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Old October 26th, 2006, 10:39 AM   #1
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Planning staging

I am trying to find a good staging strategy. One that strikes a good compromise between being prepared, and being open to the unexpected.

Last night I was shooting an office scene. We had four hours to shoot two pages of script. My shot list had a master and eight shots of various length for coverage. I walked the actresses through the planned staging before proceeding to shoot the master. To make it less rigid, I let them improvise certain actions provided they finished at a certain location.

It turned out that they did not like some of the staging, dismissing it as cliched or unrealistic. Likewise, there were times I thought did not credibly pull off certain actions, so I had to find alternatives. Of course, this invalidated some of the shots, and I found myself under stress wondering how to get the coverage I needed without making errors in continuity or crossing the line. We ended up trying so many variations to come to a solution that the actresses forgot what they had done in the master, and we had to shoot it all over again.

Given that I did not have the possibility of bringing them to the location to rehearse the staging beforehand, how could I have shot the scene more efficiently?
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Old October 26th, 2006, 12:08 PM   #2
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Just some random ideas...

1) Watch the Hollywood Camera Work training DVDs.
Fantastic resource that can totally change your approach and thinking on planning for a shoot. (No affiliation beyond being a customer and fan of the product)

2) Plan on 2-3 medium or wide shots for coverage.
Basically, give the editor some fallback options to pull from if any of the close-up/intricate stuff is missed or doesn't work out.

3) Have someone with you that is a dedicated script supervisor.
Kinda like an admin assistant for the director that maintains the shot list.
Besides checking off shots that were preplanned and completed, noting good/bad takes and such, this person can also jot down a note if you spot somthing on set and say out loud, "We should get a shot of this from the other side before we leave." ... and follow up with you later on to to make sure it acutally DOES get done.
Nick Jushchyshyn Matchmoving, Compositing, TD
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Old February 12th, 2007, 12:26 AM   #3
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hollywood camera work

Nick, Nice set of dvds... have you tried them? any other resources that compare to these? Can you give a brief review?
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Old February 12th, 2007, 10:43 AM   #4
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Hollywood Camera Work

Here is a brief review of the Hollywood Camera Work DVDs. They are great and worth the price. Personally I think the creators would profit more by cutting the price in half and thus avoid a lot of pirating. But even at the relatively high price I would recommend the DVD series. It is both very comprehensive and detailed. Something that serves as a reference work that you consult again and again. It definitely helps with shot planning and making the most of your resources--particularly time on set. You will get the most out of it if you have access to a jib and dolly on set.

I agree with Nicks comments to Emre. You are never going to get everything to work right. It is always a compromise between planning and flexibility when you are short handed.

I would certainly take actor advice on performance and lines but almost never on staging. Actors are not directors and are not editors. Only the director/editor know how the images have to cut together and what will look right on screen.

I would do a master and a couple of medium (2 shot) angles for safety most of the time. Then worry over the close ups. Dont forget lots of reaction shots and other detail work. These things save your butt when the planned shots dont cut together. The most precious bits of tape for me usually turn out to be the heads and tails of shots--when the actors aren't "acting" and tend to have wonderful naturalistic expressions that can by cut in as reaction shots.
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Old February 12th, 2007, 03:33 PM   #5
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Nick - a script supervisor does much more than that, though I agree such a person is essential on a proper set. He or she will also make detailed notes of what the actors do in terms of movement (ie at what line they turn to face in the other direction, at what point in the script the actor sits down) so the actors can be REMINDED of what they did in the master and keep it consistent.

Emre, it's difficult to know how to respond to criticisms that staging is "cliched" and "unrealistic" (from an actor's point of view) without seeing a specific breakdown of how the scene was staged. However staging for camera is often very forced and unrealistic in order to make it photogenic (there's a great example of this in David Bordwell's book "Narrative in the Fiction Film" looking at Ernst Lubitsch's "Lady Windermere's Fan"). ACtors used to theatre often find this uncomfortable after the releative freedom of the stage, though while theatre staginging is also just as false and artificial, actors don't tend to mind so much, just as long as they're half facing the audience.

There's a story Henry Jaglom tells about Orson Welles having a terrible time getting a DoP to get the angles he (Welles) wanted, the DoP would complain the shots were too weird, too unusual, that the audience would find them off putting and distracting. So Welles told the DoP it was for a dream sequence. When given that justification, the DoP went crazy, got all sorts of wierd and crazy shots. After that whenever Welles had trouble getting the shots he wanted, he'd just say "it's a dream sequence".

So, tell your actors "It's for a dream sequence".

Last edited by Dylan Pank; February 13th, 2007 at 08:43 AM.
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Old February 12th, 2007, 04:14 PM   #6
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Professional actors know they don't get to tell the director what to do. They are being paid to follow the director's instructions and not doing so is a good reason for dismissal. This rule becomes more flexible in proportion to the seniority or recognized brilliance of the actor.

Actors who are not being paid sometimes feel that they can take their compensation in the form of having an opportuntiy to "express" themselves or "contribute" and of course such feelings can lead to a nightmare for the director. If your are relying on volunteered services you have to be flexible while being insistent on your plan -- not always easy, esp. on a short-handed film/video set where seeing to the technical details alone requires a lot of energy from the director.

The only sane thing to do on small set, I think, is to work on a scene in "layers" because it allows you focus your attention on what needs to be done for each shot systematically.

Layer one is to block and rehearse the whole scene with the actors while the other departments stand by. You have your preferred shots in your head of course, but if in the course of blocking you find you can't get the performance to work as you imagnined you edit shots in your head with the next layers in mind. The key thing working on this layer you get all the negotiation with the actors out of the way and when you are done the scene is set. No changes.

Layer two starts work on shots and adds the camera and rehearse any camera movements to cover the blocking set in layer one. This includes setting up lighting.

Layer three is audio. When you know where the actors and camera are going you can plan how the keep boom mics etc. out of the way.

Layer four is the actual take for a shot. By the time your get here the actors should have been through the shot at least two times.

The next shot in the scene takes you back to layer two. Repeat as needed.

Trying to do blocking, camera, lighting and audio at the same time is the way to madness and mistakes.
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