Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.
Time is the most valuable thing in the world, and twice a week every week, I am granted 75 minutes to film scenes for the webseries. Since I film at my school, we’re generally permitted to stay until 4:30 when we have a teacher supervisor. We could ask our supervisors to stay longer, but they have lives and they’re already doing us a huge favour by staying. Thus, an hour and fifteen minutes.
Our scenes generally go from 2 to 9 pages, usually striking around 4 or 5 pages, and generally involve 2-4 characters. (At some point, we’re going to film a scene at school that has 9 characters, all with lines. It’ll be fun.) We’re also set in the 80s, meaning we have a lot of hair and makeup to do.
Initially when I scheduled shoots after school, I figured we’d go from 3:15-3:30 for hair and makeup, and then 3:30-4:30 for actual filming. It did not go as planned. At one point, we finished hair and makeup at 4:15, tried to rush the scene, stayed until 4:45, and still didn’t get enough different shots and angles to edit the scene smoothly.
In the interest of learning from that mistake and all my others, I have since compiled a must-do list for when we have 75 minute shoots. TIME MANAGEMENT FTW!
HAVE YOUR NOTES
Being unprepared is literally the worst thing you could ever do EVER. Have a shot list, know what your shot list means if you write it in unorthodox ways like I do, have a storyboard, have blocking mapped out. Know where you want people to go, what you want people to do, and how you want the scene to look.
GET THE MOST IMPORTANT COVERAGE FIRST
Does the scene hinge on a super dramatic and revealing shot? Is it vital that you have a close-up for a certain line? GET THAT COVERAGE FIRST. Know what you need and make sure you get it done, because if you run out of time, it’s better to have the shot that ties the scene together than a bunch of loose fragments. On the same note…
GO LINE BY LINE FOR INDIVIDUAL COVERAGE IN GROUP SCENES
Have a scene with 3 or more characters who are all lumped together? Get your group shot, then some with a few characters per frame if that’s the vibe, and then get the single lines you need for individual shots. For example, we knew we wanted a solo Heather angle for a line in episode 4 scene 2, so we filmed just that line alone. We picked out lines that we wanted after having filmed takes from the different angles we needed. It’s a basic filmmaking thing, but it’s also pretty necessary to do. This is also why a shot list is needed, so you know what lines you want to get solo.
It’s so easy to get distracted on set, especially when you’re surrounded by friends or like-minded people, and something goes hilariously wrong. I know my cast, crew and I have wasted so much time making quips about certain lines or mimicking bad line flubs. What’s important though when you have little time is focusing. You need to stay concentrated on the task at hand. You’re not here to hang out, you’re here to work. Filmmaking should be fun, but that fun shouldn’t come at any cost. You can laugh and chat after you’re wrapped. Even when we’re doing hair and makeup, we make an effort to run through lines as we do it.
BE READY TO GO – AND ASK PEOPLE TO COME READY TO GO
One fatal error I have made is not charging my camera battery before a shoot. Luckily I wasn’t confined by 75 minutes and this was not at the school, but it did push us back. From then on I’ve made sure that I charge my camera battery every time and that I have the curling irons and makeup and costumes I need to bring. When we used to operate out of the school auditorium after school and then move from there to whatever hallway or stairwell we were filming in, I would leave class five or ten minutes early to set up in the aud-- I’d sort all the clothing and makeup by character so then we’d be ready to go as soon as the final bell rang. However, it’s not just about you being ready to go-- your cast needs to know what they need to do, like if they need basic concealer on or to bring mascara. It’s up to you to effectively communicate with them. And that brings me to my next point…
WORK AS A TEAM
Filmmaking can be a solo endeavor, but it shouldn’t be. It took too much time for me to realize that. I had to learn to depend on other people. If I was doing everything, we’d never get anything done because it would take far too long. When we filmed episode 4 scene 5, I was storyboard-less (mistake number one) so I used two crew members to line up shots last minute. One of them was my character and the other was Kendall’s character, because Kendall’s hair was being finished up. It was a team effort to multi-task and get everything done. If we hadn’t worked as a team, we wouldn’t have made it within our time limit.
Maya and Ben standing in as Patty and Angie vs the actual shot… there was some accounting for height.