Advice and Resources

Projection in Film is Making a Comeback and We Can Use It for Streaming Theatre

Projections in film are making a BIG comeback. Explore what we can learn from the move away from green screen tech.

If you’ve watched a car chase sequence in film from before the 1970s, it’s entirely likely that you’ve seen projection in action. That often grainy, out-of-focus action sequence with a slightly strained warped perspective was a hallmark of the prevailing use of projection technology.

The limitations of projector hardware led to its gradual demise alongside the advent of green screen technology. When we’re planning productions using Zoom or some OVP, we’re instinctively drawn to this tech – we can buy the green cloth on Amazon, we have a camera and ta-da! Done! We’ve created the Star Wars of the theatre world! Easy!

So it’s easy to assume that “Projection in film is dead - Long live the green screen”. Right?

Not so fast. When it came to film, projection did fall out of favor – but it’s made a comeback in a BIG way (cue second Star Wars reference). Rogue One re-introduced the consistent use of the technology and perfected it beautifully in The Mandalorian. 4K technology and ultra-bright displays are helping productions shoot everything in-camera, reducing time, money, and the long complexities of keying-in and -out images using the green screen method. There’s something to learn here.

Get to the point: Is projection better for my for-streaming theatrical production?

Short answer:
In almost every instance – yes.
Long answer:
Using projections during your capture process saves you time, stress and money compared to using a green screen – and your finished presentation will look better. Allow me to explain –

1. Today’s projectors are so. much. better.
High definition, super-bright projectors are here – and they’re affordable. Grainy, washed-out projections are a thing of the past. With front-facing, ultra-short throw projectors (what we generally recommend for all staged productions using projections) makes it more possible to achieve a really large and bright image without losing space. Go to projectors we recommend.

2. Using projections is quicker and easier.
The practical and artistic benefits of using projection is pretty clear. Masking and keying-in and -out background content is no easy feat – particularly when you want it to look good. Smoothly keying small imperfections, like hair, is very work intensive. With projections, you don’t have to worry about it. What’s more, you can light your subject, set your camera and use projections as one comprehensive design, giving you a brilliant shot with very little post-production work.

The cast of Something Rotten! filmed for a streamed performance. Bradford High School, Kenosha WI. Photo: Jodi Williams (2020).

3. You can create depth.
When it comes to onstage projection design, we’re always concerned about the visual relationship between the actor and the scenery – the same remains true for a film production. It is so hard to achieve depth and focus with green screen content in post-production – truthfully, it requires an expertise not familiar to us theatre folk! Using projections leaves you, simply, with choosing a lens for your favored depth of field (creating the different levels of bokeh effect).

Intro to Depth of Field in Filmmaking - BorrowLenses Blog

4. Your actors can interact with the projections (with some rehearsal time).
Digital Scenery can be a powerful storytelling tool. Using projection software – like Stage Player – you can add cued elements in real-time during your filming. It creates this amazing environment that feels live and interactive – just like theatre! It will make your for-streaming production feel bigger and complete: more value for ticket holders and less work for you!

5. Scenic Projections.
Our popular, script-accurate scenery packages are a theatrical resource, which means that they are approved for live-capture of a production. Capturing productions in-camera (without chroma key) gives you the opportunity to use a wide variety of resources available for theatre – with all the benefits!  Use Scenic Projections for a ready-to-go, fully interactive production that is live-stream ready. Go to Scenic Projections.

Take a look at this video demo of how to use Scenic Projections in your filmed theatre production:

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