Arriving on set
Whatever call time you’ve given your cast, plan for your crew to be on-site at least one hour earlier. Even if the hour is more time than you need to set up, having enough time to prepare without feeling pressured starts the shooting day on the right note. Besides, you’ll quickly fill that hour.
Every shoot requires these three distinct spaces:
» Shooting area: This area should be ready for use when you arrive on the set so that you can begin setting up camera angles and lighting. Be polite but
fi about claiming your space, and remove any items that don’t belong in the scene.
» Equipment area: Designate a quiet corner in which to store equipment, props, and costumes and to serve as a charging station for batteries.
» Green room: Give your cast and crew (and perhaps certain equipment) a
place to relax — and stay out of the way — between takes. In an offi space, for example, a conference room is the perfect spot, but you may have to take whatever you can get. The green room is also a good spot for setting up an alcove to serve coff water, and snacks to your cast and crew.
After you determine the boundaries of your space, you can set up the following equipment in it:
» Charging station: Plug in a power strip, and set up your camera’s battery charger (and the chargers for light batteries, if you’re using them).
» Data station: Plug in your laptop and external hard drive so that you can periodically “dump” footage.
» Camera, tripod, lights: After you unpack these items, you can start setting up the fi shot. Check the natural ambient light in the room by looking at the
camera’s viewfi to see what adjustments you need to make. Experiment to fi the camera angles that work best.
Planning a realistic shooting schedule
When you watch a short scene in a video, you may believe that creating the scene was a simple task. And if the video is no good, it probably was a simple task. Virtually anyone can flip a switch on a camera and ask an actor to speak. Finding a unique and memorable way to shoot a scene takes time to prepare and pull off — even for simple scenes — and this amount of time has to be figured into your shooting schedule.
Two forces are at work in every film and video shoot: the creative need to make the production special, and the technical need to complete the production as quickly and inexpensively as possible and still look good. These needs are equally important. If you can’t complete the shoot on schedule, you’ll have nothing to show, but if you rush to complete the video with no regard for creativity, what’s the point in even making it?
We would love to boil down the standard schedule to the simple mathematical formula “x number of shots divided by y setup time equals z,” but scheduling sim- ply doesn’t work that way. (Besides, math is not our forté.) To come up with a realistic estimate of the time you need, consider these factors:
» The number of shots your production needs
» The length of each shot
» The amount of time you need to realistically set up, shoot several takes, and break down the set
Shooting usually takes longer (often, much longer) than most people anticipate. The technical setup can be complex, and actors may need a few takes to nail their performances. If you’re working with non-actors, you may want to add an extra 30 to 60 minutes to their scenes, just in case it takes longer to get the performance you need.
These guidelines can help streamline the shoot:
» Spend no more than 5 minutes setting up a shot. A 5-minute limit keeps the setup process lean and mean. You should have enough time to adjust the
lights and position the camera. Obviously, some shots require more time than others, but when you’re working on a deadline, time magically passes faster than normal.
» Shoot scenes out of order. Few fi productions shoot scenes in the exact order they’ll appear in the fi product. Usually, the shooting schedule is
created by determining which resources (such as locations, actors, props, or
lighting) can be reused in other scenes. Those scenes are then fi consecutively.
By shooting out of order, you can schedule certain actors’ scenes one after the other and then release the actors when they fi leaving fewer people to manage as the day progresses.
» Shoot “big” scenes fi If you’re shooting a crowd scene or another type of
complicated shot, get it out of the way early in the day. Your cast and crew will be more energized, and you’ll have that worry out of the way as the day wears on and pressure grows to wrap up the shoot.
» Experiment. Once, anyway. If you want (or a cast member wants) to try a
radical idea, just to see whether it works, do it. But shoot the scene as specifi in the script, too. Don’t get too creative at the expense of the clock.
» Cut freely. If you fi that your schedule is overstuff pull out the script,
storyboard, and shot list and cut some of the shots. Not scenes, mind you, just shots. We generally encourage you to shoot scenes with multiple shots (called coverage, which we address later in this chapter, in the section “Determining the best shot”). If time is running out, be prepared to change the shot list.
» The fewer people who are on the set, the faster you can shoot. The more
people who watch a scene, the more your shoot can turn into a party rather than a production. When something strange or funny happens on the set (and suddenly everyone is laughing or chatting and no longer working), you have
to play the role of benign dictator. Firmly, but with a friendly smile, ask all bystanders to clear out — pronto. When you have a camera, you wield power!
Practicing good habits before a shot
Your camera is set up, the actors are in place, and all eyes are on you. You’re ready for the first take of the day. What do you say and when do you say it? You can actu- ally set up a smooth, productive workflow by using a series of commands to move through each shot within a scene.
Draw from this handy list of words and phrases to communicate with your cast
and crew — and to help them to communicate with you:
» “Quiet on the set.” When you let everyone know that you’re about to “roll camera,” the only audible sound should come from whatever is happening in
front of the camera. Side conversations, coughing, and mobile phones can all spoil a take, and you should have zero tolerance for them.
» “Roll camera.” When your actors and crew are set, cue the cameraperson to start shooting.
» “Camera rolling.” The camera person should reply to “Roll camera” with this phrase after shooting begins. If you’re doing the shooting, just say “Camera
» “Sound rolling.” Someone who is listening to sound separately on head- phones says this phrase to indicate that the audio sounds good.
» “Action.” Finally! This famous cue tells actors to start the scene and lets
everyone else know to remain quiet. Wait a few seconds after the camera and sound are rolling to say it.
» “Hold.” If a sudden event (such as a passing police siren) interrupts a shot, call
“Hold” to let everyone know to stop what they’re doing until the interruption ends. Then call “Action” again.
» “Cut.” After a scene ends, wait a few seconds to say this famous cue so that
the crew continues shooting video and recording sound until the moment you say it.
After a few tries, your cast and crew will have the order and rhythm of these cues down pat, and your set will quickly sound professional (as long as an actor doesn’t announce, “I’ll be in my trailer”).
Every take of a shot should have handles on it — a waiting period of a few seconds before you say “Action” and after you say “Cut.” This way, an editor (who may be you) who works on the scene in postproduction has a clearly defined segment of video to work with. “Action” and “Cut” are also cues for them.
Don’t wait to press the Record button immediately after calling “Action” or “Cut” (a mistake typically made by novice filmmakers). This bad habit leaves the editor with a scene that is potentially missing its first and last seconds — a huge amount of editing time. (Applying a cool transition effect during the editing process — a dissolve or a fade-in, for example — is then impossible.) Also, actors shouldn’t break character until you say “Cut.” As they finish their lines, they should remain in place until you stop shooting.