I just got back from the Shoot from the Hip project and had an amazing time.  Not only did I meet some great people and make a pretty solid movie, I learned a ton.

I learned more about filming in 10 days than I could have by reading 100 books.  Here are some of the bits of wisdom I picked up on making a film:

Acting

  • Just like in improv, you have to interact with your fellow actors. Be paying more attention to them than yourself.
  • Once you connect to your characters background, motivation, and objective, it becomes a lot easier to react as they would.
  • Be willing to have fun with your characters and make interesting choices.  Something as simple as having skittles with you can turn into a symbolic moment for the movie.
  • When shooting the film out of order, remind yourself in each scene where you are in the story so you still have the right progression as a character.
  • When improvising scenes, establish the important beats of the scene that need to be hit and then go. On the next takes, keep what worked and refine what didn’t

Editing

  • If you create a consistent hierarchy of folders on all of the computers you are working on, it will make it easier to transfer files and save the Final Cut Pro project files.
  • Watching your edits on a big screen will help you identify small fixes such as needed cuts or audio issues.
  • At the end of the day, continuity is less important than the performance. But it is what will set your movie apart from being amateur.
  • If you “notice” an edit, it’s not good.
  • Multiple camera angles make switching between takes easier. Also having shots of the other person (and not being able to see the speakers mouth) allows you to use the best dialog without worry about syncing.
  • Just like in improv, reactions make the joke. Your edits should include the best reactions.
  • Cut in the middle of dialog when possible to maintain audio continuity for the audience. This also looks more professional and allows you to see reactions.
  • Shots without actors acting or speaking can be used to round out the movie (things like establishing shots)
  • If you sync all of your angles into a sequence you can quickly jump back and forth between the two angles.
  • One way to do editing is in the first pass “edit for radio”–just worry about getting the audio where you want. then you can adjust the video as needed.
  • When possible, the editor should be the one to log and capture video since they will need to be watching all footage anyway to do their editing.
  • When editing as an ensemble, you can create a master editing list that assigns scenes or chunks to each editor.

Directing

  • When shooting two camera, if the OTS or CU shots are shot at the same time, then its easier for the editor to do back and forth edits (as opposed to shooting one cu and one wide and switching back and forth btwn takes).
  • You can use lighting, sound, and camera placement to help tell your story.
  • Allow for time to improvise in scenes. The best moments of the film can come from completely improvised bits in the moment.
  • Having multiple cameras is easier on the actors, helps with continuity and shortens the shoot time, but is more footage for the editor, requires more people and potentially restricts the types of shots you can do.

Production

  • Being able to do every role helps you appreciate them more and realize what you can do to make their jobs easier.
  • The more filled out a continuity sheet, the more helpful it is to the editor.
  • To help the editor, create a document that lists which tape and scene numbers were used for a particular scene.
  • The setup is usually what takes the longest, not the takes. If the director can pre-plan as much as possible the crew can get there and set up. The talent can then come in once its setup (assuming they are rehearsed and have also already talked with the director).
  • It can be tough to balance wanting to be efficient and stay on schedule and also taking the time to have fun and play with different decisions and options
  • For scheduling, print each scene on a single strip. Highlight the different combinations of INT/EXT and DAY/NIGHT.
  • Group each location time together and piece together the scenes that can be shot together.
  • Organize all of the scenes into respective days taking into account location, time, characters, and costumes.
  • With an ordered scene list, list the needed crew people for each one (and call time if different).
  • The assistant director is there to make the directors job easier. They’re the ones that keep things moving, on schedule. They have to be more in command even if to the point of sounding like a jerk.
  • The AD yells quiet on set and then roll cameras. When the cameras are rolling and focused on slate, they each say speeding. The slate person then reads the slate information and drops the clapper. The camera people then get to their frame and say frame when they are there. The director then says action when ready and cut when done.
  • The clapper is incredibly important when using more than 1 camera. The visual helps with the editing process for logging and the clapper hitting is the first nonblurry frame and is what allows you to sync audio at the sound of the clap.
  • When slating, its better to actually clap the sticks instead of letting them fall. This will help in editing because the clap will be more succinct and the top won’t bounce.
  • Having a list of all of the beats of the movie is important. Then ultimately having a list of every scene plus a couple of sentences about the crux of the scene, major character changes or information, and any key lines
  • Masking tape on floor can help you set your marks (even for things like tripods).
  • Script supervisors are responsible for continuity of things like costume, actor movements, props, etc.
  • You can take digital pictures to track prop locations and wardrobe.
  • Slating at the beginning will help editing (both on camera recording and on the log).
  • Script supervisor can also track how each scene went (good takes, mistakes).

Lighting/Sound

  • When first setting up a scene, first try to control the environment (sound and lighting).
  • Light is like water–you can have direct hard light or when you bounce it off something, it will spread and also become softer.  Gels can change the ambience of the light.
  • Work to make your lighting and sound seem realistic (you almost don’t notice it).
  • Top and back light can make someone pop out more.
  • Use a blanket on the wall or floor to try to muffle any echo in a room.

Writing

  • To determine the plot, think of each storyline separately and decide on each of their resolutions. Then list all scenes and beats for each one and match up where they overlap.
  • For the story, write down all of the scenes on small cards and then rearrange them into the flow of the movie.

Camera

  • For each location (and really any new shots) the camera settings for light and sound should be checked.
  • To get focus, zoom in on your main focus point, get focus and then zoom to frame.
  • Main types of shots include wide/master, establishing, closeup, ecu, two shots, over the shoulder.
  • Remember the rule of two thirds when framing.

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