Please let me know in the comments!