Innovation at Cinecraft: Multi-Camera Production for Television

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Multiple cameras used simultaneously in filming a scene stands among the innovative methods employed by Cinecraft Productions in making films and programs for early television. The ‘invention’ of multiple camera shooting is often attributed to Desi Arnaz when he adopted the technique for the I Love Lucy show in 1951. Film historians now credit, Jerry Fairbanks, a producer at NBC, for using multiple cameras in TV productions starting in 1947

Cinecraft used the technique as early as 1949. A 1950 article titled “Three-Camera Technique used to shoot TV film” from Printer’s Ink touted Cinecraft’s innovative production style. Written by Domestic Sewing Machine Company President Dodge E. Barnum, the article describes the promotional films shot for his company at Cinecraft. Cost savings, production quality, and distribution flexibility were among the advantages of using multi-cameras that Barnum touted in the piece. In using three cameras, the Domestic Sewing programs were shot in one take. Cinecraft editors then compiled footage from all three cameras into a final show for broadcast.

Jerry Fairbanks gets credit as the inventor of the multi-cam shoot, but Cinecraft stood very close to the cutting edge. Did Cinecraft take the idea from Fairbanks, or did they come up with the idea independently?

In a 1952 Cinecraft filmed TV pilot, Sadie-Ferguson Post Mistress, the director, K. Elmo Lowe, remarks that Cinecraft President Ray Culley had been using multi-camera shoots since the early 1940s. At the twenty-four-minute mark in the program, the camera zooms back to reveal the set and production crew. Lowe addresses the camera and describes the efficiency of using three cameras for producing TV programs. The show and explanation from Lowe likely served as a sales pitch to bring clients to Cinecraft for the burgeoning TV business. You can watch the end of the program followed by the tutorial in this clip:

We recently digitized another film from our Cinecraft Productions titled Cinecraft, Inc. multi-camera filming technique demonstration. The show from 1966 goes into more detail about how multi-cam productions work than the clip from 1952. It also describes other innovative technology of the era such as rear screen projections and teleprompters. You can watch the film in its entirety in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Kevin J. Martin is the Curator of Archives and the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Audiovisual and Digital Collections at Hagley Museum and Library.