Varied camera angles (or the lack thereof...)

I noticed this as part of the recent “Tribute” shows, which alternated between the new cast and the original casts - camera angles are extraordinarily “static” in the new MST3K. Basically, the show uses a flat, mid-distance, straight-on, highly-lit shot, which doesn’t vary from skit to skit. The Mike Years had a LOT more “atmosphere” both in lighting and unusual camera placement. Maybe Joel & co. are wanting to focus more on the skits and jokes, but the visual element was much more interesting in the older clips. Is this a necessity of using more green screen technology and COVID strictures, or is there another explanation for the lack of more varied camera shots? It’s especially noticeable with Mary Jo Pehl’s spots, which originally used lots of close-up “fish-eye” shots to great effect, whereas now the shots are all distant and fixed.


I believe that’s the answer, yes. They were working in smaller spaces, in small COVID bubbles, with fixed-angle green screen backgrounds. Some of that is also due to having a lower overall production budget because they didn’t have Netflix to help provide studio space and other resources.


COVID has been stated as a reason, but there’s also the matter of practical necessity. Unlike, the Best Brains days of the 90s, they currently do not own a studio space or have a set outside of the desk. They only had SIX weeks to shoot everything for the entire year. The 13 episodes, the shorts, Gizmoplex sequences, Kickstarter stuff, ads, etc. Keeping the camera and lighting fixed goes a long way towards keeping a production streamlined.


You’re focusing entirely on the Sci-Fi years. The first 7 years of the show mostly used a fixed camera, or very little camera movement. “mid-distance, straight-on, highly-lit” aptly describes the bulk of the Comedy Central seasons.

You seem to be picking out a small section of the original series and thinking of that as the norm, which it wasn’t.


Part of that atmosphere was due to the chronic headache Mike suffers from. The lower light at least allowed him to function most days.


Is that for real? Man, those must be some serious headaches!


Indeed. It’s discussed more in this thread:


Go back and watch the first seven years of the show again. There was far more camera movement than it seems: plenty of zoom in and outs, camera pans from side to side or to different places on the set, the famous Dutch angles used for Deep 13, etc. It occurred more in Season 1 and Season 2, and then tapered off a bit only to come roaring back once Joel left the show. Given that one of Joel’s “great” ideas was the TV Wheel with a static camera, it’s safe to say that he likes using a mid-distance, straight-on, highly-lit shot. Yes, probably the constraints of filming this season had something to do with the lack of variety in framing shots. But it shouldn’t have stopped them from using a zoom in to better show off a prop.

Also, Jeff Stonehouse was and is a GREAT cinematographer and what he brought to MST3K elevated the show to a higher level. I think it’s a shame that Joel doesn’t seem to appreciate the look of that era, as he’s made comments disparaging of the lighting.


on a recent interview or maybe livestream? Jonah mentioned directing the Mother Crabber skit and wanting to do cool zoom in’s and stuff like that, and how he had to resort to doing them in post.

i believe they want to be able to do it, but couldn’t this year.


I’ve heard some other fans say that the fancier stylings we got with SciFi weren’t to their taste, either. They preferred the softer lit, lo-fi look of the earlier years because it seemed less like a regular comedy show and had a more DIY flavor. :person_shrugging: I’m kind of an agnostic about the whole thing. If the jokes, props, costumes, etc. are funny I hardly think about lights, angles, and distance at all. Except when they’re super-odd. Such as Joel’s stream of consciousness rant about TV characters becoming movies. And that was always more funny weird than funny ha-ha. Intentionally, I think…? :thinking:


I remember them saying something about getting in a new camera guy and he was big on moving the camera around.


In hindsight I totally understand the necessity of the lighting change for Mike’s health, but at the time I was never a fan of the Sci-Fi lighting scheme or at times overly complicated angles. The constant Dutch angles in particular felt like '60s Batman to me, like trying to camp the show up for Sci-Fi for some reason. I don’t mind some fancy camerawork here and there, but I do prefer the show more brightly-lit. I definitely would like them to do more fun with camera angles in the future.


They could hire a Netherlander and really jazz up the place.


What a convenient characteristic for someone whose job it is to move a camera around! I wonder how they found him.

[lol, sorry, couldn’t resist]


I think the only thing I ever consciously noticed was the change in the background of the set and the door sequence. Otherwise, I didn’t really notice either and even when it was pointed out to me, I assumed that the darker lighting was meant to convey the fact that they didn’t necessarily have as good an energy source. :slight_smile:


I think that compared to who they had doing it before, it was novel enough for BBI folks to mention it in interviews.


Yeah, I remember when Mike said that every so often they could afford to buy something new and so they’d feature it as much as possible. I think he said, “Once we got a new light and we were really proud of our new light. Look at our new light!” And then, in that same interview, he said that by season 20 he hoped they were making dinosaurs. :smiley: