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Shooting '2 Broke Girls': Adventures in Multi-Camera Production

Rumors of the death of multi-camera sitcoms have been greatly exaggerated. While many network comedies have used other formats to tell their stories in recent years, there continue to be new, fresh examples of traditionally shot comedies breaking out. 2 Broke Girls is perhaps this season's brightest example.

   
Diner owner Han Lee (Matthew Moy, left) talks to his
waitresses, Max (Kat Dennings, center) and Caroline (Beth
Behrs) on 2 Broke Girls.

The show, starring Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs as financially challenged roommates making a go of it in New York, is shot on the Warner Bros. stages in Burbank in front of a live audience. The show's director of photography, Christian La Fountaine (How I Met Your Mother), is certainly pleased by the resurgence of this shooting style. "On taping days," he says, "I see crew members from other shows in the Warner Bros. commissary who I haven't seen in years, and they're also working on live tapings."

La Fountaine shoots 2 Broke Girls with four "Panavised" Sony HD900F camcorders (modified versions of Sony's HDW-F900). Video controller Andrew Dickerman makes use of his MSU-750 unit to do an initial color-correct pass on the fly. When the show leaves the studio for day exteriors, Dickerman will sometimes also change the iris and apply a dynamic knee setting to adjust the dynamic range responsiveness to accommodate for particularly contrasty conditions outdoors.

   
Director of photography Christian La Fountaine

The cameras are configured in the traditional dolly (rather than pedestal) style setup. "I think it's terrific that Warner Bros. is committed to dolly shows," he says. "I love it. We have more flexibility in the shots we can do, and we are able to get a more polished look with better camera moves with four dollies."

Much of the action takes place inside the girls' apartment, which, for reasons too complex to go into here, they share with a horse named Chestut (Rocky). La Fountaine explains that he endeavors to create moody, sometimes romantic lighting inside the space, which sometimes leads to a delicate trade-off. "The more intimate you are with your lighting," he says, "the more you want to give it nuanced contrast, which means you're going to take light away from certain areas. And when you do that, you need cooperation from production and the talent."

   
"Rocky is a great horse, but he doesn't always want to be where we
want him to be. We can't wait too long for him to hit his mark,
so I'll light scenes he's in so that we can still make it work,"
says director of photography Christian La Fountaine.

For the most part the cast is incredibly professional and offers no impediment whatsoever to that style of lighting ... with one exception. "Rocky is a great horse," he stresses, "but he doesn't always want to be where we want him to be. We can't wait too long for him to hit his mark, so I'll light scenes he's in so that we can still make it work."

Scripts get the characters out of the usual sets quite frequently, to some elaborate swing sets. For example, they brought a subway car onto the stage for several episodes. One setup that was particularly challenging from a lighting standpoint put Denning's character and her friend Johnny (Nick Zano) atop a billboard in the middle of the night.

The structure showing the top of the billboard and some of the scaffolding was built on the stage, but La Fountaine, who always tries to motivate his lighting, had to ask, "What's the source up there?" "I decided to play it like the space was a sort of lovers' lane and the two of them were lit by the city below. Of course, they're standing eight inches from this giant white canvas of the abandoned, unlit billboard, so how do you have it look realistic? With the help of my gaffer, Walter Berry, and my key grip, A.J. Friedman, I put five 8K soft lights below them to give a warm sense of the city light, and we added some soft bounce from above. Then we put in some Juniors above to add the effect of moonlight."

   
Beth Behrs (left) and Kat Dennings share a
laugh on the set.

The show conveys some of its New York flavor through exteriors that are generally shot the day prior to the live taping on the studio's back lot. "Going outside really helps give credence to the idea that you're in New York," he says. "I think when we see the street and cars going by, it does a lot to give the show a sense of realism. When it's nighttime, we try to motivate everything from a building or streetlight or other natural sources. If it's really late, I'll add some 'moonlight.' If we're going to see some neon in the scene, I like to use that to bring in some different colors."

These preshoots can get elaborate. "We did a scene where the girls ride the horse down the street," La Fountaine recalls. "There were cars driving in the street and pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. We laid 100 feet of track and put the camera on a [Telescopic] Techno-Jib and followed them along parallel to the sidewalk, then pulled back and boomed up to a nice shot of the city lights."

La Fountaine has certainly noticed the decrease in multi-camera comedy production, but he believes that shows such as 2 Broke Girls prove there's still plenty of life left in the format. "There's a kind of energy when you do a live show in front of an audience that's tough to duplicate," he says. "You know instantly if something's working or not. When the crowd erupts in laughter, there's nothing else like it."

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