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Video Inside, Film Outside

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"Gentlemen! I have bad news. This room is surrounded by film!"

From the very beginning of regular television broadcasting in Britain in 1936, up until the 1980s, British TV drama and comedy shows were made using multiple electronic (video) cameras in studios. That was fine for the interior scenes, but when it came to location shooting, the cameras and (after their introduction in 1958) videotape machines were so big and heavy they needed large outside broadcast trucks to transport them to the location, to say nothing of the complex power supplies providing their multiple operating voltages. The cameras also required very high light levels to avoid picture noise, which compounded the impracticality of working with them on location. Consequently, many shows used 16mm film and audio tape recorders for exterior footage, since the equipment was much more portable (often battery-operated) and film was easier and more forgiving to light and could be edited easily. This meant that interior and exterior shots have a completely different look.


Although somewhat jarring to today's younger audiences, the lack of visual continuity was taken as normal by British viewers (and overseas viewers of British imports). There were exceptions: for example, as early as 1975 Doctor Who was occasionally produced on videotape, even for on-location exteriors. In the US and West Germany, most shows were done completely in either film or video, while most other countries avoided outdoor shots as much as they could until the arrival of colour TV and U-Matic tape in the 1970s.

By the mid-1980s, this dual format began to be phased out as so-called "outside broadcast" cameras became more efficient. Productions therefore began to adopt either completely filmed or completely videotaped formats. It almost completely died out in the late 2000s, as productions switched to using HD video cameras, which gave a look in-between video and film and was ultimately cheaper than both of the former two options combined.


An unfortunate side-effect of Video Inside, Film Outside is that it has rendered most, if not all, of these productions unsuitable for high-definition remastering; most remasters simply treat the filmed portions to match the quality of the taped ones.

The rough American equivalent is the "soap opera effect", so named for the fact that many soap operas are shot on video to save money. This became more of a problem after progressive TV displays became the norm for Western homes; because the videotape these older programs were shot with used interlaced video, the picture would see visible combing when displayed untreated on a progressive display (CRT televisions could handle this just fine, as they, like the tape, were also built around displaying interlaced video). To address this problem, a variety of deinterlacing methods were introduced— first in the TV sets, then by the broadcasters themselves— to ensure that the image would look clean on the LCD monitors of today. The most common method was to use software to separate each pair of interlaced frames and fill in the gaps, leaving the resulting footage to look twice as fast as it would on an interlaced display. Thus, the "soap opera/costume drama effect" chiefly describes footage that runs unusually smoothly, at the cost of seeming distinctly "off" to audiences acclimated to 24-30 fps footage in TV shows and movies.


Examples are far too numerous for a comprehensive list, but include:

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    British examples 


  • Not Only... But Also - notable in that the colour videotapes were wiped and only the film sketches survived.
  • Future Monty Python members Terry Jones and Michael Palin appeared in several late 1960s series using this technique for which only the film segments survive after the videotapes were wiped for re-use, including Twice a Fortnight and The Complete and Utter History of Britain.


  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has several sketches lampshading this.
    • "Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things". A character (on videotape) looks out of the door. The moment he does so the scene switches to 16mm, and he declares, "Good Lord, I'm on film! How did that happen?" After repeating the experience with the room's other doors and windows and determining that they are "surrounded by film", the characters come up with the idea to dig an underground tunnel; while not actually shown, it would have worked because such a scene would have been filmed on set and thus on video.
    • A sketch in which Graham Chapman's army officer character tries to halt a sketch that's on film. "You can't stop this sketch! We're on film!" "Well, that doesn't make any difference to the viewers at home, does it?"
    • The sketch immediately following the first appearance of the Spanish Inquisition, where Graham is recruited by a BBC executive, played by John Cleese, to be The Straight Man in another sketch. As they walk toward the location of the other sketch, Cleese observes that "We're on film at the moment."
  • Porridge
  • Blake's 7
  • Colditz: Except for the final episode (which was entirely on film). The series also used it for effect like Doctor Who - the Colditz courtyard was a studio set, shot on film to reinforce the idea it was outside.
  • Dad's Army
  • Doctor Who got into this in a big way in the 1970s after spending the 1960s preferring to shoot everything, even "outside" scenes, in a studio on video.note  In the 1980s, as technology improved, it transitioned into doing location shooting in video as well. It's been commented that Doctor Who fans are rather good at spotting the difference because of the levels of use. (It should be observed that the quality of the film stock used on the show was grainy and poor.) It would be less noticeable on black and white episodes, which only exist as film copies of the original videotapes - except that for remastering purposes a technique called VidFIRE was developed, in order to restore the smoother 'video look' exclusively to scenes shot in the studio. Ultimately, due to a combination of difficulty with some film stock towards the end of his first season, as well as a severely reduced budget, starting with Colin Baker's second and final season, and lasting the whole of Sylvester Mccoy's tenure, the series was shot exclusively on video.
    • Due to a strike, the first Jon Pertwee story, "Spearhead from Space", was shot entirely in film.
    • "Robot", The first Tom Baker story, actually shot a handful of exterior scenes in video, to aid with the special effects needed in that serial.
    • "The Sontaran Experiment" was all shot on videotape despite being set entirely in a BBC Quarry. This was for several reasons - one was to save money as it was a two-parter with virtually no budget that ended up in the season as an artifact of the new production team's desire to abolish the 6-parter format, and the other was as an experiment to see if it was possible to do everything on video from then on. (Until 1986, it wasn't.)
    • For the serial "Planet of Evil", interior scenes were videotaped in the studio and exterior scenes on the alien planet were filmed on location — the location in question being another studio, namely Ealing Studios, which required the use of film as opposed to videotape at the time.
    • "The Stones of Blood" was another story that used videotape for location sequences long before this was the norm. Mostly this was just due to the director's personal distaste for mixing video and film, but it did come in handy when the circle of stones that the story focuses around had to be recreated in the studio for the sequences set at night, which would have been much more obvious had the daytime sequences been shot on film.
    • Sometimes used for effect:
      • In "The Curse of Peladon", the arrival sequence outside the Citadel is shot on film despite being in the studio in order to give it the sense of being a real place.
      • In "The Deadly Assassin", reality is all video with smooth motion and bright (some would say rather lurid) colours. When the Doctor enters the Cyberspace nightmare-world, it's all film, including the few studio shots (such as the Miniature Effects with the crocodile), with everything in a drab and muted, grainy colour palette (helped by the cheap and nasty-quality film) with the exception of the Doctor's ridiculously blue eyes. The whole effect is to indicate unrealness to everything there except for the Doctor's mind.
      • In the serial "Snakedance", a 'ritual' segment set in wilderness yet clearly produced in studio is shot on film to appear as if it had been shot outdoors. (And/or to subtly emphasise the trancelike nature of the ritual by introducing a visual disconnect.)
  • The Onedin Line
  • The Goodies played with these limitations somewhat by having most of the dialogue-based scenes filmed indoors in videotape, while a lot of the filmed outdoor scenes were silent (with a Bill Oddiefied score) experiments in slapstick comedy. Averted in the three Christmas specials which were entirely on film, and have obviously ADR-ed dialogue.
  • Similarly, Ronnie Barker's now-lost series His Lordship Entertains was shot indoors on video — except, Once an Episode, for a filmed exterior physical-comedy sequence with no dialogue.
  • The Tomorrow People (1973) with the exception of The Revenge of Jedikiah.
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries had this.
  • Fawlty Towers
  • The Sandbaggers
  • To the Manor Born
  • Sapphire and Steel: The third serial, revolving around a strange family living in an apartment building, uses film for establishing shots of the building and for a sequence set on the building's roof, and video for all interior scenes. (The other serials are video-only, with even the outdoor scenes being studio sets.)
  • Secret Army
  • Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
  • Open All Hours
  • Rumpole of the Bailey
  • The Good Life
  • Last of the Summer Wine
    • Only the first 12 series were made this way. Series 13 was shot entirely on video, from Series 14 the studio audience was dropped and the show was produced entirely on film (until the move to HD in the mid-00s anyway).
  • Survivors was notable for averting this trope by filming a large percentage of its run entirely on location, a first for the BBC and unusual even today. Much of the camera work ended up being carried out by the Outside Broadcast team, who normally covered sports fixtures or concerts.
  • All Creatures Great and Small
  • The Concept Video for David Bowie's "D.J." (1979) uses this, with the side effect that it furthers the contrast between the title character's public and private lives. On the filmed city streets he's happy, confident, and surrounded by his fans, but in the videotaped studio — where he's presumably alone — he's having a dangerous mental breakdown.
  • Mind Your Language is known for this as well, and it particularly stands out as the outdoor film shots are grainier than the indoor video shots.
  • Father Brown (ATV version starring Kenneth More.)
  • Edward VIII (aka Edward the King in the USA). Because of the show's perceived prestige, as a Costume Drama about The British Royal Family, the exterior footage was shot on more expensive but better quality 35mm.
  • Van der Valk: First two series only, where the exterior location footage was shot in and around Amsterdam while interiors were taped at Teddington Studios. Subsequent series were shot entirely on film in the Netherlands, except for one episode that was shot on location in London.
  • War and Peace (1972 BBC adaptation)


  • The Black Adder (the first series). The later series simply didn't feature any location shots, apart from the title sequences of Blackadder II and Blackadder Goes Forth, plus some aeroplane footage in Blackadder Goes Forth which was taken from the 1976 film Aces High.
  • Only Fools and Horses, except for the episodes "To Hull and Back" and "Miami Twice", shot entirely on film (and minus Laugh Track). However, there were also a few instances where outside scenes were actually shot on videotape; "As One Door Closes" (during the graveyard scene) and "The Jolly Boys' Outing" (where Del, Rodney and Uncle Albert are looking for a hotel to stay in) are examples of this.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (The 1981 BBC version.)
  • Early seasons of Red Dwarf show this during the rare scenes in which the crew is not inside the Dwarf.

1990s and later

  • One Foot in the Grave, from start (1990) to finish (2000).
  • Waiting for God
  • Keeping Up Appearances, particularly noticeable because of the frequent scenes set outdoors (such as the Running Gag involving the postman and milkman).
  • As Time Goes By, only for the first series.
  • It's quite noticeable in Mr. Bean, especially as the outdoor scenes are much more fast-paced (usually involving driving) than the slower and more meticulous studio scenes.
  • Part of the Retraux feel of Look Around You involves accurate use of this.
  • Used for Retraux for the reconstructed Doctor Who footage in An Adventure in Space and Time.
  • In Toast of London, it is used as Stylistic Suck in the Cutaway Gag when Toast reminisces about his time playing an alien in a 1970s episode of Doctor Who - the modern-looking digital production suddenly turns to ugly-coloured 4:3 (letterboxed) footage at 50FPS. The visual effect is so bang-on that it it looks almost like dubbed old footage.
  • In Absolutely Fabulous film was very obviously used whenever the episode was shot on-location overseas. In the episodes that take the cast to Morocco, France and New York City, it's pretty obvious which scenes were shot on film (mostly anything outdoors that could not easily be recreated in a studio) versus the scenes still set overseas but shot on videotape in a TV studio back in the UK. Film is also used for some of the physically smaller UK locations (such Saffy's college lecture theatre), where it was difficult/impossible to both sufficiently light the room and fit a large videotape machine inside. By the time of the 4th series (aired in 2001), scenes set in Paris and even aboard the Eurostar were shot on-location onto digital tape.

    Other examples 
  • Season 2 of the original series of The Twilight Zone, though there are only six episodes ever recorded on videotape ("The Lateness of the Hour", "The Night of the Meek", "The Whole Truth", "Twenty-Two", "Static", and "Long-Distance Call"), using four video cameras on a studio soundstage at CBS Television City, as a cost-cutting measure mandated by CBS programming head James T. Aubrey. However, videotape was a relatively primitive medium in the early 1960s, thus the editing of tape was next to impossible. Even worse, the requisite multicamera setup of the videotape experiment made location shooting difficult, severely limiting the potential scope of the storylines, so the crew had to abandon the videotaping project.
  • Gilligan's Island was shot entirely on film. However, while the island was a soundstage, everything on the water had to be filmed at a certain L.A. lake, so the film stock changes.
  • The Kids in the Hall was one of the few North American shows to use the technique.
  • The early seasons of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers mixed video in the scenes with American actors with film in the Japanese Super Sentai footage. And fitting the trope name, most of the former is on soundstages and the latter on outside locations (specially the quarry every single Toei production uses for fight scenes!).
    • An even more obvious example came from In Space, Lost Galaxy and Lightspeed Rescue- all three had various interior sets (mainly the Astro Megaship and the interiors of Terra Venture's command tower and the Lightspeed Aquabase) which would be shot on tape, but however they did it, it would have even smoother-looking footage than the normal American stuff.
  • The Chemical Brothers' music video for "Let Forever Be", directed by Michel Gondry, uses videotape for the real world scenes, and film for the fantasy sequences where the girl in the video imagines herself as part of a troupe of dancers. Gondry has said this was an homage to said British television shows.
  • Happened during the early seasons of You Can't Do That on Television, excepting for one episode where the entire cast involved themselves with a huge Ottawa-based charity walk.
  • Quebec children series Passe-Partout, which originally aired from 1977 to 1991, used video inside and film for outdoor shots.
  • The Bund, a Hong Kong TV drama that had Star-Making Role for Chow Yun-fat.


Video Example(s):


Monty Python

The Society for Putting Things On Top of Other Things have found themselves in a terrible dilemma -- they're surrounded by film.

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Example of:

Main / VideoInsideFilmOutside

Media sources:

Main / VideoInsideFilmOutside