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Old February 5th, 2011, 02:00 AM   #1
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Question for DPs: Setups per Day?

From what I can tell, this question has been hit from different angles, but not answered directly. My apologies in advance if I just haven't found the right thread yet.

I'm trying to get a reality check on a statistic someone gave me. I was told once that on an indie shoot, I should schedule the shots to allow for 2 hours PER SETUP. So on a 10-hour shoot, I basically shouldn't expect more than 5 setups.

This seems like crazy talk to me, especially when I read about some directors doing 50-60 in a day. Granted that's with a union crew and millions in the budget. But 2 hours essentially to reset the lights? Can that be accurate?

On a shoot with this particular DP (who had more experience than anyone else on the crew), we did end up going at about that pace. So a single-location, single-character 8-minute short ended up taking around 5 days to shoot. On another short, one which didn't involve this DP, a 3-character, 4-location, 8-minute short took 3 days and we blew through about 15 setups per 8-hour day. However I don't have enough experience to know if this was a group of amateurs doing a sloppy job or a group of pros dislodging a major block and getting the job done. (On the 2nd shoot, I ended up with 3 different DPs, one of which had never held a camera before. *sigh*)
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Old February 5th, 2011, 04:59 AM   #2
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I've only DP'd "movies" in the totally no-budget sense of the word, so I can only give my very limited experiences, but I'm interested in what others say, and also, what qualifies as a "setup". . .moving the camera two feet from it's wide shot position to get a CU of a character? Moving to a new room/location? zooming in?.

Several years ago I DP'd a feature for a friend, and it was literally myself and him as crew usually. Most of it was outdoors and we early on gave up on using reflectors to light because of the time it took to set them combined with constantly changing weather and moving sun issues.

For our indoor stuff, I've come to a fairly consistent pace of it taking about 3 hours for the first setup, significantly less for coverage (15-30 minutes if relight is necessary). Let me emphasize this is literally with myself and him setting lights, moving gear, etc. with no other help.

we're working on a new short currently (I'll post graded stills when we're at that stage) and last week we did four fairly different camera setups in about 8ish hours, again with myself and him as the only crew. Oh and he's acting in it too. I'll give you an idea of what each setup involved:

Started on an exterior of a house, using movie lights to augment/simulate street and porch lights, moved camera 90 degrees for a side view of same, then moved inside the house and upstairs for two different setups at opposite ends of an upstairs hall where a character creeps through the house.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Curious, again, to what exactly is considered one setup vs another.
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Old February 5th, 2011, 05:48 AM   #3
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I suspect that 50 to 60 set ups per day involves more than one camera.

With one camera 30 to 35 per day is manageable, depending on location changes.
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Old February 5th, 2011, 07:26 AM   #4
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This is one of those "how long is a piece of string" type questions--there are so many factors. As Brian says, two cameras ups the setups count significantly--not always by doubling it. Using two cameras can be an elusive tail-chasing procedure if you don't know how to do it (hint: the second camera shouldn't slow down the first--i.e. once you start making changes in the shot for the second camera that carries any significant time penalty, it's better to shoot that piece with one camera, unless it's a one-take deal like effects or heavily emotional moments).

25-30 setups a day is probably a reasonable average for a standard day of dialogue scenes. If one's lighting approach is simple and doesn't require much to jockey between setups, and camera resets are quick (handheld etc), it should be easy to get twice as many. But performance is always a factor too. If actors need rehearsing or many takes, that will pull down the average.

I would love to be given two hours to light each setup! I hope that particular project looked incredible...

The art of time management on set is something that takes a long time to develop and it's a big help to be able to observe how it's done properly, a luxury that few in the indie world get the opportunity to experience. I have visited shoots where things are moving mind-numbingly slowly, primarily because no-one is thinking or working ahead so everything proceeds in a linear fashion. On a recent day where we had 10 or twelve locations from exterior to interior, as soon as I got my crew working on a given set I would ask the director to join me on the next so I could start planning my course of attack; while we were actually rolling my grip and electric crew were doing what they could to get a jump on that next set. Sometimes I have to be thinking two or three sets ahead at any given moment.

The smaller the crew and equipment package, the harder it is to be able to do this, of course. However this becomes part of the equation when designing the above. If the goal is to be able to deliver 40 setups in a given day, as a DP you have to estimate what kind of manpower and gear it will take to be able to achieve this and ask for it, or figure out how to simplify your approach to deliver this. The most important skill that a DP has to develop is time management. Artistic lighting and framing are very high on the list, of course, but if it takes you more time to deliver these than there is in the day, you are not doing the film (or your reputation) any good.

As I write this I am 24 hours away from a two-day music video that should average 60 setups per day, mostly in a narrative mode (very little performance). I've got three cameras on the first day, two on the second; I've already "given up" going for stylized lighting in much of it, opting instead to be able to shoot 300 degrees on my interior day and nearly 360 degrees on the day exterior without lighting resets so it's down to how quickly we can move the cameras into position for any given setup. It's going to be a ferocious couple of days but all I can do is make a game plan and never get caught out trying to figure out the next shot while we we are ready to move to it--can't have anyone standing around waiting on me. Good times.
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Old February 6th, 2011, 12:41 AM   #5
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50 setups is possible - with a single camera - if crews are professional. I had a 56 setup day on my feature film (I'm the director, not the DP). However, there is no standard. I've also had a 5 setup day because that's all the schedule demanded for that particular day. A setup is every time a relight is required and a change in camera position.

Every project is different, and even within projects, the variables are so vast that no amount of millions can predict what is going to happen (The millions help when you need the money to shoot another day). There is a huge relationship between time, money and quality. The amount of time you need for each setup is directly proportional to the amount of money you have for that setup and the standards you have set under 'quality'.

I once worked as a second second AD for production company making high-end commercials, and on one day we had to achieve 35 setups - a lot of extras and location changes, the best crew possible and unlimited money, no unforeseen factors - and we failed. Just bad planning. The same people had done hundreds of successful commercials before (and since).

Another quick point: DPs don't have absolute control over time on a setup. What about sound, make-up, performers, the director, etc etc...ad infinitum? It's not a race for quantity, but an opportunity to achieve quality. Just my opinion.
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Old February 6th, 2011, 01:50 AM   #6
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This is great feedback, y'all. It gives me both a reality check and a sense of new things I need to learn.

"I hope that particular project looked incredible." Well... It was my very first film (directing/producing) and I didn't quite know what I was doing yet. It was also the DP's first job as DP. He'd worked on a lot of films, mostly as UPM or AD, and needed some experience with the camera. We used 3 lights max, plus gels and diffusion paper. If I remember, he had one assistant to help with setup. Based on his experience with other projects, he told me several times that the most common mistake new filmmakers make is to underestimate how long setups should take - he advised 2 hours per setup. From what you guys are saying, it sounds like that's quite a luxury, but that it also depends on lot on (1) experience of the crew and (2) available resources.

Pre-production planning will also be good. So the crew can chime in on what's reasonable.
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Old February 10th, 2011, 01:22 PM   #7
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Even in Commercials, we didn't do more than 12-15 in a day, and I mean relatively small setup changes. Definitely no more than two full on location moves, and that was with crew setting up equipment at 2nd location well in advance.
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Old February 10th, 2011, 01:50 PM   #8
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Well Denny, commercials, especially high budget ones, are generally known to be the slowest moving types of jobs in terms of time per setup (episodic being the fastest and features in the middle). They require an attention to detail in the setup particularly where product is concerned, plus the tendency for many more takes than most narrative productions are scheduled for.

Gents, I just finished a howler of a music video and was thinking about this discussion. This one was a story video; there will be a minute of straight narrative before the song starts and perhaps 30 seconds after. 1930's era, the band (Social Distortion) playing gangsters robbing a bank. Period clothing, cars, weapons, lots of extras. The treatment was 7 1/2 pages long. I broke it down to what I felt was the minimal amount of shots to tell the various story beats but it still required some 60+ setups per day (2 day shoot). I had two cameras all the time plus an additional camera the first day. I asked the editor to give me a total count on the setups and will report back. We moved fast as lightning, considering the many speedbumps along the way (full load gunfire, wrangling extras, you name it). Sticks, dolly, handheld, Steadicam, Technocrane...

I might start a little production diary log on that one. It was intense.

By the way, Justin, your description of your first-time DP absolutely killed me. I'd like to know what he was working on as an AD or UPM where he allowed the DP 2 hours for each setup! and can I go work for him??!! haha. I have a hard time imaging how you take 2 hours when you only have 3 lights to work with. A lot of trial and error, I suppose.
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Old February 11th, 2011, 04:15 PM   #9
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Not true. There are way more setups per day in commercials than features. I don't see how you could possibly say that big budget commercials are the slowest moving. I've worked on them. They were go go go go. My friends working in movies would balk at the number of setups in a day we did in commercial land.
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Old February 11th, 2011, 09:54 PM   #10
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There are different types of commercials, depending on the budget. If the budget is tight, it's always a rush. But when the budget is high, you feel like you have all the time in the world just because you are working with the best. But outsiders might swoon at your 'speed'. Think race car driver. There is no golden rule.

You take what you get in terms of time and money and make it work. It's either this or twiddle your thumbs and wait for the phone to ring. Does this qualify as a rule?
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Old February 11th, 2011, 10:59 PM   #11
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I suppose, but our budgets were high. 35mm, full film crews, etc etc..
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Old February 12th, 2011, 12:12 AM   #12
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So what I'm hearing is I shouldn't interview for a gig and brag about four setups a day?

PS. . .when all you guys say "day" how many hours we talkin? 8, 10, 12, 14?
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Old February 12th, 2011, 12:18 PM   #13
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My response to Denny seems to have vanished somehow, thought I posted it last night...in essence, I said that everything depends on the project. I've worked on spots where hours are spent getting everything just so, with multiple beauty lights per product and agency peeps all weighing in with their two cents, and/or dozens of takes of every shot. But then there are other spots that are more hurried. Same for features. Guess it's probably not worth speaking generically about which has more setups as by definition, it's a moving target.

All I know is: whatever I'm shooting these days seems to be a big push from call to wrap. I haven't shot less than 20 setups on any kind of day (feature, episodic, music video, commercial) in the recent past. What has changed over the years is how many days one has on any given project--that has shrunk, but yet the workload and expectations remain at least as high or higher. TV series have to look like movies now, but the networks keep chopping days off the schedule. 1 hour episodic used to be an 8 day schedule and 1/2 hour was 5, but there are plenty of shows out there now that have one less day than that. I shot a scripted network pilot last year in 4 days--it was punishing.

Josh, I consider a "normal" day to be 12 hours. Again it depends on the type of job. I have yet to shoot a music video in less than 15 hours--more often 18, sadly enough. Good times.
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Old February 12th, 2011, 05:13 PM   #14
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Yeah, that's true. I was talking on average that was what it was like, at least back around 04 when I had to leave the industry do to an on location work injury.

One motion control setup/shoot took almost 10hrs. Also depends on the working relationship between the agency and the line producer and director. Can be a breeze or it can be ton of waiting as agency converse about every freaking take.

I do know that since 2008, schedules seem to have less days in them. lol
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Old February 12th, 2011, 05:21 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Josh Bass View Post
So what I'm hearing is I shouldn't interview for a gig and brag about four setups a day?

PS. . .when all you guys say "day" how many hours we talkin? 8, 10, 12, 14?
Scheduled hours were 12 hours. Sometime longer but that hits overtime. (Non-Union commercial shoots still hire Union camera, lights,grips, etc. Locations, Director, AD, Admin, etc., were non-union. And some non-union day rate people may be there 16 hours even on a 12 hour shoot.) At least in Vancouver.
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