Congratulations friends, you’ve done it. You have gathered your troops, made battle plans, and now, the real run begins. It’s time… for production.
Depending on the size of your cast and crew, your experience on set might be totally different from every other person reading this column. Even so, there are rules of thumb every production should follow when approaching the filming process.
Before you get to set
- Send out a “call sheet” the night before. A call sheet is a document based on the shot list that lets cast and crew know what time they need to be on set and where the set is located. For indie productions where your actors are likely bringing their own costumes, the call sheet should also list exactly what clothing they need to bring, especially if they need to bring multiple outfits.
- Make sure everyone who has promised to bring something, whether that’s camera equipment, lighting equipment, or snacks, remembers what they’re bringing. This coordination should also happen the night before, so it’s fresh in their minds.
- Print out multiple copies of your shooting scripts and shot list, which should encompass every angle you need to film from that day. Plan for cast and crew to forget the copies you’ve already emailed them, because they will.
- People are going to ask you what time filming will wrap. Constantly. Don’t give them an answer, because the truth is, “who knows??” Obviously, try to give them a general idea of how long they’ll be needed, but be vague, and definitely advise against them making concrete plans for afterwards. Some days will go smoother than others, and what you don’t want is a promise to finish at 3pm and to then hold everyone hostage until 6.
Setting up set
- In general, schedule crew to get to set earlier than the actors. They’ll need time to assemble equipment, and you never want the “talent” (that’s film-speak for “actors”) to spend too much time waiting around.
- Bonus tip: actors looooove being called “the talent”
- Schedule yourself to get to set even earlier than the crew. Leadership!
- If you don’t have an AD, or assistant director, designate one person to keep an eye on time. They’ll let you know when it’s getting close to lunch, or when you’ve spent too much time on one shot and need to move on.
- Also, if you have a hand to spare, designate one person to take behind-the-scenes photos. This content will be fun for cast and crew to see themselves at work, but it will also be useful for social media content later on. Everyone wants a peek behind the curtain, so plan ahead!
Filming on set
- The number 1 rule once you start production is never fight on set. It makes everyone involved look bad (even if someone is clearly in the right), it looks incredibly unprofessional, and it will slow you down, which you do not have time for. Trust me, there is nothing more uncomfortable than being in an enclosed space, surrounded by a bunch of people, after two or more of those people have been fighting. Save it for the post mortem after set (explained below).
- As always, don’t be precious. Sometimes, even when you’ve planned and labored over something, it just doesn’t work on camera. Be flexible and willing to change the game plan if a scene or line of dialogue doesn’t go over as planned.
- Don’t forget transitions, especially if you’re filming out of sequence. When you’re shooting a scene, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the beginning and end of it need to fit in with what you’ve already filmed, or what you’re filming next.
- Have a post mortem with principal crew members, or a meeting once the day is done to discuss how it went. The best way to structure this meeting is to have everyone involved talk about what went well, what went poorly, and things to change for the next day of filming. This is when you should fight — away from talent, after the scenes have been filmed. Communication is absolutely key, since, say it with me, filmmaking is a collaborative process. Problems aside, a post mortem is also a great structure to discuss things that worked, and how to capitalize on those successes.
Next week, as I’ve mentioned, we’re going to go even deeper into the harrowing adventure that is production, by outlining some common problems you might encounter and how to deal with or fix them.