Saturday, November 3, 2012

Timesavers on Shoot Days

Whether you're trying to make up time, or just want to maximize what time you do have, there are some tricks you can employ that won't detract from your scenes while allowing you more of that precious time you can never have enough of:


One thing that always seems to be lacking in low budget films is *coverage*. Generally, you shoot your masters and then your medium shots, and then of course you run out of time for closeups. This happens more often than not, but the smart thing to do is allow time for closeups and cutaways for only select scenes and not every scene. Then you can plan on not shooting closeups and cutaways for certain scenes and allowing for this ahead of time.

For example, say you're shooting dirty single closeups each of two characters talking and if they have any business out of frame, like if one hands something to the other - you need to see that object. You can tell something was exchanged, but it's out of frame and since you're planning on not shooting any cutaways - you have the actor work the object into the frame like this.

A good actor should be able to pull this off so it doesn't look unnatural and if you plan on not devoting time for cutaways for every setup you shoot, you can shoot them when they're really important to have (and you'll have the time to execute them properly).

Adapt your formula for shooting scenes to the time you have available

Instead of using the standard technique of shooting scenes as master shot then medium shots then coverage, plan on shooting only the framings that you know you'll need. Yes, this cuts down on options in post, but when time is limited, this can be a lifesaver. The age-old practice of shooting master/medium/coverage is somewhat ideal when you have the luxury of time, but a more contemporary approach is to know exactly what you'll need prior to shoot days.

Many directors come to the table and ask for everything they can get their hands on when it comes to shots and takes, but when you know you'll be limited on time and possibly takes of exhausting scenes, then you have to be smart and think ahead.

Shoot with Multiple Cameras

Action scenes are generally shot with multiple cameras placed at different angles to the action, but it has become more the norm to shoot non-action scenes with multiple cameras especially on certain episodic TV shows which have horrendous shoot schedules each day not to mention TV shows shot in studios where there are generally 3 cameras on rolling pedestals working concurrently. 

Shooting dialogue scenes with (for example) two cameras means you can capture more in less time and it especially means your actors won't become drained after acting out the same scene 20 times (or more) for all your camera shots. 

Once a scene is lit, it's lit, and placing a second camera somewhere out of the frame of the first camera is relatively painless. It could be a camera with a long lens for shooting those hard to get cutaways, or it could just be a medium shot while the first camera is shooting a wide master. 

Another aspect of rolling on scenes with 2 cameras is - continuity. If you can absolutely guarantee more takes that have continuity, it'll mean less time in post-production editing around continuity errors (like an actor using their right hand in some takes and left hand in others - it happens).

Record Wild Sound Dialog

When you have actors giving dialog in wide shots, or in shots where their faces or mouths are not visible and these setups also present issues with micing, just forego micing for anything but reference audio and record their lines wild.

Say you have an actor running through the woods in the distance, or an actor with dialog but their face offscreen, or an actor in a car shot as an exterior - skip the hassle of micing them, because it's going to save you a lot of time and you'll get better audio quality anyway by recording their lines wild in a controlled environment.

Another example would be - you're shooting a scene in a practical location and there's some horrendous noise that you can't control, but you have to shoot the scene then and there. What do you do? You can get creative with how the scene is show so that recording wild dialog later can work, OR...

Looping Dialog

This technique of recording pristine dialogue after scenes are shot, in a studio environment, is a standard practice in "Hollywood." It's called "ADR" which means "Automated Dialog Replacement." 

Generally, good location audio is recorded as scenes are shot, and then after the scenes are edited together, the actors (or completely different voice talent) are brought in to "loop" or re-record the dialog. What they do is watch the scene played on a large screen and they vocalize the dialog which is then recorded for insertion into the edit. 

But isn't this time consuming? Yes it is. But when you weigh the time and expense involved with shoot days as time X crew + gear + recording acceptable audio, it very well can be far less time (and money) consuming. 

If you just cannot record acceptable audio on location (for whatever reason), consider looping and if you need to plan on it, plan on it well ahead of time if you can (because your actors need to be available for it).

©2012 Chris Santucci