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What's wrong with a 1:1 ratio?


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#1 william everett

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 02:07 PM

Referring to a film shoot, many people talk about a 6:1 ratio or 10:1 ratio, meaning you will shoot ten minutes of film for every one minute of finished product. The actors will mess up a line, or there will be a plane flying overhead, etc.

Is it really so hard to have a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio - that is, you want a shot of a man running down an alley at night, so you set up, have him run, and take whatever happens on the first shot. If you film a cityscape, the city isn't going to change in the next twenty minutes, so whatever you shoot first is going to look pretty much like what you shoot third.

We're not talking about making Casablanca. It's just a film to learn the ropes, right?
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#2 Jeff Clegg

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 03:02 PM

Generally whenever I personally talk about a shooting ratio, I am not just talking about the number of takes of each shot, as that wouldnt help me figure out how much film I would need for say, a dialogue scene with two people, unless I am shooting it all in a master shot. If I have a master, then a close-up of each person, each running the entire length of the scene for one take each then I have a 3:1 ratio already. If the scene were exactly a minute, I would have shot 3 minutes of film to cut into a single one minute piece. This doesnt include any cut aways or alternate angles I may need. If I say I am shooting 1:1 with one take on each shot without taking into account how many different angles I may need (or want) then I have no idea how much film (or tape) I will use.

Of course if I have to keep to a 2:1 ratio on this scene I can selectively film on each angle to try and keep as close to that as possible, which makes the math harder but the principle the same. This also means I need to have a very good idea of how it is going to cut together in the end, as I am stuck with some of the choices I have made. This happened once on a film I shot in college where we were running low on money and a decision was made to shoot the first half of a scene with a master and no coverage and then second half with coverage and no master (deciding at that point that we would move to the coverage when the scene got more intimate). It didnt come out horribly, but the editor was not to happy with not having the option to cut when he felt he needed too and the scene honestly could have used it.

As far as the one take method for a skyline or someone running down an alley, one take maybe good enough, but Ive been bitten by that one as well where there was some unnoticed problem which you are now stuck with. A second take doesnt mean that the problem will always be gone (like bad lighting, framing or focus), but sometimes its just that one person in the background making quick and obvious eye to lens contact or something else that just goes unnoticed at the time but may show up later.

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#3 Jason Debus

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 03:10 PM

With the low shooting ratios you are doing yourself a disservice, when you get to editing your choices are going to be limited. A big part of filmmaking is the editing of the footage. For continuity (aka classical) editing you need higher ratios for match cuts and cutting on the action, ensuring continuity.
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#4 Michael Collier

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 03:54 PM

A 10:1 is a good place to start because you generally get to feel comfortable with your shots. Thats not to say a mandatory 3 takes on everything, it just means you have enough leway to make decisions about whether to move on or shoot a retake. On my last film I had a co-director, who really was my eyes on the performance while I operated. If I felt comfortable after take 3, and he wanted another, we would shoot another. You don't want to limit what you shoot for financial reasons if you can avoid it.

There was something said on Cinematography Style that really rang true with me 'Everything works on set, nothing works in the screening room' He was refering more to lighting elements and composition (and how to say no on set) but it can be applied to editing. On set its easy to force a good feeling and think your covered for editing. its only in the edit bay do you realize what does and does not work (and its usually something so small, that you could have never seen it while you shoot, only after the 40th time seeing the shot will you notice the hand movements aren't right, eyeline, performance etc). When something isn't working, you will be very grateful to have other shots to try and find something that does work.

I usual aim for a 10:1 ratio, but accross the whole show. I may only shoot one take of an insert, but then apply the savings to other scenes. Its nothing specific as to how you decide if you have film or need for a retake, but if you trust your gut, err on the side of too much footage, and keep a close watch on your expected usage/actual usage you can nail your shooting ratio. My last film we started with 4200 feet and finnished with about 120 feet or so. Throughout the shoot I never said no to a retake if I or my co-director felt it might be useful.

I remember shooting nearly 250 feet of a girl washing her hands. It was a shot we needed to work, along with lots of coverage to make the cut pacing build the tension and direness of washing her hands. (sort of like an OCD - 'OUT! Damn Spot!' sort of scene) We got several clean shots of her washing, during one take, I told her to start slow and build up her frustration, and during that take I switched between probably 5 different framings of the scene in one take. By the way...we used pen ink (a whole bics worth) and that was really hard to wash off. Without soap, I think she only spread it around her hand and never really washed any off.
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#5 Chris Durham

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 06:13 PM

If you can think of editing as your final rewrite, then think of shooting 1:1 as huffing gasoline before sitting down to the keyboard. You're far less likely to have the syntactic and grammatic capabilities you would otherwise possess.

What you're talking about is guerrilla filmmaking. Great if you can pull it off, but hard to learn from; unless you somehow think you're talented enough to get everything right the first time AND think that everybody you work with is in the same boat.
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#6 william everett

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 07:05 PM

Okay, let me switch gears a little.

Filmmaking has the obvious hurdles: technical knowledge, labor laws, contracts, insurance, buying or renting equipment, hiring crew and actors, and so on, which all adds up to an intimidating facade. We hear stories all the time of scenes that required ten takes, or a scene lasting forty seconds on film that took two days to shoot. You all know this better than I.

The beginning filmmaker (Dir, DP, ADP, whoever) can spend years studying, and apprenticing, and waiting, for the chance to someday put their stamp on a film that will last two hours.

So I give you a different scenario: a director buys five hours worth of film, hires a crew, actors, etc., and shoots in two or three days. He shoots his most important scenes first, then the rest of his story with what is left. He pays for five hours worth of film developing and editing, and pieces together whatever he has into a ninety minute finished product. It is not a masterpiece, not for nationwide release, but he has a feature film under his belt. And he has not gone bankrupt.

Is such a scenario out of the question?.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 December 2006 - 07:15 PM

5 hours of film for a 2-hour feature is not 1:1, more like 2.5 : 1...

Certainly it's possible, just not probable.

Think of it this way. If you shot a dialogue scene between two people in only two shots, one angle of each person, where each person read their lines once in their angle, and you only did one take of each angle... right off that bat that's a 2:1 ratio! Just one take each for two angles on a scene. So imagine if each person got two takes, or if you had a third angle on the scene.

You can't even begin to imagine all the things that can go wrong while you are shooting a take that will cause you to need another one.

10:1 is average for a low-budget movie, and 5:1 is about the lowest ratio you should seriously consider planning a shoot around, unless it is some unusual type of experiment film or something where you don't have to cover dialogue scenes.

The lowest I've ever managed on a feature was 7:1. Lately it's been more like 20:1, but the average has been 10:1.
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#8 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 15 December 2006 - 05:04 AM

"If you film a cityscape, the city isn't going to change in the next twenty minutes, so whatever you shoot first is going to look pretty much like what you shoot third."

A lot can happen when 20 minutes pass in a city location. Most noticeably, the light will change. Shadows will change position. What may have been illuminated by sunlight, may be covered in shadow 20 minutes later, especially considering that there are many tall buildings in cities that cast long shadows.
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