Pulling Off the One-Man Show (Pt. II) – Pre-Production
By Mike Smith
Mike Smith is President, CEO and Co-Founder of Zephyr Entertainment , a LA-based production company dedicated to reinventing classic cinema in the new media era and fostering a community of forward-thinking creatives.
Check out Part I Pulling Off the One-Man Show – The Basics.
PRE-PRODUCTION IS EVERYTHING
Let me say that again: Pre-Production is everything, especially for the one-man web series. While I could probably write a novel on triumphs, trials and terrors of Pre-Production, we’re going to boil this process down to its three key elements: Shot List, Budget, and Schedule(s). There are infinite variables that make this part of the process unique to each project, so keep in mind that these Pre-Production tips will lay out the foundation for you to build upon.
THE SHOT LIST
Though often tedious and time-consuming, the Shot List is the heart and soul of Production. When dealing with a one-man show, the Shot List becomes your technical guide to executing the style of your show.
In Mr. Shan , we wanted Eddie to play multiple characters within a scene, and sometimes within the same shot. Though there were several rules to keep in mind (including Green Screen and Split Screen methods, which I will get into in my next post), they all have a consistent one-to-one ratio of Characters to Shots ; meaning even though you might have one “shot” in mind with 3 characters, it will actually take 3 shots to accomplish.
Organizing your Shot List this way will help you get a better grasp of your Budget and Schedule. Keep in mind that the “One-to-One” Rule requires at least a wardrobe and hair/makeup change, so when you have a completed Shot List, you actually have a fairly comprehensive draft of your Production Plan.
BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET
First, you want to break down the amount of money you’ve raised for Season 1 into an itemized budget. Software like Moviemagic Budgeting is an excellent tool for those looking to integrate the most amount of detail in your budget, but even a simple Excel table can do the trick. You’re going to want your Shot List on hand as well as a Script Breakdown – a document that identifies all of the script elements that need to be prepped, budgeted and scheduled – so you can accurately account for everything you need through Production, Post-Production, Marketing and Distribution in dollars and cents.
A lot of what happens next depends on your show and the resources available to you. For example, when we were producing Mr. Shan Season 1, we already had our camera & lenses, crew and cast. We determined that, for the show, we needed to invest the majority of our budget into Locations, Lighting, some simple Production Design and Post-Production Sound. We should have also set aside a substantial portion of the Budget for Marketing and Festival Submissions, but you live and learn, right?
While your Shot List and Script Breakdown will help you identify potential costs for Productions, creatively arranging Schedule is the key to minimizing those costs. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
While in Pre-Production for Mr. Shan, Locations presented the biggest challenge for our team, as each episode takes place in various spots across Los Angeles and even a US Embassy in China. We were able to accomplish some scenes in various friends’ apartments, but reaching out to local businesses like BubbleU, Dirt Dog and Zuma Wellness and bartering brand exposure for shooting time is what really made Production affordable.
The key to creative scheduling for the one-man show is to minimize the financial and time implications of the “One-to-One” Rule. This will mostly come down to your Shot Schedule, where you should organize your Shot List by location, camera/lighting setup and character, in that order. This won’t completely mitigate the costs and prep time caused by the “One-to-One” Rule, but it certainly helps.
Casting Body Doubles, on the other hand, will reduce the number of total shots you need, saving you both time and money. If you can find shots in your Shot List where you see more than one character, but they’re either out of focus in the background or cut off in frame (like an over-the-shoulder shot), then you can use Body Doubles within the shot instead of using duplication techniques.
Let’s see how many Body Doubles you can spot in Mr. Shan Season 1, Episode 4, Boba War :
Comment below with how Body Doubles you think we used. Whoever guesses correctly will get a special shoutout in next week’s post!
That’s all for now! Tune in next week where I will be discussing Production tips & tricks for your next One-Man Web Series.
If you’d like to see the first season of Mr. Shan, you can stream it for free with your Amazon Prime Subscription.