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Techniques for Independent Production
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Old November 30th, 2008, 11:46 PM   #1
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Okay, I've got the gear, got the script, got the actors. I need to find a practical online or DVD lesson on directing. Not the esthetics of directing, but the practical lingo and process. What is the proper sequence of things to say when you start a scene? What is the proper protocol when running a shoot, etc. All I can find is the big picture of directing. I need the little minute details so when I start my shoot, I can at least give the impression that I'm not totally green. And to make things worse due to my daily work schedule I can't volunteer on other people's shoots to learn.
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Old December 1st, 2008, 12:38 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by G. Lee Gordon View Post
Okay, I've got the gear, got the script, got the actors. I need to find a practical online or DVD lesson on directing. Not the esthetics of directing, but the practical lingo and process. What is the proper sequence of things to say when you start a scene? What is the proper protocol when running a shoot, etc. All I can find is the big picture of directing. I need the little minute details so when I start my shoot, I can at least give the impression that I'm not totally green. And to make things worse due to my daily work schedule I can't volunteer on other people's shoots to learn.

Some simple things, in no particular order:

1. Have a shot list

Break down the script into the actual shots you will take for each part of the script -- the wide shots, the close-ups, the angles. Turn this into a schedule so you can take best advantage of specific setups.

2. Keep an eye on continuity -- if a lot of shooting happens in one room during the course of a shoot, remember things like "was that door open or closed before?", "were the handles up or down when she put that bag down?". Have a digital camera and someone else to keep an eye on it will both be very helpful.

3. think about where gear can go so it won't be in the way -- cables, stands, bits and pieces. Nothing worse than changing setups and realising that not only do you have to move the camera you also have to move *everything* else.

4. A basic protocol:

i. Everyone ready?
ii. Quiet on the set.
iii. Sound good? (yes)
iv. Camera (rolling)
v Action!
vi. Cut (Stress to your actors that they should/must stay in character until you call cut. You never know what little bit of magic you might capture at the end ... and you will)

5. Be as prepared as you can to avoid wasting people's time. Shooting is very tiring, don't make it worse than it needs to be.

6. Try have someone keep and eye on the script to make sure the actors are not missing lines that might be important ones.

7. Eat and be patient.

8. Log your tapes (and maybe even keep a log of which shots are on which tapes)

9. Wear comfortable clothes

10. Get the best audio you can. e.g. a shotgun mike for a wide shot in a big, reverberating hall is probably not gonna help much. Any money you spend getting good audio is all money well spent.

11. Keep track of what you shoot and, if possible, review your footage each day in case you have need to re-shoot anything.

12. Be flexible -- things never go exactly as planned.

13. Track down the YouTube videos of how Robert Rodriguez shot "El Mariachi" -- very educational.

14. Use a monitor so you will see the framing the camera is using (2nd best money i spent - after the audio)

This is all gained from my own recent experience. Hope it helps.

Good luck,

marks

Last edited by Mark Stavar; December 1st, 2008 at 12:40 AM. Reason: some of the typos
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Old December 1st, 2008, 06:47 AM   #3
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That was exactly what I was looking for...Thanks!!! Any other tid-bits/insight's would be much appreciated.
Out of curiosity, what monitor did you purchase? What's the standard timeframe for a call list to be issued(e.g. 1 week, 24 hrs?)? How much time before the shoot should the day begin (e.g. breakfast, makeup,wardrobe, scene set up,etc?)
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Last edited by G. Lee Gordon; December 1st, 2008 at 06:56 AM. Reason: Additional Info.
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Old December 1st, 2008, 11:23 AM   #4
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G - we do post production and see a lot of indie films. There are a few mistakes we see people make over and over again.

1. If there is any chance that someone other than you will be editing, slate it. It makes organizing footage much, much easier.

2. Let the shot roll on a couple seconds past where you think you need it. It just gives you more space in post.

3. Do NOT spend all of your time trying to get a PERFECT mastershot. You don't need a perfect mastershot. Do 7 or 8 mastershots and move on to the coverage. You wouldn't believe the number of filmmakers who will give us scenes with 20 mastershots and then virtually no coverage. There is nothing an editor can do with that, and if it's imperfect, you're stuck.

I don't know what your planned shooting ration is. Be sure to break up your time though so that you have plenty of space to shoot the close ups - this is essential to being able to cut well. If your master is flawed, don't sweat it. You're going to cut into it anyway.


As a producer, my big piece of advice is to fire any actor who does not know their lines two weeks before you shoot. You want them totally off book and able to do anything with their dialogue. Then rehearse them several different times. If you know your locations, work your blocking out before you get on the set. If there is no time for that, then work your blocking out before you start shooting. Don''t waste tape on that. Also, don't shoot your rehearsals - just don't. If there is no time left for rehearsal, then have some speedreads on the set. No acting, just running through dialogue as fast as possible.

If you have actors who are on set, but who aren't shooting, encourage them to rehearse. Rehearsal makes a huge, huge difference.

If a scene is supposed to be funny, get rid of the pauses. Pauses kill comedy. Just say to the actors, "that's great. Now do it again without pauses."
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Old December 1st, 2008, 03:22 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by G. Lee Gordon View Post
That was exactly what I was looking for...Thanks!!! Any other tid-bits/insight's would be much appreciated.
Out of curiosity, what monitor did you purchase? What's the standard timeframe for a call list to be issued(e.g. 1 week, 24 hrs?)? How much time before the shoot should the day begin (e.g. breakfast, makeup,wardrobe, scene set up,etc?)
I hired a monitor for the shoot from a local film resource organisation (QPIX for those Qld, Australia). Can't comment on the standard "warning" for the call sheets. If you put out a shooting schedule and people know roughly when they are required, then i think one day prior should be sufficient. As to when the day begins, that depends on the nature of the shoot: if there a lot of equipment setup (cameras, dolly, lights), make-up and wardrobe (our last shoot was with dancers and they pretty much took care of all that themselves). We ran on cast about 30 minutes after crew, but we had a simple shoot, tiny cast and crew.

And 100% agree with the comment about slating your shots (with a clapper board and etc). Again, hired one for $5 a day -- money well spent (and I *am* editing my own footage), but make sure it can be clearly read!

Good luck,

marks
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Old December 2nd, 2008, 07:44 AM   #6
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Wow, thanks Mark... Lori, I wish I had a "Matrox-like" machine to get inside your head for a day! Guys you don't realize how much your tid-bits are helping me out! If you could spare some more knowledge it would be greatly appreciated. Anything, I'm a sponge. I'll soak it all up.

If doing a single camera shoot do you need a time code slate or can you use a basic clapper?

As far as post production what is the protocol for having a post company to do effects for you? At what time do you sit down with "ABC" Post Company to start planning effect shots? Is it common practice to shop several post houses for the best price? As in a bidding war type scenario. Or could that burn a bridge with a more prestigious shop? What would you recommend?
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Old December 2nd, 2008, 11:28 AM   #7
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G -

Unless you're comfortably financed, you should probably be looking for individuals to do your FX. Put an ad up on Craig's List Crew in Los Angeles for someone to do the effects. What you'll get in response is a lot of posts from artists who work for the big CGI companies, and do indie work in their spare time. You'll also get answers from all over the world from people who are looking for small projects to beef up their portfolio so they can move to LA and go to work for one of the big companies.

There are so many moving parts to making a feature film. You make a hundred decisions a day for a year that impact the final piece. I always advise filmmakers to finance their first feature so they don't blow through investor money that they'll need once they move on to their second picture. Making the first feature is easy - it''s the second one that is so difficult to get financed.

What''s your project about?
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Old December 2nd, 2008, 11:47 AM   #8
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For single camera stuff that you are going to be looking after yourself, then having a time code clapper board synced to the camera (if your camera can output code) is a rather expensive. As long as your caemraman know his kit then the code on the tape is enough - if you are using multiple cameras, then common timecode is damn useful. The clapper board is most useful because it lists the shot numbers and what is going on.

To be honest, if you are green, and everyone on the crew isn't - they'll suss you out straight away, so don't try to pretend to know what's going on, or what to say. The critical thing is that the camera runs, so talk to the cameraman, be honest and ask what he'd prefer. They'll like that. Action - seems to work to get the people started, and a final cut at the end so the cameraman knows you have finished.

If you have a plan. just go with it and they will follow. You might have to explain what it is you are doing, but as long as they trust you - all will be well. It's the pictures that count, not the procedure!
Good luck.
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Old December 2nd, 2008, 01:10 PM   #9
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Directing is a tough art to learn. I'm still learning every shoot I direct. I'll add a few things to the lists everyone's already posted. These should help shooting go smoother though some of them are not 'on-the-set' pointers.

1. Be prepared. That means shot lists and storyboards. Anything you can work out in pre-production will save you time and money in production and post.

2. Have a plan A, B, and C for everything. It might seem like overkill but when the shoot grinds to a halt everyone is going to be looking at you for an answer.

3. Have plenty of rehearsals. Your actors are collaborators and can make your job ridiculously easy ... or difficult. Again sorting out things in pre-production will save time later.

4. Logistics: You usually start with wide shots and move in for close ups. Lighting closeups usually is just tweaking the lights that were there for the master. As Lori said, don't take too many mastershots. For the most part, mastershots are kinda boring unless you're on a big-budget film. The closer shots are where the interesting things happen in IMHO.

5. Maintain your actor's energy. This means don't rehearse(onset) a hundred times and then shoot a hundred takes. Your actors should be able to give you a good take within the first few if the preparation was done in pre-production rehearsals. You don't want to exhaust them before you get the camera rolling plus the camera work will need retakes as well.

6. Get a second-in-command. A good 1st AD, DP or producer onset that knows what is going on will be an invaluable resource. This person should be with you throughout pre-production. When you are working with the actors on a scene, you won't want to be bothered and this second person can dictate the crew what needs to be done next or can answer their questions.

7. If you can, just be a director. You should focus only on directing. I've tried to be the do-everything-myself filmmaker like Robert Rodriguez and it's no small feat. Having a person for each specific crew position will be a huge load off your back.

8. A lot of shooting is "hurry up and wait." You should try to schedule things and people so that there is no down time. Don't have an actor/actress show up at 8am if you don't need them until 2pm.

9. Don't take too many takes. There are shots that do require ample amounts of take on a difficult camera move, character action or pivotal story point, but not everyone has to be like Kubrick and take 75 takes of one shot. Most video shooters tend to let the camera run nonstop, but that just leads to tons of footage to comb through in post, time wasted on set that could've been spent getting other shots, and a tired cast/crew. This is one of the benefits of film being expensive because then you aren't willy-nilly about rolling the camera.

10. Be grateful. The most important resource on a set is the cast and crew. A camera is just a camera without talent in front of and behind it. People will work better if their director appreciates them and is not a tyrant.

Sorry for being long winded. This is a very good thread and I hope my post adds to it. I'll probably print it out so I can read through it next time I'm on set.

Best Regards,
Andy

P.S. - 11. If you are not paying the cast and crew then have some good food on the set.
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Old December 2nd, 2008, 01:34 PM   #10
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As a director, your job is the big picture--what do you want the final project to look like? You hire the people who know how to get there. You really don't need to know all the little details of what goes on (though it certainly helps).

Your job is to concentrate on the performance and the look.

As someone said, let people know what your situation is rather than try to bluff it. Make it clear you want them to watch out for you.

Its kind of odd that directing is the one job that well placed people can fall into immediately. Every other position requires the whole 'paying yr dues' thing.

Now, I've not read this '04 version, but I felt I gained a lot from the mid 70s (?) one. Not specifically about directing but the moviemaking process as a whole:
Amazon.com: Breaking Through, Selling Out, Dropping Dead and Other Notes on Filmmaking: William Bayer: Books
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