Saturday, July 31, 2010

FILMMAKING: Musclin' - My Short Film - Part 3

Today, July 31, was to be my first day of principle photography as it was the first time everyone on my cast and crew, all volunteers, could get together on the same day at the same time. Everything was ready, and I had everything I needed, except for the weather. The story takes place on a sunny day and today was not that.

Not all was lost as I now have, as mentioned, all that I need, and time to tweak what was "just good enough for now." Here is how I prepared for this shoot.

In preparation for the shoot I did not have the fortune of having a storyboard program, nor even the time to draw it by hand. However, I do need some sense of what the shots will be, how they will be set up, how to light the shot, and how best to position the camera and get as many of the shots from that position that will be taken, before moving the camera and setting it up again. This is really important during those intercut over-the-shoulder conversations. This is also necessary to maximize efficiency.

What I did was create a "Shot List." This is a list of all the shots I will be taking, the camera position, movement, the angle, distance, and a note of the action for reference. I have never learned or even read HOW TO DO THIS but I came up with a plan that seems to make it easy for me.

The first thing I did was go through the script of the scene I was shooting. I printed a copy of the 5 pages of that scene so that I could write Production notes on the script for each shot. After reviewing all my notes and revising them (You have to get away and come back to spark better ideas) I then wrote them all down on a sheet of paper in the order they occur with the perspective, distance, movement, and minimal dialog reference so that I could relate the notes of the shot I just wrote about to what was happening in the scene. There is a method to my madness. Allow me to elaborate:

First, I wrote down the number of the shot as it occured in order of the scene as if projected. Then I wrote down what type of shot it was, such as OTR for "over the shoulder," LA for "low angle," etc. Then I wrote the perspective; who's shoulder it was from, what the camera was looking at. Then some dialog reference, and some camera movement, if any.

After I wrote each shot I also noted in the column before the number of the shot if it was to be done with the camera on a tripod, stabilizer, or hand held, which would be on the stabilizer but the stabilizer would be held rigidly.

The last thing I did was designate each shot with a camera set-up using letters. This would tell me that while I had the camera in configuration "A," I could get all of these shots. Then when the camera was in position "B" I could get all of the shots labelled "B." Then I could move onto shot "C," and then get 4 more shots in position D before going to position "E" to get the intercut shots that will be mixed with the "D" shots.

Of course if there were to be certain shots taken in a particular position and then another shot that would appear 2 minutes later from that same position I would not shoot the later one at the same time. That could confuse my actors, and me, as to exactly how everyone was standing in order to shoot the next shot that would occur before the later shot. I don't want to throw continuity to the wind.

I didn't get to do this in time but now I do have the time. I will take THIS list and organize it so that all of the letters, and therefore shots, are in the same groups so that I don't have to search across a page to see what all shots I need to take from a certain position. All the A's will be together, followed by all the B's, then all the C's, etc. This should make for a smooth workflow.

I also cobbled together a mic boom pole from a video Indie Mogul posted on Youtube. It utilizes a 9 foot painter's pole with a plastic threaded end for a roller handle. A hole is drilled into the end and a double sided lag bolt is screwed in. On one end is the wood screw type threads, at the other is regular machine screw threads. A nut is then screwed down against the plastic end and secures the screw in place. I then screwed on a flash bounce head that swivels and also has a female hotshoe type foot. Into this I can secure the isolator that came with my Azden SGM-1X shotgun mic. There it is, my boom pole. I sanded the red and white finish with steel wool to remove the shine and painted it flat black so that it looks like a piece of filmmaking equipment instead of a painter's pole.

I fashioned my own camera stabilizer. I will be writing a future article about that. It is still in the prototype stage and it is steady enough for the shots I was going to shoot today. I also learned that switching brands of tape (I have a mini DV camera) can throw off the balance.

I made sure I had all my batteries and they were all charged. I had extension cords, lights, and props all ready. I made a list of everything I needed to take as surely I could not remember it all while trying to consider all things.

I had written an email to a local newspaper to see if they would be interested in covering the shoot. This can come in handy when speaking to Producers, Distributors, and Agents to show you can draw attention, and you have. Unfortunately I did not remember to contact them until Friday evening, so I believe my notice was too short. Well, when you're doing it all something is going to slip through the cracks.

There are small things you have to take into consideration. My AP said he had an XLR cord we could use on my mic. I thought "Great, I won't have to spend the money on a cord this week." I had already spent money on equipment that will be part of my repertoire. Last night I had a thought about it; how long was his cord? My boom was to be 9 feet long, plus length to be strung to the audio recording camera. I gave him a call and he said "8 feet." Well, I am glad I called. I ran out and picked up a 25 footer.

I had masking, electrical, and duct tape because I don't have any gaffer's tape. At Big Lots I picked up a roll of "Caution Tape" for about $3.50.

So yes, I was surprised how well prepared I was for this shoot. I was hoping to have pictures and videos to show you from the shoot but that will have to wait until a later date.

One last thing. If you are going to use a prop gun on a set in the public, be sure to let the local law enforcement know. I called up the Police Station in a small, rural town and told them there would be a prop gun at an ice cream shop in town where I would be shooting video. The officer said "Thanks for letting us know." So far I have had great cooperation from the local Police.

-- Steve Olander

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