This text describes the tasks and the sharing of tasks in a small film crew of 6 to 12 crew members (actors not included) and their work flow. Bigger teams will work more specialized.
I just started this text, if you have suggestions what could be improved, please send me your ideas annotations. If you are a native speaker and find mistakes, I appreciate corrections ;-)
Shooting a fictional film is highly based on specialized labour. Synchronizing all these different jobs is difficult, so waiting until the other is ready is part of the business. But if it is on you, be on the right place and be well prepared. Everything that is part of your work should be ready or so well prepared that it is quickly set up. Always use the breaks in the filming process to find out what comes up next and think about what can be useful, what might be needed from you in these nexts shots. And stay tuned, try to find out what might be needed in the next scenes, try to understand as good as possible (you will never completely do, but be sure that at least the director knows what he/she does).
A small relief: The first scenes, the first day of a shooting always take more time, because the team has to find its methods of working together and technical problems are more likely to occur at that point. It takes a while to find the right groove of how to work together.
If a problem occurs that possibly delays the work, please inform the assistant director. One of the most complicate things on a set is to synchronize the work of the film crew members. It is more convenient to allow the actors to have a 15 minutes break, then to let them wait. So they don’t feel free to go to eat something or for a cigarette while shooting and then need a break later on. But if the director or assistant director gives a time for a restart, it is obligatory that all needed staff is on set at this time on standby. Delays are normal on a film set, but they can be prolonged easily by lack of discipline.
I always aim at having a briefing in the morning, to discuss the agenda of the shootings and the crew members functions. If special props are needed, someone must skip a scene.
We read the script and think about needs for the production and draw the storyboard together, or have a look on an already finished storyboard.
Director asks: “Light ready?” “Actors ready?”, “Sound ready?”, “Camera rolling?”, IF he gets a yes from everyone, then there is the clapperboard. When the director feels that the acting can start, he says “Action”. If the sound is not ready or the camera can’t roll they have to claim this! Shooting is pointless with a camera that does not roll, or a spoiled sound.
While the scene is running it is obvious, to make no sounds and to move only if necessary, and when doing so, very smoothly.
It is always and only the director who ends the shooting, with saying “...and Cut” … If you run out of battery or the sound gets worse, try to make eye contact with the director to inform him that the shot is ruined from your perspective. But perhaps he wants to use this scene as kind of rehearsal for the actors, then it is more suitable not to interrupt the scene. But if you have a bad technical quality or you are not happy with your performance, insist on a retake, or at least claim this to the director. Sometimes a specific perspective isn’t so important to him or he is more focused on having a good actors performance, and the framing isn’t that important.
Sometimes you have been writing the script, if not, you take over the responsibility for the script from the moment on when the preparation of the film starts. It is your film and in your mind you imagine how the film and every scene should look like when ready. You have the biggest responsibility and the biggest task of all members.
And you have a lot of challenges:
- work with the actors on the story and the development of the characters
- work with the actors on the development of each scene
- explain the film and the next scene to the crew
- agree with your camera woman/man about the visual treatment of the scene
- you are the artistic mastermind, you give directions to all members of the crew, suggestions of the crew members are always very welcome, if you have trust in them very good. Try to understand what they suggest and if it supports the message you want to intend to convay in the film.
- your are the boss of the production. Leading other people and deciding against their ideas to carry out your idea of the film is a challenge and especially in no-budget productions a thin line.
- you start the action of the scene with saying “action” and you end it by saying “cut”. Do a favour to the editor and let the scene roll two second longer, then you need it ;-)
Danny Boyle (trainspotting) claims: A DIRECTOR MUST BE A PEOPLE PERSON • Ninety-five percent of your job is handling personnel. People who’ve never done it imagine that it’s some act, like painting a Picasso from a blank canvas, but it’s not like that. Directing is mostly about handling people’s egos, vulnerabilities and moods. It’s all about trying to bring everybody to a boil at the right moment. You’ve got to make sure everyone is in the same film. It sounds stupidly simple, like ‘Of course they’re in the same film!’ But you see films all the time where people are clearly not in the same film together.
14 more tips for a director from Danny Boyle: http://www.moviemaker.com/articles-directing/danny-boyle-15-golden-rules-filmmaking/
Think about sound track -> any directions for band? / audio web research!?
Your job is a kind of communication and organisational manager. Try to follow the process of film making and to understand what is coming next, where are pitfalls, which problems have to be solved and so on. Some time problems may delay the shootings, that is normal, but it is your job to synchronize the film crew and to bring the shootings on its way, when everybody is ready. Sometimes the situation occurs that everybody is chatting, because everybody assumes we are waiting for something… This is your task to keep on track at what point the team is, and try to restart shooting again as soon as possible.
It is your task to support the director by delegating as much work as possible to set designers, light, actors etc. If it can’t be delegated, do it on your own. But you have to pamper your director a bit, that he/she has enough time and space for artistic discussions and thoughts.
As the director has always a lot of things to do and to decide, try to answer all questions of the team, if you can’t answer collect them and try to check it on the right time with your director.
You always have a copy of the script with you and have marked needed props, everything which must be followed. Try to make a list which actors (and crew members) are needed when and keep them informed, so that every needed film crew member is present when needed.
You always keep track on what has already been shot and what still has to be shot. Do that with the help of a copy of the storyboard.
Print copies of new script versions for all members.
Because sound is so crucial, it is good, when two persons listening to the sound. Do it whenever it is possible.
Locations: check if they are suitable, if shooting there is possible - together with the set designers.
The job is to write down in the script which shot should be used in the edit and to take care that the following shots related to this scene, have the same clothes, the same props. E.g. note in which hand an actor has been taking a prop …. for the following close-up which might be shot two hours later after the lunch break.
Your main task is the visual development of the storyboard - some directors give you free hand, others insist on their own visual ideas. But in the end it’s you who is responsible for the shot. What is possible, and what is for technical or artistic reasons not applicable.
When developing the storyboard or positioning the camera on set, ask yourself : “Is the camera in the right place to tell the story properly? Are we seeing what we want to see?” All other camera decisions, including size and composition of the frame, derive from this basic judgment. To determine where the camera is placed, ask yourself, “From whose point of view is the scene experienced? Who is doing the seeing here?” Is it a main character’s point of view, or that of an unknown bystander or the omniscient storyteller? The point of view can shift from objective to subjective within a scene, but you should always know from whose vantage point the scene is unfolding. The camera is normally placed at eye level. This is the position at which an audience sees the world.
Ususally, one starts with a general shot of the scene, as it is the most delicate. Close Ups are easier to shoot.
If possible, aim to start and end every shot with an action of the actor. If he/she was walking in the shot before, he can’t stand then, so he has to come into the shot in a movement. Even if it is only a slight movement - this is crucial for a smooth editing process afterwards.
This shallow focus is a challenge, when actors are moving. Always try to keep them in focus via the “red peaking lines” or to use the “follow focus feature” (i.e. on Canon EOS-M/650D). If this is too complicate to handle, close the iris and you will have less shallow focus (= more depth of field/depth of focus).
Sound control if applicable. But especially take care that the audio cable is always plugged into the camera properly.
Try to use an open iris (f.1.8 is open, f16 is maximum closed). This gives the picture a shallow focus effect, concentrating also the focus of the spectator to what is important. This shallow focus is also a challenge, when actors are moving. Always try to keep them in focus with the help of the “red peaking lines” or by using the follow focus feature (i.e. on Canon EOS-M/650D). If this is too complicate to handle, close the iris and you will have less shallo focus (= more depth of field/depth of focus).
Try to start recording, when the clapperboard is in shot. This makes it much easier to identify it in the editing. Never stop the camera before the director says cut, even when the scene seems to be at the end. Sometimes unexpected shots or even small incidents may enrich the working possibilities for the editor. But yes, if you started the camera, because the scene should start and it didn’t, you may erase this shot - if you know what you’re doing.
If possible, try to shoot transitional shots. See here: http://nofilmschool.com/2013/10/caleb-pike-shares-7-tips-shoot-edit/
Sometimes we shoot with two cameras to cover the reverse shot of a dialogue between two persons. If not, the second camera is always free to look for new perspectives and details, which might be used as supplemental shots for the editing. Consider the overall meaning of the scene and which perspective and framing might fit to the mood of the scene.
Can also shoot easy shots on a second location if no director is needed.
If shooting with two cameras please double check with the first camera, that you are shooting with the same White Balance Preset, the same Color Preset and that the internal clock of the cameras are running in sync with the current time and date.
Sound control if applicable. But especially take care that the audio cable is always plugged into the camera properly.
- cares for batteries, tapes/SD-cards, lenses, sometimes tripod. Always have an extra battery and SD-Card with you. After shooting make sure that everything gets recharged.
- If shooting with two cameras, double check that both internal clocks of the cameras are running on the same time - important for the editing. If applicable, also the external sound recording device.
- cares for LCD field monitor. If applicable. The field monitor is a big help for the gaffer/light department, the director of photography and the director.
The clapperboard is a tool which helps in the editing process in two ways. By showing and saying the current Scene No/Angle/take. While working, the editor knows the scene and take no. and this helps connecting the fitting video and audio files from different devices.
With the clapping he does also have a cue to synchronize audio and video files at the right point
Scene No. should be taken from the script. Each try gets a new take no. If we are shooting a second and third angle with the main camera, put a new letter behind the scene no.
S24 C, take 3 means scene 24, fourth angle/perspective. No Letter is used for the general shot. A and B for the first and second Close-Up. C to Z for the rest.
The clapping is also a kind of last warning for everyone on the set, that the scene starts in a second.
Be on the set near to the place, where the action will take place, because here the clapperboared will be seen by both cameras. Wait for the director to ask sound and camera if ready and rolling, then show the clapperboard in both cameras while they are rolling, if necessary by turning the clap. The clapping should also be visible for both cameras.
If you want to know more about the right way to clap, read more in this blog article ;-)
This is the job with the most gear and if needed in the scene with the most preparation time needed. Outdoor scenes mostly require only a reflector for brightening up some shadows.
There are a lot of rules which you can follow, but the most knowledge goes with experience… and this comes by experimenting. If you have the time do it, do so. If you don’t have it, try to make it as good as possible in the given time - you will be never ready or lighting will be perfect. Lighting is the most time-consuming work, when setting up a scene.
Before starting to set up the lights (well you can prepare them), you have to know, what shots will be taken from which camera positions .
Always judge your light only with eyes of the camera … make use of the field monitor.
On set, try to find out where the power connectors are. If possible try to take different ones from the LCD field monitor. Then set up two lights on tripods and together with the director of photography find out what lighting might be suitable for the scene.
First thing after a scene is to turn of the lights, to let them cool down. If you want to move light you should let it also cool down for 20-30 seconds.
Your responsibility is also to care for the considerable equipment: lights plus stand, power connectors, but also filter foils, reflectors the black molton.
Unfortunately, the sound is the most underestimated job on the set. The other things do costs so much time and attention, that the others easily take a good sound for granted. But a good sound is more important than a good picture. What helps a good picture, if one can not hear the dialogue!?
So please please: be self confident. Always defend your requirements. If a general shot is too general to provide good sound… it has to be less general, so that the microphone can be nearer to the actors.
The microphone has always be positioned as close as possible to the actors (or the source of the characteristic sound of the scene) and directed in the direction where the sound/voice has it source. As this is subject to change in a dialogue, try to smoothly follow with the boom, by changing position or simply by rolling the boom. With this need you will be in a permanent struggle with the camera operator, but also she/he should know, that sound is more important than picture and pay attention to warn you or frame the picture a bit closer.
Your equipment is the sound boom with a shotgun / directional microphone and (hopefully) a portable sound mixer. Always have an eye on the right adjustment of the level on both mixer and camera. Most of the time, the level should be in green, and only sometimes in yellow or even red. Repeat the check sound on camera inbetween by playback of camera. Double check also for lost cable connections to the camera.
Recheck sound as often as possible by playing back files on camera. Check the cables at and to the camera for loose or lost connections. When using two cameras for recording, try to give sound to both cameras with an audio splitter (minimizes risks and helps editor).
Extra: To help the editor creating a well designed audio ambiance, it is very helpful to record 30 seconds of the background noise of the location (german: “Atmo”). Sometimes you discover more sounds on the set which may be suitable for the edit. If so record them when free on an mp3-Recorder or on camera.
A film is always only as authentic as the location and the look of the actors. So try to make the actors and the location look like the situation is set in the film script as much as possible.
The easiest way is to find a good location in the beginning. Then to change what has to be changed.
If you are on search for locations, always take photos of potential locations to show them to the director.
Look for suitable props and costumes and assure they are there when needed. Make your own remarks for this in your script version.
As soon as the first shots are ready the editor starts his/her work and edits the shots into scenes.
If you have some time left, because shootings are still running. Try to fiddle out effects needed, already set up the titles and the credits and think about music and audio design for the film.
Editing process: start with the raw edit. Try in which direction you put the shots. If you are happy about this, go for the fine tuning of the transitions. After that, the editor has to do the sound corrections and to bring all clips to the same (accurate) level . The last step are then the color corrections.
Always cut in action.
Always do back-ups of SD-cards before (or after importing) to external drive or extra folder.
Let the cards import completely, before removing them! FCP X has to be shut down before removing.
Read script carefully, develop your ideas and movements. Know your lines (by heart).
Try to act and react, not to simply go through your lines -> apperception, evaluation, action
Please start your action not in the moment the director says action, but 2 seconds later. This is extremely important for the editing afterwards.
Pointed description for the five most import roles on an indie film set: http://noamkroll.com/how-to-shoot-a-film-with-a-skeleton-crew/
film crew on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_crew