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How do you prepare for a shoot?


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#1 martinsoniii

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 08:44 PM

First a little bit about myself:

I have been DPing and directing on my own and friend's projects for about a year. I'm by no means professional, but am constantly trying to push myself, both in attitude and skill in that direction. When directing, alot of my DP friends will seemingly come up with ideas on the fly that make my projects immensely better (primarily very interesting camera angles). When preparing to shoot a friend's project, I spend hours preparing, and by preparing I mean I read the script over and over, draw some crappy story boards, throw together a shot lost off the rough cut in my mind, and then toss the script across the room in frustration. Ironically, it seems that on the shoots I prepare less for, things end up looking better, but I generally feel overwhelmed on set.

While I've gorged myself on technical books, I have yet to come across a section in any of them that describes a definitive break-down process for cinematographers (yes I'm self-taught) which helps you plan camera angles in advance.

My question then is how do you, the working, professional cinematographers on this board, prepare for a shoot? What types of conversations do you have with the director (other than, what mood are you going for)? What kind of homework do you do?

I'm looking for both specifics and general principles that can help guide my creative process.

I'd definitely appreciate any help that I could get!
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 10:18 PM

Well, I don't think there is any one right way or standard way, hence why you won't find it much in a book.
I'd say that you need to know what the script is about, as opposed to just what's happening in the script. I don't mean knowing the story either, you need to go deeper than that. This should come from the director, first, but also your interpretations, experiences, ect.
There is, of course, the basic technical and organizational things you must do-- generating equipment lists, look ideas, booking equipment, location scouting, discussions and exchanges with the directors ect. From there I try to get an idea from the director of what they need to tell their story. Then I look at how much time and money we have and try to maximize what we can put on the screen given those variables.

With some directors I'll sit with them for hours and go through each and every shot; ever scene, almost every line, and hash out over-heads and very poorly drawn story boards. With others, we'll grab a few 6 packs sit down and just bullshit out ideas, until things stick. With my one of my favorite directors to work with, we'd spend hours walking through the city, just talking; sweating.

I like to speak with my keys with what I think we'll need for the film. Get them in with their ideas and insights, and then present the ones I agree with to the director.

I read through the whole script and jot down notes until I can no longer read the script nor remember the notes.

I'll try to meet with the production designer, and make up artists and give them my ideas, get their ideas and try to figure out how we can all help each others.

I make sure a camera PA knows how I like my coffee, and teach them the hand signal for when I need one- So I don't need to leave set. I'll also teach them to remind me to eat.

I'll watch movies suggested to me by the director; movies which the script reminds me of. I'll look at still photographs, paintings, and beautiful women in cafes, or on the street, or ugly people; and light moving across their face.

And then, when I get onto set, I'll watch what's happening during the rehearsals and all all things go to hell, as they eventually do at least once, I'll go with my gut.

And of course, all this will only really work for me, I suppose. On each film I do, it's different, and it all starts with how your relationship with your director is. What s/he needs and how they work. Often they'll know exactly what they want and would have prepared everything for you in advance. Other times they can be clueless and you have to really do a lot of their work (figuring out shots ect...). Most of the time, you both have ideas and whittle them away till you get what you need to shoot.
I find also that making up overheads for every location and each lighting set up i intend to do and distributing them to be very useful. I also find that my best way to prepare is to take good notes of what I have been doing, and to make sure to get stills of set-ups so I can go back to them and how they worked later on and learn through the film. I also find that day one is always the worst for me as things come together.

I hope this helps.
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#3 martinsoniii

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 11:56 PM

Thanks man! This helps a ton! Going to try some of those techniques on the next project I'm working, particularly the overhead shot diagrams.
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#4 Markshaw

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:44 AM

Great advice there.
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#5 Brian Hulnick

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 10:45 AM

Well, I don't think there is any one right way or standard way, hence why you won't find it much in a book.
I'd say that you need to know what the script is about, as opposed to just what's happening in the script. I don't mean knowing the story either, you need to go deeper than that. This should come from the director, first, but also your interpretations, experiences, ect.
There is, of course, the basic technical and organizational things you must do-- generating equipment lists, look ideas, booking equipment, location scouting, discussions and exchanges with the directors ect. From there I try to get an idea from the director of what they need to tell their story. Then I look at how much time and money we have and try to maximize what we can put on the screen given those variables.

With some directors I'll sit with them for hours and go through each and every shot; ever scene, almost every line, and hash out over-heads and very poorly drawn story boards. With others, we'll grab a few 6 packs sit down and just bullshit out ideas, until things stick. With my one of my favorite directors to work with, we'd spend hours walking through the city, just talking; sweating.

I like to speak with my keys with what I think we'll need for the film. Get them in with their ideas and insights, and then present the ones I agree with to the director.

I read through the whole script and jot down notes until I can no longer read the script nor remember the notes.

I'll try to meet with the production designer, and make up artists and give them my ideas, get their ideas and try to figure out how we can all help each others.

I make sure a camera PA knows how I like my coffee, and teach them the hand signal for when I need one- So I don't need to leave set. I'll also teach them to remind me to eat.

I'll watch movies suggested to me by the director; movies which the script reminds me of. I'll look at still photographs, paintings, and beautiful women in cafes, or on the street, or ugly people; and light moving across their face.

And then, when I get onto set, I'll watch what's happening during the rehearsals and all all things go to hell, as they eventually do at least once, I'll go with my gut.

And of course, all this will only really work for me, I suppose. On each film I do, it's different, and it all starts with how your relationship with your director is. What s/he needs and how they work. Often they'll know exactly what they want and would have prepared everything for you in advance. Other times they can be clueless and you have to really do a lot of their work (figuring out shots ect...). Most of the time, you both have ideas and whittle them away till you get what you need to shoot.
I find also that making up overheads for every location and each lighting set up i intend to do and distributing them to be very useful. I also find that my best way to prepare is to take good notes of what I have been doing, and to make sure to get stills of set-ups so I can go back to them and how they worked later on and learn through the film. I also find that day one is always the worst for me as things come together.

I hope this helps.


Sounds like a very fair system you have there Adrian. I can believe that it works well.Kudos
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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 11:00 AM

Thanks Brian. It's been a constant evolution towards it as I realized how much of a pain in the ass I must've been to work with when I was younger and dumber ;)
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#7 Brian Hulnick

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 07:59 AM

Face it, everyone is a pain in the ass when they're young. All piss and vinegar as someone wrote. Ego's and attitude.
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#8 Brian Hulnick

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 03:50 AM

Actually, that is still me.
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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 26 April 2012 - 09:55 AM

I think we need some vinegar in our blood to keep up with doing what we do; and a tag of ego to stop from wallowing in despair and loosing an ear.
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#10 Brian Hulnick

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Posted 02 May 2012 - 06:30 AM

Well put.
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The Slider

Willys Widgets

Rig Wheels Passport

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Metropolis Post

Aerial Filmworks

Ritter Battery

Abel Cine

Tai Audio

Technodolly

Glidecam

rebotnix Technologies

Broadcast Solutions Inc

CineTape

Paralinx LLC

Wooden Camera

Opal

CineLab

Visual Products