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How to do pre-production


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#1 Mihai Nicolau

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 07:21 PM

Hello,

I've begun preproduction for my final year movie together with the director. We started analyzing the script and preparing the shotlist together and we are yet to see the locations in which we will shot.
while I'm in for a more mathematical approach to pre-production, such that we should discuss every camera position, angle and movement and know it by heart until we will actually begin shoting he wants to have all this discussion more as a general guide that we should keep to and at the time of shooting choose some additional shots over the ones we discussed to that he has enough material and coverage to play with in editing.

While i'm ok with the idea to have more coverage to edit from later, my philosophy is that all these things should be discussed in pre-production so that any potential problems be solved are worked out the on paper and not losing time when you actually start shooting the thing.

Which is the corect way to do this ? How do they do it on the big productions ?

Thanks!
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 07:26 PM

There is no correct way, both happen.
And, even if you schedule and write down every shot things still can and do happen on set which changed things. Personally, I like the 2nd approach of having a good idea of what you're getting into, but also being open to those things which can only happen on set when everyone, director, actor, dop, production designer, are really allowing possibilities, or overcoming problems, which could never be anticipated before hand. Then again, that's just me. Some directors will want everything done to the final point, some are much more flexible and open to discovery, and so long as the final product is a good film, on time, and budget, no one is the wiser.
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#3 Mihai Nicolau

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 07:51 PM

Hey thanks for the quick answer. Having started this discussion...how do you offer your help as a DP to a project. Do you involve yourself in the actual shotlist or just let the director come up with it and you go through it together offering advice and input when needed.
After discussing what style you would like to approach do you also design camera angles and movements that would help tell the story or let the director mostly do this and just get involved in lighting the scene.
What i'm trying to find out is where do we actually start to get involved into the process of transforming a script into a meaningful and aethetically pleasing set of moving images.

thanks.
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 08:19 PM

A lot of that will depend on the director. Many of them will want your help and input, many others won't. Most fall in the middle where they've thought it out and welcome input. You have to play that one by ear based on the director and understand, of course, that as a DoP you work for them, in the service of their version. It's a learning process. I've been blessed by having shot mostly projects where my input was valued and welcomed even if not always followed. Gordon Willis mentioned that "No," is an important word, and I'd agree, and it must be used carefully. but when you have a reservation as a DoP i think you should bring it up.
It is ideal that the director and the dop match up on visual styles, and hopefully you can bring a dop in early enough that the dop can have an input on the shot-list.

To be honest, though, a lot, and i mean a lot, of material is covered in very conventional ways, wide/medium/close shot. Now whether or not that's good really depends on the project, as some will call for a certain style; such as the mockumentary I'm shooting right now which calls for 5+ minute takes on occasion, run multiple times to make it look as though we have more than 1 camera, which we don't. Or, the feature which has a 21 minute long shot in.... because that was the style of it -v- some other films which have the mixture and usages of dolly/jib/handheld/tripod/pans/tilts etc. Hopefully a shot list will flow organically form the script meeting up with the director, though.
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 07:03 AM

I can only really pontificate based on my own experiences which may not mirror yours. However:

- What can go wrong will. Shooting is a chaotic, moment-by-moment environment and it can be a bad idea to plan anything clever or advanced if you are not extremely sure that you can do it. Be careful of the word "just" in planning - "we'll just do this", especially when cutting corners. Make a reasonable estimate of how long just will take, what equipment you need to just pull the shot off, and what people it will tie up both in implementation and supervision.

- Further to the above, simple done well beats clever done poorly. As Mr. Sierkowski was saying, much material can be covered very competently in ways that are straight out of the cinematography books, and doing this nicely can look better than trying to get clever, especially if you don't have the time, equipment or experience to do "clever" properly.

Both of the above are quite broad-based but generally boil down to keep it simple, because even if you do, it still won't feel simple on the day.

There are some more specific things that might reflect both this attitude of caution, and your director's need to maintain some flexibility.

I'm very keen on shotlists but not very keen on storyboards, not least because they're usually very badly done and time consuming. Storyboards are an opportunity for people to draw, even if they can draw, what they want to see, rather than what is actually shootable based on the restraints of location, time, equipment, and everything else. This can lead to a lot of time being spent trying to achieve a storyboard that is inherently unachievable. I'd much rather work to a nicely annotated shotlist which describes each shot and what it must show to the audience; then, you can use your on-the-day working things out time to ensure your shots do what they're supposed to do, as opposed to using a lot of effort trying to make them match a storyboard which may never have been achievable or even necessary. And yes, you may find you need to break shots down if you can't get it in one, which is where your flexibility on the day comes from. The only time I'd do storyboards would be for some very complex multi-element effects item, at which point you should have been scouting to ensure that it was easily doable in any case and the achievability concerns should go away.

The only other pointer I can give you, based on a recent experience, is not to time everything out based on how long it would take you to do it, and then hire a bunch of nobodies. We can't all use Darius Khondji and his favourite team of crack camera technicians, and there's nothing wrong with that, but film sets (including very big high end film sets) are often atrociously badly managed and you should factor in time to spend doing that. DPs, directors, and other heads of department are supposed to be managers too, and this is often overlooked at all levels but can be particularly killer if you're using inexperienced people.

Write call sheets, no question. This makes it clear who's doing what, who reports to whom, and when people are expected to be where. Include maps; it's not hard to screen grab Google Maps views these days and include them in your call sheet. Yes it's tedious, yes it takes a day to do a ten day shoot's worth of call sheets assuming they're reasonably simple, but it avoids the "poop, where am I supposed to be" factor.

And don't, finally, overwork people. People die when driving tired, and this has occurred on shoots at all levels. Ten hour days, six a week, is normal. More than that, be very clear, is abnormal, and more than 12/6 is downright hazardous to people's health. If it's a two day shoot, fine, work people 14 hours, but expect to pay them the equivalent of another day in overtime so they can have some downtime to recover. Would you want to hire people who'd just done 28 hours in two days?

P
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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 08:27 AM

I'm very keen on shotlists but not very keen on storyboards, not least because they're usually very badly done and time consuming. Storyboards are an opportunity for people to draw, even if they can draw, what they want to see, rather than what is actually shootable based on the restraints of location, time, equipment, and everything else. This can lead to a lot of time being spent trying to achieve a storyboard that is inherently unachievable. I'd much rather work to a nicely annotated shotlist which describes each shot and what it must show to the audience; then, you can use your on-the-day working things out time to ensure your shots do what they're supposed to do, as opposed to using a lot of effort trying to make them match a storyboard which may never have been achievable or even necessary. And yes, you may find you need to break shots down if you can't get it in one, which is where your flexibility on the day comes from. The only time I'd do storyboards would be for some very complex multi-element effects item, at which point you should have been scouting to ensure that it was easily doable in any case and the achievability concerns should go away.

(. . .)

And don't, finally, overwork people. People die when driving tired, and this has occurred on shoots at all levels. Ten hour days, six a week, is normal. More than that, be very clear, is abnormal, and more than 12/6 is downright hazardous to people's health. If it's a two day shoot, fine, work people 14 hours, but expect to pay them the equivalent of another day in overtime so they can have some downtime to recover. Would you want to hire people who'd just done 28 hours in two days?
P


Exactly my feelings on shot-lists v storyboards!

And Exactly how I feel 'bout working long hours.
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