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Need advice on DP'ing a low budget feature


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#1 Gene Sung

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 10:36 AM

So I was asked to DP an Indy feature and I need your guy’s opinion on the feasibility of it. Here’s some logistics. This would be my first feature as I mainly shoot short format type stuff.

 

1) 90 page script so around 90 minutes I’m assuming

2) Dark Comedy. 90% takes place in the same location, a bar and it’s mainly dialogue driven. Think Cheers the TV show. Lots of 1 liners and banter. 

3) There is a big twist in the middle which will require about 2 days in the bar shooting action / VFX type shots.

4) I was told the original budget was $100K, but I don’t think it’s that now since the shot days got cut.

5) 12 days shoot (originally 15 days, but it got cut down).

6) Since we have 2 days of VFX shots, the principle photography would be 10 days

7) Small crew, about 7 people. Talent = 5 principle, 3 auxiliary.

 

My question to you guys is: What your opinion on doing a 90 minute feature in 12 days (10 days of principle photography + 2 days of VFX / action photography)? It is mainly talking heads at a bar with minimal action, but still… 12 days seems pretty short for a 90 page script.

 

If it does end up being 12 days, what short cuts can you recommend. I was thinking I would have to 

 

1) Shoot Zooms to save lens swamps

2) Slate less and have the actor rattle off larger blocks of dialogue

3) Lot more close-ups for less lighting setups

4) Limit performance to 2 takes, maybe 3 max.

 

Anything else you guys can suggest?

 

Thanks


Edited by Gene Sung, 02 April 2014 - 10:37 AM.

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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 10:54 AM

Takes will be up to the director-- so you should speak with them about that.

I have done my fair share of films in 14 days, so yes, while pushing it, it is possible. Especially with no locations moves and the ability to set an overall lighting and just do quick little tweaks.

2 cameras will also help you in overs coverage in this case.

 

A lot will depend on the working relationship with the director and the crew, and how good the AD is at keeping everyone on time-- not to mention how fast you can light and how much the cameras/actors/lighting fights you.

 

I would sit down with the director ASAP and suss out all this stuff, since without such specific of their vision, it's hard to tell how Sisyphean this all is.


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#3 Freya Black

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 11:00 AM

I was just about to suggest the same as Adrain. Two cameras at least seems the way to go in this situation if as you say there is tons of dialogue and yes that is going to make things even more difficult from a lighting point of view.

 

You might even want to consider pre-lighting the whole set a certain way and running with that.

 

90 minutes in 10 days is obviously 9 minutes each day. I would say it's perfectly doable depending on the compromises you are prepared to make. The little shop of horrors was shot in 3 days and I know a guy here in the UK who shot a movie in 2 days!

 

We have a different idea about what is acceptable here in the UK tho! ;)

 

Freya


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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 11:01 AM

Best thing would be to have at least two cameras covering the action. This is a TV type schedule, however, having one location cuts out the time lost changing locations. I wouldn't cut down on the takes on key scenes, but you need good actors who are experienced at shooting these types of dialogue scenes. 


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#5 Gene Sung

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 11:21 AM

Hey Guys,

 

That's also the big problem I forget to add: SINGLE Camera - FS700 + Odyssey 7Q shooting in 422 10-bit Pro-Res.

 

Not sure if we can get a 2nd FS700 + 7Q, because the 7Q is so hard to find.

 

Now that I added the 1 camera caveat. What do you guys think?


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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 12:02 PM

Sure it's possible if you're willing to accept the compromises it makes and turn it into a style somehow. I think you really need to be speaking with the director on this since s/he will be the one deciding how it should be shot-- what shots/setups they'd like to do. A lot also depends on what's happening on these 9pgs/day. it's one thing if it is just a straight sitting conversation-- quite another if the 1/8th of that page reads "they have an epic conversation while rocking out to the live band playing sweet home Alabama while billy jo sets fire to some shots and the girls go wild.  (for example).


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#7 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 12:34 PM

Having a good dolly (i.e. the high end ones, not the budget tripod on a platform jobs) can speed camera set ups and, if the floor is smooth, can allow scenes to run as single shots through camera movement..


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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 02:35 PM

Limiting take count is of dubious utility.

 

P


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#9 timHealy

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 09:43 PM

Limiting take count is of dubious utility.

 

P

I agree with Phil here.

 

When shooting a film fast it's all about lighting time and pre production. You and the director/producer/AD's need to be on the same page as far as shots are concerned and how to move the production forward in the most efficient manner. You need to get the sets pre rigged before you start shooting. Once a set is pre rigged you can move fast. But then you need a few guys who have lighting experience. Not a few guys who want to help. Help is great but if they don't know the gear it's faster for the experienced guy to do it themselves. I've been there a few times. And do you money shots first!

 

Also take a page out of sidney lumets book. Rehearse the actors before your shoot days to also help with speed when it counts. I agree with a good dolly. Screwing around with sticks all day for every shot will drive you mad. It may save money but it will cost in speed and less shots per day.

 

Once a shot is lit, doing 3 takes instead of 4 doesn't really save much time.


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#10 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 07:26 PM

If you schedule each day shot by shot, you can try to stay on track and avoid falling behind.  Also take that shotlist and eliminate every insert, establishing exterior, cutaway etc.  All of that will be 2nd unit b-roll to be done later as pickups.  You won't have any time to shoot 'hands on doorknobs" etc.  Not at 10 pages a day


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#11 Royce Allen Dudley

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Posted 12 June 2014 - 11:50 PM

You may have already shot by now... but the schedule / page count you describe is normal in low budgets; even with action, single camera. I have done dozens of films that fit that mold. Whether they were great or sucked seldom had to do with anything on my shoulders. Actors and director have a tougher job than DP... which is not to say you should not prepare... and also preppare to throw out all your prepartion and punt. Cuz that will happen.

 

Lots of talking heads should make it easy. Ok.. Easier. :)

 

Have fun!


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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 04:42 AM

But here's the thing.

 

Is it even worth doing these shoots?

 

I was offered - well, "offered" - a month-long feature earlier this year. OK, it would have been my first feature. But the money was derisory, and I'm not exaggerating; it would have actually been illegally low under minimum wage legislation, and that's before considering travel. It wasn't poorly-paid by skilled labour standards, it was poorly-paid by sweeping floors standards. I'd have been effectively working for UK£50/day after expenses, which isn't enough to make rent in this absurdly-expensive country.

 

But I'd have done it anyway.

 

Except that they wanted a free camera package.

 

At some point, this becomes abusive. Is there ever a 15-day feature that's actually worthwhile, from a financial, artistic or any other perspective, or is that sort of stuff absolutely always going to be pointless drivel?

 


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#13 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 04:44 AM

 

 

At some point, this becomes abusive.

 

Crew must be sadists then because I am quite sure that someone else took the job you turned down. You can be mad about it but what can you do?


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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 04:49 AM

Someone did take it. And gave them a C300 for a month.

 

I can't compete with that. Which is why I don't really shoot anymore.


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#15 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 05:18 AM

 

 

I can't compete with that. Which is why I don't really shoot anymore.

Even if you could compete with that...would you really want to?


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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 09:46 PM

Your schedule sounds brutal but doable. Hire the best keys you can afford, and buy them lots of beer. Prep, prep, prep. On the day you should just be executing the plan, not making one. Definitely shoot 2 cameras as much as possible for dialogue scenes. You could add a Pix240 if you can't find another 7Q.

Prep, scout, prep. Light for 360 degrees when possible; light thru the windows, use soft overhead top light and practicals, and just make the close ups look good. Since it's an ensemble comedy, try to use 2 shots and 3 shots for coverage and try to avoid shooting everyone's close ups for every scene. Be selective, don't over-cover. Keep pushing to keep the day moving, don't get too precious.

More general advice: stay positive and get as much sleep as possible. Stretch. Wear comfortable shoes and change your socks at lunch. Drink water every time you put the camera down. Say good morning to your crew and thank them at wrap. Every day. Buy them more beer. Keep reminding yourself that everything is temporary and that all this will be over soon.

The main problem with these extremely tight schedules is that you end up being forced into making all kinds of unavoidable compromises with locations, crew, lighting, gear, coverage. You just hope that you don't end up compromising so much that you end up ruining the movie, but that's what often happens. At that point, the whole thing becomes a waste of everyone's time, not to mention all the favors you've called in to make the project happen.

I would make sure that you, the director, and the producer are all on the same page creatively and that you work to keep expectations in check. Under-sell and over-deliver. If you have not worked with the director before, I would do a one day shoot together to make sure the two of you are a good fit. If you see any warning signs of impending fubar, don't hesitate to back out.
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#17 Mathew Rudenberg

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 10:15 PM

Personally I wouldn't take a feature less then three weeks - which is already tight to do anything interesting.

 

I think you could do it but it means stressing every day and compromising all the time. One of my ops constantly heads to Louisiana to shoot these low budget 12 day features. They get through them somehow and he says it's great training.

 

My advice is be selfish - how do you benefit from this if you're not going to have time to make some good looking footage. Does it have a great script and/or stars attached. If not, why bother?


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