Thursday, October 14, 2010

Respecting the Shoot Day

The shoot day.  We're talking about an ethereal thing here, a temporary window in time when ideas are channeled into the real world.  To be able to conjure those ideas through a lens as clean and true as imagination takes an immense amount of time, effort, stress and mental sharpness.  It takes a great producer, and a talented director, DP, and AD that understands how vital preparation truly is.

Treating a shoot day as anything other than a time where shots are set up and the director realizes his vision -- or conducting any activity that doesn't best support those things -- is missing the point.  Wasting time figuring out what you want; fumbling around unnecessary obstacles or any other lack of preparedness is not respecting the shoot day, and you've got to honor it as though it were a god.  Disrespect a shoot day and it will decimate your film or video like a Russian winter.

Anything, and I mean anything that can be done before that actual shoot, that doesn't have to be done during the shoot, should be thought about and taken care of well in advance.  And just like the actual filming is a team effort, so is the preparation.

For a producer, the word preparation is synonymous with the job.  The producer does nothing less than create those 12-14 hour per day playgrounds where the director and DP can make their vision come alive.  This means overseeing a project, securing financing, locations, cast, crew, and ensuring the availability and smooth function of all required resources and personnel (including equipment, props, wardrobe, and vehicles) that make up a shoot day.

For a director, respecting the shoot day means knowing precisely what you want, and how you're going to get it, not figuring it out as you go.

Meet with the DP, create the shot list together, and know it well -- down to the lens you think you'd like to use.  Storyboard if possible to really understand what it is you want and what it is you'll actually get.  Visit your locations and have actors and camera movement precisely choreographed (and rehearsed if that's your style).  At least discuss what you're looking for from your actors well in advance of the production.  Know what you want your set to look like, and have it arranged with the production designer well in advance.  The same goes for wardrobe.   Also know the edit as best as you can before you shoot a single frame to avoid over-shooting and so you know when you can cut a shot.

I know there are plenty of stories to go around about famous directors that fumble their way through a shoot and still create amazing work; I'd wager those guys either made Faustean deals or they've got amazing DP's, producers and crew backing them up to make up for the lack respect.

For a DP respecting the shoot means creating that shot list and knowing it well, along with lighting plots which are distributed to members of the G&E crew well in advance of the shoot.  It means adequately scouting the locations and identifying potential lighting problems with the gaffer, who should determine locations of the electrical outlets, breakers, and the current capacity of electrical circuits in the building.  It means being familiar with the schedule and taking into account the location of the sun. 

For an AD it means understanding your set in its entirety; scheduling realistically, including set-up times and shoot times, with time included for travel and wrap and lunch; knowing where to stage make-up and equipment, where everyone should be and what they should be doing as it relates to the schedule before you ever reach the set.

For talent it means knowing what the director wants, and understanding the script before you reach the set.

It's mind boggling how much effort and energy has to go into making that shoot day special in a way that 12-14 hours of any other day are not.  If any of member of the team neglects to adequately prepare, it distracts from the only things that you should be fundamentally doing on the shoot day: Building setups, making light/gel adjustments, making creative discoveries, coaxing moments out of hiding, and gathering shots.

The shoot day is fragile soil on which you plant a good script.  What comes up -- if anything -- comes out of a lot of hands and effort in the 12 or so hours between when the day begins and ends.  Footage doesn't materialize before or after, only during, and it's precious time.

Charles Rhoads

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