So, I've been curious about this (since taking a class dealing with filming and editing I've been taking more notice of good/bad shots and just overall more curious about film techniques) when two or more people in a show or something are talking, how do they film that?

I've tried to piece it together myself. My idea is that there is only one camera and the two characters go through the whole conversation while the camera is only showing one person and the back of one person, then the camera switches places and does the same with the other character.

Then from there, the audio would be edited in from the character who is not facing the camera. That would explain why sometimes the characters actions don't always match up, right?

Example one: I was watching a show and three ladies were having a conversation. Lady #1 said her line and lifted her wine glass to her lips. The camera then pointed to the two other ladies but lady #1 had already put her wine glass down, so that means it was filmed more than once right?

And here's also an example of them editing in the audio. I was watching another show and there were two characters talking. The camera was positioned so you could mainly see character #1s reaction while character #2 talked.

This wasn't the exact scene that I was Referring to but it's similar. The girl is character 1 and the boy is #2. In the scene, the camera was just like this, except the girl was just listening to the boy talk. The thing is, his mouth was moving but was not syncing up to what he was saying. So what's up with that?

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If I confused you I'm sorry, I tried to word this as best as I could. If your understand me it'd be great to hear back from someone before I go crazy lol


1 Answer 1


There are many ways to film dialogue scenes. In reality, what you see on film (unless there are no cuts at all) is a compilation of potentially dozens of takes of on-set film and audio recording, possibly coupled with digital recording sessions done after the fact (the way they record audio for animated films).

Shooting a scene

On a single camera shoot, for dialogue-centric scenes you are correct. Generally, the director and cinematographer will set up the camera for one shot and all or part of the scene will be recorded both with video and audio and they will likely run through the scene anywhere from 3-100 times depending on the director. Audio is carefully recorded for both (or all) characters, not only the one on camera at the time. This is generally done with a combination of lavaliere microphones (body mics) and a boom pole.

After the director is happy with one or more of the takes, the camera will be repositioned for another setup and the process will repeat. This will be repeated until the entire scene is completed and may be anything from one shot to five or more depending on the number of people in the scene and how complex it is.

On a multi-camera shoot (more common with TV), it's often possible to record two or more shots at the same time, though this can reduce the quality of the frame you are able to get as you have to "shoot around" the other camera/s. This is, however, a great way to get your dialogue to match perfectly, provided the audio is good and both actors do good performances in the same take.

As for order of shooting, generally directors tend to start wide and move in from there. The beginning of the scene will often be recorded in a wide shot to set up the location and as the conversation intensifies, will generally get closer to the people.

For the scene at the counter in the cafe, possible shot frames include:

  • Wide - both people sitting at the counter from either side of the counter with the rest of the cafe in view behind them.
  • Two-shot - closer-in version of the above, but with focus more directly on both actors.
  • Close up - shot of only one character. May be "dirtied" by the shoulder or the head of the other person closer to the camera.
  • Extreme close up - shot of something small... a hand playing with a cup on the counter, the eyes of one of the characters. These are usually only on screen for a second or two.


The errors you've noted (as with the wine glass) are considered "continuity errors". There's even a crew member whose entire job is to help reduce these issues and actors are trained to do their best to precisely repeat their actions in a way that makes them less likely... unfortunately, this isn't always possible. Editors work to minimize the errors that end up in the finished product but if there are only a few takes that are considered good enough to use, you're stuck with the errors.

Sound Editing

When sound is edited, what dialogue track is used depends on several factors:

  • quality of the on-set sound recording
  • performance quality
  • dialogue changes

If the quality of the on-set sound recording is poor - this is usually due to being in a noisy location or having low-quality equipment - it may be necessary to do studio recording of audio after the fact. This may also be necessary if it's decided that the dialogue needs to be changed. Recording in a studio gets very good audio but it can be challenging to line up the new recording with the recording of the video - most often made challenging when changing dialogue or due to not having the same emotion as when on set. Actors get a lot of emotional queues from the each other and from the set and the director. When in a sound booth, it can feel somewhat stale so it can be difficult for them to put themselves in the same frame of mind they were in when originally filming the scene.

In the case of the dialogue not matching up with the secondary person in frame, this isn't particularly uncommon - if the delivery of a line was much better in another take and the character is mostly off-screen or if the editor plans to switch between shots in the middle of a line, it's considered a minor issue for their lip movements to not match perfectly. Yes, you want to do your best, as with the continuity issue mentioned above, but it's not always possible and (in general) the average viewer won't notice it unless it's really bad.

"Rules" of Editing

One of the first warnings they gave me when I started taking editing classes was "be prepared to notice annoying stuff that never bothered you before"... continuity issues and lip synch are things that editors are trained to look for so they become very obvious to them. The reason they're considered "minor issues" is that they come very low on the hierarchy of what is necessary for good editing... A famous editor, Walter Murch's created his Rule of Six - essentially his preferred/recommendation for what to emphasize in editing. He wants to follow all six rules in his editing but if he can't have everything, start ignoring the rules at the bottom of the list first:

The ideal cut (for me) is one that satisfies all the following six criteria at once:

  1. it is true to the emotion of the moment
  2. it advances the story
  3. it occurs at a moment that is rhythmically interesting and “right”
  4. it acknowledges what you might call “eye-trace”—the concern with the location and movement of the audience’s focus of interest within the frame
  5. it respects “planarity”—the grammar of three dimensions transposed by photography to two (the questions of stage-line, etc.)
  6. and it respects the three-dimensional continuity of the actual space (where people are in the room and in relation to one another).”

This is from his book In the Blink of an Eye. Things like continuity and lip synch fall into rule 6.

  • Thank you for all the information! You definitely answered all my questions and gave me bonus information as well so gracias! Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:42
  • 2
    I got to experience this process once. My mother and I were extras in The Shining in the final scene. We spent all day filming what was probably like 2-4 minutes in the movie. The same speech, over and over, the same main actors, saying their lines over and again. It was actually really interesting to experience, but I'm not sure I could make a life of it.
    – phyrfox
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 2:45
  • @Curiouschica: Since this answered your question, you should click the check-mark under the up/down vote buttons to mark it as "accepted". Good question and great answer. Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 13:45
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    Regarding "looping", ADR - replacing the location sound with dialog recorded later in the studio and this sentence: "it can be challenging to line up the new recording with the recording of the video", this isn't exactly true any more. If you want to replace the dialog word for word with the location dialog, you can almost always make it happen. Software was created in the late 90's or so that automatically lines up two audio files, so you can match the timing of the ADR with the location sound. VocAlign is the first of these, I believe. Only when the words are changed is it hard to line up. Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 14:17
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    @ToddWilcox I knew I should have clarified that... I was intending to have that part relate to the changes in dialogue I mentioned in the previous sentence.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 14:18

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