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Typical amounts of film used


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#1 Alex Fallas

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 12:26 PM

I never get a straight answer or idea of this question.

On a 35mm and 16mm shoot, doing mostly dialogue, whats the typical amount of film that's usually budgeted? And if it's action and high speed work, then what?

Sometimes I think even shooting at 6:1 ratios is a bit much, but yes, it depends on the director and crew and actors and how good and rehearsed everyone is. I just get asked this a lot and never really have an answer for the producers.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 01:03 PM

7:1 was the lowest ratio I've ever managed to shoot a feature at, and that was tough. So we shot 70,000' of 4-perf 35mm for a 100 page script.

Most of my low-budget features shooting in 35mm or Super-16 were budgeted for a 10:1 ratio, so about 100,000' of 35mm stock for a 100 page script.

Nowadays, most of my movies budget for a 20:1 ratio.

Of course, if you shoot 3-perf 35mm instead of 4-perf 35mm, you can cut your estimates by 25%.

One problem is that directors are now coming from a digital background and shoot a lot of footage. My digital features have ratios in the 30:1 to 50:1 range. But this has spilled over into film shooting, compounded by the fact that more and more features shoot with two cameras on half the dialogue scenes.

Going as low as 5:1 or even lower is certainly possible if you do minimal coverage and takes. I'm talking about more traditional coverage and number of takes.

Think about it -- if you cover a scene in one shot and only do two takes, that's slightly more than a 2:1 ratio simply factoring in the slates, roll-outs, and waste. You do the scene in only two angles that run the length of the scene and do two takes, that's a little over 4:1 right there.
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#3 Alex Fallas

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 02:14 PM

That makes a lot of sense David and quite insightful, thanks! Huge fan of your work too, I feel honored!
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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 02:45 AM

There are techniques garnered from Hong Kong cinema, Italian cinema, Russian cinema, Indy film makers and major film giants that can successfully significantly trim your shooting ratio way down. The first come from film great Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock would story board his films to an incredible degree of detail so that every cut and angle was planned in advance. He knew exactly what he wanted and needed to complete his film and as a result, shot ONLY the footage he needed. His films came in on time and on budget but the HIDDEN benefit from this degree of detail is he shot no extraneous coverage so his films could ONLY be cut one way....HIS way, which meant he had final cut by default. You could LITERALLY watch a Hitchcock picture BEFORE he rolled the cameras by simply looking at his story boards because he never deviated form them.

The second technique is from Hong Kong cinema. In Hong Kong, they were VERY limited in their budgets. They started extensively using "In Camera editing" techniques which means that when an actor what doing a n action sequence for example, you might shoot the opening in a wide shot then have him freeze in the middle of the sequence and move the camera in to shoot a medium shot without starting the sequence over, them move on to a close up using the same technique. They also SEVERELY limited the number of takes. If an actor screwed up, rather than starting at the beginning and shooting the whole thing over again, they'd change angles and continue on from that point OR cut in a cat in the window shot (cutaway) to cover the flub.

The Italians were also VERY limited in their budgets, Leone' even had Eastwood bring his gunbelt and boots from the Rawhide set to film A Fist Full of Dollars because they couldn't afford to provide them. The Spaghetti Westerns were shot in 2 perf Techniscope to save stock so that you used exactly half the frame for a 'scope aspect ratio thereby not only are you using half the film, you use it in the most efficient way, the tradeoffs are more grain with a less sharp picture and added expense in post which often times eats up the money you saved. 3 perf is the same idea but gives you a widescreen aspect ration.

Both the Italians and especially the Russians shot their films silent then looped in the dialog in ADR (automatic dialog replacement or automated dialog replacement depending on WHO you talk to) "dubbing" sessions during post. THIS technique saves a TREMENDOUS amount of takes because IF you screw up a line or have some unwanted sound creep onto your set, it doesn't matter because you are not recording it anyway so you can change the line to approximate the lip movement there by saving the take without anyone being the wiser and you can use whatever background noise you want. One additional technique is to have the actors repeat the dialog after the take with the camera not running so that it's fresh in their minds. I believe Rodriguez used this technique on El Mariachi. That makes it easier to sync in post because they do it just the way the did it while the camera was running and it's easier to get right. The trade off is they CAN add to over all production costs if you have to pay them extra for the looping work, so make sure that is covered in their contracts before hand.

One other technique from indy filmmakes is simply to limit coverage and not waste film. Jim Jarmash tends to tell stories in master shots, rarely using coverage which has become his signature style. Rodger Corman doesn't keep the camera rolling, he doesn't waste film with the traditional jargon from the crew and doesn't waste time asking if the cameraman got the take or whatever. He gets the shot, what he wants and moves on, no screwing around, no take after take. Also lighting design and location can save film. If your lighting is set so you can simply turn the camera and actors around, you have less problems matching shots. When you're on the bottom rung of the ladder, film stock is an issue not only because of the cost of stock it's self but because all the stock you shoot must also be processed and takes printed or transferred, plus additional takes, coverage and technical considerations translate into production days. We of the un-washed film maker masses really can consider shooting ratios of as little as 7 to 1, a luxury that we MAY not be able to afford and may be forced by circumstance to eck out a film at 4, 5 or 6 to 1 ratios (I've even heard of a feature that was shot with a 2 to 1 ration though only God and the director know how they pulled THT one off, then again, I have no idea how good or more likely BAD it came out.)

There is ONE other technique that yields a 1 to 1 shooting ratio but it's an extreme measure, however if you ARE determined to shoot on film but have little to NO money, it can be done. This is Hitchcock's famous Rope technique where the camera shoots 1000 ft rolls in one continuous take. Now in Rope, Hitchcock did this as an experiment to create a new kind of reality for the audience. The camera would move into someone's back or a stationary object as the roll was about to run out. The camera would be reloaded and the scene continued with the man in the coat walking away from the camera or a pan or tilt from the object. The Film actually cost a lot because Htichcock had special set pieces built that would allow walls to separate or move out of the way and IF someone screwed up they had to shoot the ENTIRE roll over again. However, IF you were to rehearse the cast and crew as if the film were a play, using a camera with a zoom lens, shot silent and dubbed, cutting only 6 times all done in a single location, you could concivabled shoot an entire 90 minute feature in a single day using 8000 ft of raw stock at a one to one shooting ratio. As in a play, if they screw up, they just keep going, no retakes, no additional coverage no cuts with the exception of the cuts needed to reload the camera.

Using Hong Kong cinema techniques this could also be done. In-camera editing using short ends that add up to about 10,000 ft accounting for ramping up which will add to the over all footage used but still result in a 1 to 1 shooting ration however with a higher degree of possibility for screwing up as actors mat tend to lose their momentum between mag changes. This could be minimized with the choice of camera used. A Konvas or Aaton which uses 200 and 400 ft film mags that do not require the film to be threaded through the camera would allow you to change mags VERY quickly and stay within that one day timeframe as well as let the actors stay in character during these frequent mag changes. Editing would of course take longer but still quite doable. Lighting however in these late 2 scenarios becomes problematic, since you're shooting nonstop and presumably using 365 degrees of the area, light stands can't easily be used so lighting may have to be hung as in a theater or in a studio grid like television. It will have to be set and locked for the duration of the shoot. If it's set out doors, the sun's movement could also be a problem but it's all manageable with strict planning and coordination.

Fact of the matter is, if you're determined to shoot on film and make a movie, you can do it regardless of how much film (except for the BAREST of minimum requirements) you can afford. Tailor you script yo your available resources and make the most of them whatever and how minimal they may be. In the end, you'll have done the most with what you've got and that may be much more than you expect especially if the audience appreciates what you've done. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 20 December 2008 - 02:49 AM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 11:25 AM

"Rope" did not have a 1:1 ratio... because that would mean that there was no second takes, no screw-ups, no partial takes stopped by a flubbed line or technical problem, etc. For a 10-minute dialogue take. Can you imagine, even with rehearsals, actors doing a complicated dialogue scene without cuts for 10 minutes straight with never a single mistake, for every set-up in a movie?

In fact, Hitchcock reshot the last few 10-minute takes of "Rope" after dailies because he didn't like the way the lighting transitioned into night.

It's near impossible to even go as low as 2:1 -- something always goes wrong at some point.

An actor misses a line, a prop falls off of the wall, a mic boom dips in, the phone you forgot to unplug starts to ring, the camera jams or the battery dies, the light burns out, the gel peels off of the window, the DP sneezes, a loud bus drives by, a police helicopter passes overhead, the dolly drives over the foot of the focus-puller, a gust of wind blows a c-stand and flag into the shot, someone forgot to reset the prop or door, there's a mic shadow, some crew member is reflected in the window... oh, and there's that whole issue of performance and wanting to try it one more time to get it right. Not to mention that the chances of needing another take for dialogue or performance reasons goes up exponentially as there are more actors talking in the scene. You think I'm exaggerating? That scene in "Living in Oblivion" was based on the reality of filmmaking -- if something can go wrong, it will go wrong...

5:1 is really the lowest I've heard anyone reporting back to me, for a normal dialogue-driven movie (not something untraditional, like a lyrical nature piece or art film or something.) And that's if you only do something like two takes per set-up and two angles to cover a scene, you might get away with 5:1. Any less than that, like 4:1 or 3:1, and you're talking about a certain percentage of your movie being shot in one set-up with only one take to compensate, ratio-wise, for any scenes that required a few more takes or angles.

Anyone who is inexperienced should not be hoping that, for some reason, they will pull off a miracle and shoot below 5:1 and make a decent movie. Unless, like I said, there is something unusual about the style and there are few dialogue scenes between multiple characters.

There is this mistaken belief that a 2:1 ratio means that you only shot two set-ups per scene, or managed to do only two takes per set-up. You do two takes and two set-ups per scene, that's 4:1. An average of three takes for three set-ups (assuming a set-up covers the whole scene) and that's 6:1. And averaging three takes and covering a scene in three angles is hardly excessive -- that would be considered fairly economical. Hence why it is hard to go below 5:1.

John Ford was famous for shooting only a few takes and a few angles. There was this story about the studio inventory manager calling up the DP on "How Green Was My Valley" to confirm that they only managed to shoot about 68,000' of film for that movie. Which is incredibly low for a 35mm feature, especially a studio one at the time. But even that is around a 7:1 ratio.

Steven, your stories about Hong Kong films achieving 1:1 ratios make no sense whatsoever, especially using short ends. Waste at the heads and rolls would make 1:1 impossible anyway -- what, they don't even shoot slates in Hong Kong? Speed ramps, slow-motion, all will increase footage shot. Not to mention the fact that many action scenes in HK movies use multiple cameras.

For a true 1:1 movie, it would have to be all one perfect take where one shot covered the entire movie! Even "Russian Ark", a single-take movie, you're seeing Take 3 in there. One shot per scene, only one take each, would end up being more like 1.3 : 1 with roll-outs, slates, and waste.

You don't want your shooting ratio to be SO low that the whole production is driven by the need to shoot as little footage as possible, rather than make a decent movie.
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#6 Dan Goulder

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 12:06 PM

If you want to minimize your overall footage, you need to rely on using mostly master shots. This means you need to use competent, well-rehearsed actors. Rather than cover the whole scene from different angles, you can do shorter pick up, or cutaway shots, which can give you the added flexibility of being able to edit together different takes for the best overall performance. If everybody feels they nailed it on the first take, then go with it. (Although they're not perfect, the better labs are pretty reliable these days, so there is less of a need for extra takes as insurance against lab screwups. That said, don't blame me if the lab does manage to screw up your perfect take.)

The other thing that can reduce your overall footage is PLANNING. If you follow a tight, well-constructed storyboard, that will obviously help. Try shooting a few sample scenes from the movie (you can even use a mini-dv camera for this) and see if you can determine from that what your shooting ratio needs to be.

Check out "Stranger Than Paradise" by Jim Jarmusch to see a movie that works with minimal coverage. (Although it's been claimed otherwise, there are some pans in the movie. However, most of the shots are fixed, relying totally upon the dialogue and action, or some might say non-action, of the actors.)
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#7 Paul Bruening

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 01:07 PM

It's easy for us technical guys to calculate a movie's costs in a purely technical way. I have done it countless times. But, here's the thing: A crappy movie is a crappy movie at any ratio. You have to make something viewers will like or approve of or identify with or find meaning in... you see, it's really about all that human stuff. The story, the characters, the actors, the director's vision and feeling for the scenes and performances.

If you can't get a sufficient ratio in film (10-1 at the very minimum) then shoot in video.

Ask civilians what they liked about any movie, both big screen and Youtubers they will never tell you about any of the technical stuff. They will always talk about the human stuff. You shoot in the medium that can deliver the right human stuff on the screen. If you can't shoot enough film to do that, shoot on something that can.

*Director's point of view.*
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#8 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 03:42 PM

Steven, your stories about Hong Kong films achieving 1:1 ratios make no sense whatsoever, especially using short ends. Waste at the heads and rolls would make 1:1 impossible anyway -- what, they don't even shoot slates in Hong Kong? Speed ramps, slow-motion, all will increase footage shot. Not to mention the fact that many action scenes in HK movies use multiple cameras.

For a true 1:1 movie, it would have to be all one perfect take where one shot covered the entire movie! Even "Russian Ark", a single-take movie, you're seeing Take 3 in there. One shot per scene, only one take each, would end up being more like 1.3 : 1 with roll-outs, slates, and waste.


Herschell Gordon Lewis claims his 'The Adventures of Lucky Pierre' was shot with an almost 1:1 ratio.
Lewis says, they cut out the slates.
Then again, this was a 1961 nudie. Quality was not a consideration. The basic audience was only concerned with seeing naked women and hearing a joke or two.
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#9 Tom Lowe

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 09:52 PM

Look at "In the Company of Men" for inspiration on low ratio. It's almost all masters with many uninterrupted takes over 5 minutes long.

Labute actually wrote it as a play years before he shot it for $25K as his first feature. You have to assume the actors were extremely well rehearsed.
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#10 Josh Bass

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 01:15 AM

I swear I read somewhere (maybe even on here) that Primer was 78 minutes in length, and they shot 81 minutes of film.
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#11 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 01:23 AM

"Rope" did not have a 1:1 ratio... because that would mean that there was no second takes, no screw-ups, no partial takes stopped by a flubbed line or technical problem, etc. For a 10-minute dialogue take. Can you imagine, even with rehearsals, actors doing a complicated dialogue scene without cuts for 10 minutes straight with never a single mistake, for every set-up in a movie?


Just to play Devil's Advocate here: in live theatre, you quite often have 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or more of complicated dialog and action, and you do not get a second take in live theatre. Why can't actors do that for film?
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#12 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 02:55 AM

"Rope" did not have a 1:1 ratio... because that would mean that there was no second takes, no screw-ups, no partial takes stopped by a flubbed line or technical problem, etc. For a 10-minute dialogue take.


I didn't say Rope was a 1:1 shoot, I'm saying the TECHNIQUES used in Rope could yield a 1:1 shoot and I'm also not saying a 1:1 shoot could be necessarily be expected to be mistake free or without problems, BUT I have enough theater experience to know you can, with sufficient rehearsal, be able to hit a mark every time and and have every line down pat and TRUST ME, I've seen enough TERRIBLE films, shot traditionally, that have actually gotten a release, to firmly believe this method couldn't POSSIBLY make any WORSE a film. The same could be said of a camera crew. Given enough rehearsal time and keeping camera movement to a minimum, you could have every focus and move choreographed to perfection. Now assuming we're not taking a Hollywood film crew, but a film school crew which is hired at a flat rate for both rehearsal and shoot, it's doable. It would of course be more akin to a documentary or French new Wave/ Cinema Verite' run and gun style shoot, (in fact I would hire a experienced documentary student crew to film a project under these conditions similar to what Friedkin did on parts of The French Connection as they could handle the occasional unexpected miss steps without becoming frustrated and missing the shot) but if the script is tailored to the shooting style that may not be a negative. Of COURSE there may be mistakes at which point if they're bad enough I would refer to the Hong Kong cinema solution to an important flubbed line or major problem of cutting right there, changing angles and continuing from the line previous to the flub. More than likely as in a play, you just keep going until you get back on track which COULD conceivably create a kind of raw reality to the piece much like Hawk's overlapping dialog did intentionally on The thing from Another World. Is it the BEST way to shoot a feature, OF COURSE NOT, BUT a feature CAN be shot that way if one is determined and desperate and given that the poster and box art often sells the picture in the low budget, no star attached world, it could actually be sold in foreign markets since it WAS shot on 35mm.

You KNOW I respect you David but you do work with people that have enough money to do things right. THIS is a way to get it done period. You may have to live with mistakes but you WILL have a completed film when all is said and....well...done....that IS something. It may not look as good as many Hollywood features, but then again, if you are lucky and careful, it may and someone may commend your new breakthrough style. It's a gamble, but what in life isn't, and even if it looks like TOTAL poop it still actually may be sellable strangely enough, as long as the box art and poster are intriguing. But if you don't HAVE product of any kind to sell, how you gonna sell it unless you get REAL lucky and pre-sell it to some distributor which won't happen unless you have pictures of him with a goat. ('course to a distributor that may not make a difference)? B)
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#13 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 03:04 AM

Oh and after re-reading your post, I DID mention I would also shoot this silent and loop it in post to alleviate any sound problems (WHICH as you mention can be problematic) before they start, as per Russian and Italian cinema (which is one of the reasons I believe they shot that way). It's not perfect, I know but it WILL work. I like Living In Oblivion BTW, It's one of my favorite films BUT they were, again, shooting traditionally. You actually probably have less chance of screwing up on 3 to 4 hour well rehearsed contiunuous shoot than you would over a piriod of 3 to 120 days in a traditional Hollywood shoot. Remember, the shot only worked in Living In Oblion when Wolff when hand held with the camera. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 21 December 2008 - 03:08 AM.

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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 03:49 AM

Just to play Devil's Advocate here: in live theatre, you quite often have 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or more of complicated dialog and action, and you do not get a second take in live theatre. Why can't actors do that for film?


Just because there is no second takes in theater, doesn't mean an actor never makes a mistake.

And the level of rehearsal and repetition of performance for live theater is very atypical of moviemaking. In fact, you could say that the actor gets dozens of takes, if not a hundred... they just get to do each take on each night of the performance.

Look guys, I shoot for a living, over thirty features so far, some were shot in only 15 days, some were quite low-budget, though not as low as you are contemplating... all I can tell you is my experience with shooting. I've been very clear to repeat many times that I'm talking about traditional narrative dialogue coverage with sound, not something more experimental in nature.

And not only have I been shooting features since 1992, I've been talking to other independent filmmakers over that period and heard their stories as well, so I am well-aware of what the trends are in terms of coverage and shooting ratios on low-budget filmmaking. Other DP's will just confirm my figures for shooting film on a feature, which tend to be that 10:1 is most common and 5:1 tends to be the lowest you'll generally hear about, and there are the occasionally exceptional figures below that reported, but they tend to require extraordinary effort and a non-traditional approach which may or may not work.

Filmmaking is very expensive, and perhaps some people wouldn't even attempt it if they really knew up front how much it was going to cost them, but I've been on too many shoots that were under-budgeted for stock and watched too many arguments take place and too much drama and angst over the issue to feel comfortable in low-balling a figure just to make someone feel happy. That would be irresponsible on my part.

I'd also feel a lot more comfortable if everyone who claims that a 2:1 feature is possible was speaking from personal experience, as I am speaking from.

Besides the sound problems that can cause a second take, I listed plenty of non-sound problems too that can happen. I've had doorknobs come off in an actor's hand when they reached to open the door, I've had actors go to leave a room and find the door accidentally locked, I've had actors forget to go through the right door, all sorts of mistakes you can't even imagine. And that's just with doors! I've had to do retakes because an actor was wearing the wrong clothes, because props weren't in the right place, even after a full rehearsal where everything went perfectly. I've had a light bulb explode during a scene, I've had things fall over during a scene, I've had strangers or crew people or producers walk into a shot by accident, I've had actors slip on the floor, and I can't tell you how many times I've had an actor be unable to start a car up in the scene (it's a rule of filmmaking that all picture cars have crappy engines...).

I could probably come up with more on-set disasters for another couple of pages if I want to keep thinking back on past experience...
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#15 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 04:12 AM

Oh, in re-RE-reading your post, you do realize, I'm talking about slapping on a zoom lens and not allowing any cuts other than the ones that are un-avoidable when the film is about to run out? The camera hand held, moving to each new angle as the scene continues while still running without cutting. The short end shoot would treat the camera work in the same way, but would allow you to change angles after 2 to 4 minutes of shooting by yanking a mag outta the Konvas or Aaton and slapping another one in literally (on the Konvas as least) a 30 second procedure while moving to the next camera position (that's why i recommended the Konvas because it was designed for shooting Soviet propaganda so it's essentially a quick loading, light weight news camera that can use a Foton A-3 zoom...with an anamorphic adapter, gate and viewfinder if you want to fancy.....or Aaton OR in MY case the Kinor PII which have very similar characteristics) , no slate, mag and film can marked with sequential numbers. ADR could have more than one take though, since it would be captured on tape.
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#16 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 04:42 AM

Just because there is no second takes in theater, doesn't mean an actor never makes a mistake.

And the level of rehearsal and repetition of performance for live theater is very atypical of moviemaking. In fact, you could say that the actor gets dozens of takes, if not a hundred... they just get to do each take on each night of the performance.

5:1 tends to be the lowest you'll generally hear about, and there are the occasionally exceptional figures below that reported, but they tend to require extraordinary effort and a non-traditional approach which may or may not work.


I think you nailed it, we are talking a completely contrary approach to traditional film making technique and what you have been doing since 1992. This is more akin to New York style guerrilla film making where you simply have to live with the mistakes and performances as is....much like the theater. You screw up a line on stage, you better find a way to get yourself out of it because you can't stop the play and explain the the audience you f*cked up. In the 1:1 ratio technique you do the same thing or go over and pick up the dropped prop while continuing to speak or cut, go reset the lamp that got knocked over and change angles then start at the last line moving the camera to the next camera mark as you can. In our scenario, IF the door doesn't open you cut unlock the door, roll the camera, have them open the door and go through the shoot a quick close up of the hand opening the door to cut in during editing rather than taking the scene from the beginning. Will the cut screw up the timing? Maybe a bit but the scene will work even if it's not QUITE as effective. In the kinds of scripts that would use these techniques, low budget, no star, first film stuff, is perfect timing all that important or is getting your first film under your belt what's REALLY important? To me, getting the film done at whatever ratio you have to shot at is the priority. If you can afford 10 to 1 on a traditional shoot, good. But given you have virtually NO chance of selling a video feature without a name attached, then do what you gotta do.

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 21 December 2008 - 04:44 AM.

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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 11:49 AM

James, I think you're going to find, on Day One of your feature, that once you've assembled that cast, gotten the wardrobe, got everyone out to a location you've found, lit the location, etc. that if there is a mistake during the first take... you're going to do another take. Because once you've put in all that effort to get everyone there on that location, perhaps even built a set or made costumes, that walking away with only one flawed take in the can with no coverage to cut away to, will seem unacceptable to you even if it puts you over on stock budget.

I think something that doesn't sink in with a lot of people is that doing a long single take scene is harder to pull off than a short shot that only covers part of a scene, and complicating that with zooms, handheld movements, etc. only increases the chance of making a mistake.

So many times I've had a director feel that he had to shoot this scene in one shot to save time and stock, only to have something go wrong at nearly the end of the two-minute or even four-minute take. I remember one director who felt too rushed to shoot coverage on two kids walking and talking down a school hallway (we had only fifteen minutes before we were supposed to be at lunch and after that, some other location) ended up doing 12 takes, taking nearly an hour to do it, and then had to cut it out in post because he felt it never really worked. Some retakes were because of missed lines (these were kids afterall), some were due to school bells going off, some were due to props falling down, so were due to camera operator error, some were due to focusing errors, some were due to sound errors, but mostly it was due to performance issues.

Things go wrong on a movie set. It's a law of nature. Any realistic plan has to accept that.

I wish you the best of luck on your project, James. Clearly you DO have a plan, so I hope it works out for you so you can tell us what you learned. Then I can steal some of your ideas the next time I shoot something... ;)

Maybe it's just my personality type -- I'm a worrier, a disaster-anticipator, not an optimist... but even I, after all my planning, still have the same feeling on Day One, which usually repeats on every other day: the thing that goes thru my head is "why is filmmaking so damned hard?" It seemed like such a simple shot... With all the hair-pulling, it's amazing I have hair.
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#18 Patrick Neary

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 12:45 PM

Hi Everyone-

I can pop in here with a few observations about shooting "Rope" style, as I had an opportunity to do just that about 10 years ago for a low-budget 16mm feature out in Colorado.

I don't remember what our ratio was, but nothing remarkable, maybe 5 or 6:1 (this was an under-$200k feature, so we didn't really have the option of shooting too much more.)

The all-local cast had been rehearsing for 5 months previous, and that was absolutely key to the successful shoot. We worked out the camera moves and blocking on set in an almost improv/jazz style; the camera was on the end of a Jimmy Jib which was on a western type dolly, so the dolly grip would map out key positions, and I had a good bit of flexibility with positioning the camera/jib head for good key positions throughout each 9 or 10 minute take. I also used a 10mm lens exclusively, and lit the three locations ( two separate sections of a large hotel ballroom and a hotel room) to a good 5.6 or so, so we had no focus pulls (well, maybe one or two, but nothing complex).

While we didn't experience quite the litany of problems mentioned by Mr. Mullen, we did start the shoot with a bad Nagra and three mags with too-tight clutches, so that 6 minutes or so into each take the camera would jam. The gear all went back up to Film and Video in Denver (it had just come from there after being serviced) so we lost two days right off the bat.

BUT, and here's the thing about shooting long masters nobody has mentioned yet, we still shot the entire feature in about 4 1/2 days. One day we rehearsed and shot (in 3 separate segments) almost 30 finished minutes. The schedule had originally been for 10 days, if I remember right, so I'm sure knocking off half of that trimmed the budget significantly.

The key things were extensive rehearsals (and good actors), flexibility offered by a very mobile camera, and freedom from the tyranny of focus pulls :)

Plus it was a really fun way to shoot. The electricity on set when a good take got to the 7 or 8-minute mark was nerve-wracking but it sure did keep everyone focused!
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#19 Paul Bruening

Paul Bruening

    (deceased)

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 01:40 PM

You know that feeling of sitting at your computer until your eyes are falling out of your head? You know that feeling when you've been speeding and a trooper is pulling you over? You know that feeling when you've bought something and realized you got ripped-off?

Take all those feelings and you've got something like that feeling you get when you're sitting in post and you can't use the footage you shot because it sucks worse than it seemed during the shoot. It sucks because you kept settling for less and less. It sucks because you didn't get the right people who could deliver efficiently. It sucks because you didn't have enough money to shoot more film and get the right take. It sucks because you didn't schedule enough time to get the takes. It sucks. It sucks. It sucks.

It's a bad feeling. The worst feeling. Get the take ratio you MUST have.
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#20 Hal Smith

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 05:42 PM

There is a common thread here that thoroughly rehearsed actors can greatly help keep footage requirements down. I can easily name ten or so actors (all Equity and/or SAG) I've worked with here in OKC on live stage that could be rehearsed to the point where you could keep footage way down. In the early days of television many shows were produced live to air or filmed as live shows. "I Love Lucy" could have been shot with as little as a 3:1 ratio since Ricky thought up the idea of performing the show before a live audience with three cameras. From what I've read about "Lucy" they didn't experience a lot of do-overs in production which obviously held footage down.

I designed lighting for a production of "Bad Dates" (with a Tony nominated actress no less) where the Director wanted absolutely no shadows falling on her. I used about 80 fixtures on a 16X20 black box stage with 64 channels of dimmer control. A lighting rig like that is incredibly flexible, you can design for just about any look you want onstage and preset those looks in a modern DMX light board. I usually shoot a miniDV archival tape of my designs, for that show I got Equity Stage Management's permission to shoot multiple performances because I wanted a record of how the show's lighting looked from different angles. I was very pleased with what the show looked like on tape from the three different positions, front, right side, left side. Some day I should plug the show into my AVID and cut it to see just how good I can get the show's continuity/coverage to look. I could probably get the actress' permission to show the edited results (she's a real sweetie) but the people who own the rights to the play would obviously want $$$ beyond what I'd be willing to pay for any exhibition rights for a single chip miniDV tape.

Using a dense theatrical style lighting rig on an interior set adds another factor to the low ratio formula: Expert storyboarding, rehearsed live theatre experienced cast, primarily shooting in master shots, etc. That approach solves the TIME times MONEY equals QUALITY equation for more time, more quality, and less money.

However, if I was David shooting bankable actors on complex interior and exterior sets, like he does all the time, saving film footage would be at the absolute bottom of my priority list. In his league, one unplanned reshoot with the principal actors would eat up the cost equivalent of many thousands of feet of film very quickly. It's obvious to me a portion of David's increasing success is because he is a worrywart and takes absolutely nothing for granted...in his shoes I'd be a nervous wreck.
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Aerial Filmworks

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