How Filmmaker Karl Freund Brilliantly Perfected the Art of Three Camera Sitcom Lighting Used Today

In the fascinating Vox video essay, editor Phil Edwards posits the question as “Why so many sitcoms look the same“. In response, he explains the history of three camera light which was developed by German filmmaker Karl Freund, who came to the United States from Germany after working on such iconic films as The Last Laugh, The Golem and Metropolis. After a few horror films, Freund began working on the sitcom I Love Lucy and further developed the idea of three camera sitcom lighting, perfecting its use in front of a live television audience, a technique that would be reproduced for sitcoms made decades later.

Karl Freund was the genius cinematographer behind Metropolis, the silent film classic. But then he designed the set for I Love Lucy – the first of the multicam, laugh-track heavy sitcoms. Today, they look bland, but it wasn’t always that way. But at the time, Freund had a good reason to tackle the challenge. These lighting techniques are still in use today on sitcoms like Friends, the Big Bang Theory, and other multi-camera hits. What looks generic to our eyes was, at one time, the result of an artist who made the impossible look easy.