Action by Alex Eylar

Part four is all about the production day.

Beforehand, make sure your cast and crew, for those specific scenes that day, know to show up. Hopefully your actors know their lines (since I’m assuming when you hired them you gave them a copy of your script) and your crew members had enough sleep. You should have an agreed upon time when people will show up and ready to roll.

Note: Remember to schedule your actors accordingly. If one is not needed until the third scene which you’ve scheduled for around 5pm, they don’t need to be there the whole day. Your crew on the other hand, they’re all yours.

Blocking

Blocking is basically rehearsing before committing to a shot. You’re going to run through, with your actors, their lines and movement throughout an entire scene.

At this point, as long as the talent knows their lines, I’m good. My approach is to let them move in what ever way feels natural to them. The last thing I need is inauthentic movement… unless it’s on purpose. From there, I’m figuring out my camera movements in my head.

By seeing everything that will happen during blocking you can use that, along with your shot list, to help plan out and design what you’re going to shoot, where you place your camera, and how you move your camera within that space.

Let’s start with the first shot. Usually this would be your master shot, wide or full shot, something that will capture the entire performance of the scene. Sometimes close-ups or difficult shots should be done first because the energy level of your actors tend to be better.

Here’s how I would block my first shot:

1. Decide what I want in-camera.

2. Determine how the camera moves (if at all) during the shot.

Am I using a slider, panning, tilting? Am I going to pull focus from one subject to another (called rack focusing)?

3. Determine how long I will be shooting for.

*These would normally be decided when you line your script which I’ve omitted on purpose because things happen during shoots– they almost ALWAYS change. Plus, I’m also more of a shoot-from-the-hip kind of director. It’s just how I operate.

Take One!

If you’re using double-system sound, the only thing you need to know is what the shot is CALLED. Knowing what the shot is called helps with organization and also matching the right audio take to the shot take.  Additionally, maybe have someone in front of the camera, CLAP. This will be used as a visual reference for syncing your audio in post production. I’m also assuming the camera you’re using has some built-in audio, so matching sound shouldn’t be too difficult.

I think this may be clearer if I just run through a take. So here’s what I do:

1. Make sure everything is in place. (Camera(s), sound operator, actors, grips, etc.)

2. Cue audio recording. [Jargon= rolling sound]

3. Press the record button on the camera. [Jargon= rolling camera]

4. Yell out shot name and clap in front of the camera (for visual reference).

5. Count-down “3,2,1,… action/go” or simply “annnnnnd (pause) go.”

6. Record 3-5 seconds past the end of the performance and yell cut. (Just in case something unexpected AND usable happens)

7. Check and review sound.

8. Check and review video/film.

9. If good cross off shot list.

10. Set up new shot and repeat.

Coverage

So when you made that shot list, how many of those shots included the full duration of the scene?

Anything other than the master, I’d consider coverage. This includes B-roll footage (inserts, cutaways, stock footage). Because at minimum you can tell a story with one shot of a solid performance, but you can’t tell a story, coherently, with 1 close-up and 2 medium shots capturing parts of a performance from one character, as an example. Or maybe you can, filmmaking rules… they’re meant to be broken.

Coverage is anything you feel needs to be shot. Sometimes my scenes will have only one dynamic camera, and that’s it. Other times I may use 9 different shots and angles just to cover my basis and have more to play with during editing. I’m thinking more of what can be used during the edit, and if you’re not the editor, at least you’re being a nice director and giving him plenty of footage to mold into some tangible story.

30 Seconds of Sound

Exactly what it sounds like, record 30 seconds of sound from the scene location; sound uncolored by your crew and their shenanigans, which means everyone needs to be quiet during recording.

These 30 seconds of environmental sound, per location, is what you will overlay across your edited scene to help hide the small audio transitions between cuts. Oh it’s there. Nothing throws me out of a story more than hearing a different level of ambient noise each time the shots change. In a quiet environment, this may not be a problem. Shooting outside, on the other hand, tends to have more issues especially when you factor in wind and crowds or noisy environments. But even that’s salvageable, Thanks to ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement).

You can always get this “30 seconds of sound” at any time during your production day, or during pickup shots (shots needed AFTER principal photography), but I try to get this at the time of shooting each scene because I may not get a chance to go back to that location.

That’s it for your production day. Repeat for all your shots for all your scenes then call it a wrap. In the next installment of this Basic Skill Sets series I’ll cover editing, the most time consuming phase in filmmaking, in my opinion.