Having read on the Internet that the famous Temple Run finale of LotHT was usually filmed without an audience, I decided to watch the show a little more closely to observe their camera techniques. I compared the look of the show between its first and third seasons.

You can watch sample episodes here.

Season 1: The Moccasins of Geronimo Season 3: The Secret Map of the Bandit Queen

First, in the early episodes, the opening sequence--starting from Kirk Fogg's entrance, and his first explanation of what the show is, is done live. When Olmec says "and here he is now!--" he may have said this pre-recorded, but he means it, because Kirk walks right into the studio and addresses the camera live.

By the third season, Kirk has switched to a rope-swinging entrance, and the entire opening is pre-recorded. Since the camera faces the temple now, and not the audience bleachers, the fact that the audience is canned applause isn't immediately apparent. The transition is pretty clear: Kirk ends his speech by asking Olmec what today's legend is, and the camera cuts to a closeup of his answer. Then, when the camera cuts back to Kirk, you can see he's in the live studio, with the audience and contestants present and ready to go.

Now, the exact same camera cuts happen in the first season, so a better/smoother cut of Olmec could well have been spliced in. But it's clear, at least in this episode, that the crowd is the same before and after the cut: there are a couple people in distinctive hats behind Kirk who are there before and after Olmec's statement.

As one watches this unfold, the difference in budget and production values between seasons is very obvious. In the third season, the decor is more pervasive and extensive, with a lot more foliage, and the Raft and Temple Games events are more elaborate. The moat features a layer of fog which is not present in the first season.

After the Steps of Knowledge, Kirk introduces the four Temple Games participants by name and interests. In the first season, this is often done by having each participant describe themselves a bit, after being given a leading question about some interest they've stated before filming. In the third season, Kirk simply reads off what the participants have previously told him. This was probably changed for time constraints, and to minimize the chance that a participant might ramble on or say something awkward.

In the third season, Olmec is the one to explain the rules of the Temple Games, and he's always the one to describe the Temple Run. His speeches are delivered mostly by closeup and voice-over, so it also gives the camera crews some room to zoom in on the game layout and show a preview of the action, rather than just showing the studio.

The Temple Run camera work has changed a lot by the third season. In the first season, a stationary camera simply pans to each room as Olmec describes it, and as players navigate the rooms, but in the third, someone actually walks through the temple during the preview, showing the rooms from a participant's perspective (with a blur effect added). The Run itself is also filmed from a closer angle; cameras have been placed in the Temple to give more perspectives on the players' actions.

Having seen all this, I also employed an experiment Dad had me do long ago: he had me use a stopwatch during an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, timing how much of a 30-minute TV slot was used by the actual episode--and not counting anything that was pre-recorded like the opening and closing titles, or stock footage of mech transformations. (The result came to about 18 minutes.) Timing the Moccasins episode reveals that only about 7:20 is definitely in front of a live audience that is close enough to see what's going on: only the Moat and Steps of Knowledge segments.

It must have been fascinating for the kids who participated in this--not just for the experience itself, but to see firsthand how these kinds of shows are made.

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