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How do test shoots work?

test shoot film

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#1 Harry Weaks

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 06:38 AM

If someone desires to have a test shoot done to have an idea of the way a project will look before wasting time filming the entire thing, how would they go about doing that? Before continuing to use the wrong camera, lenses, lighting and whatever else --how would they? I'm asking this because i image people want certain projects to look a certain way before shooting it, but have no idea of knowing if will visually look they way they want without inevitably wasting money, time, and energy filming something that'll be worthless by mistake. 
 
Have you ever filmed a test shoot before? How did you go about doing it, if so? Ever know anyone that has? How did they, If so? When are they requested usually? How are they requested? How do they look when finished? Similar to the way the final project will look? Unfinished? Without post production work? With? The same thing a field monitor would show? More than that?

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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 09:22 AM

You should use visual references so that a decision can be made with the director regarding the ball park look before getting pieces of kit. Use a stills camera to tune in at locations etc before expensive kit is used for any tests, you can grade this for the look you're aiming for.


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#3 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 10:57 AM

Well, the first thing I usually do are dynamic range tests - especially when shooting on a film stock I've never used before - to see how far I can push it.  I'll play with the lighting, exposure, filtration, etc.  Then I'll get a little more zoned in to the specific project.  For example, I think I shot 3600 feet of test footage (7219) for my last film.  I pushed it one stop, then two and then I did various tests with gels to determine what would allow me to achieve a specific look.

 

I also took a lot of stills as Brian suggested, which is always a good idea.


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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 11:23 AM

You'd need  to have a decent budget to have 9 rolls of 16mm for tests. On a short film for example it'll be cut to the bare bones.


Edited by Brian Drysdale, 09 January 2016 - 11:27 AM.

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#5 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 11:35 AM

You'd need  to have a decent budget to have 9 rolls of 16mm for tests. On a short film for example it'll be cut to the bare bones.

 

Sorry...my error.  For some reason I was multiplying 12 instead of 4 by 3 in my head.  It was 1200 feet of test footage I shot.  Not 3600.


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#6 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 03:51 PM

The look of a project is determined by the combination of many, many choices made by the producer, director, production designer, locations manager, set dresser, props, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and the cinematographer. As a DP, you will have input into a lot of these choices, some of the most important being - locations, time of day, color and texture of the walls, wardrobe, set dressing, props, etc. With the director, you will need to decide what camera angles to shoot, if, when, and how to move the camera, what mood or tone the film and individual scenes should have. From there, you'll have to decide how to light each scene. So now you have a lot of technical choices to make - size of crew, camera, lenses, film stock, filters, special equipment, lighting styles and units, special rigging, gels, color grading. And this is where you start testing.

The idea is to test one variable at a time until you are satisfied that you know what a particular combination of choices looks like and that you can repeat it on set. Basically, if you don't already know how to do it, strive to learn it. This can be quite daunting when you're starting out since you don't know much yet. That's why it takes such a long time to become competent in cinematography. Just take one solid step at a time and keep building your knowledge base.

As you get more experienced, you can eliminate some tests because you already know how they look. That's why many cinematographers have favorite camera systems, lenses, filters, and lighting units - because they know what they will get.

You start with an idea of how you want the film or scene to look. If you can, find visual references that someone has already created and start breaking them down into composition, lighting, exposure, color, texture. Try to quantify what you like about the image and what elements you can pull for your scene. Then take a look at all the tools available to you and build a recipe step by step. As you continue to test, you'll be able to see what elements of your mental recipe work and what needs to be revised. The more experience you get, the more accurate your mental recipes will be.

Also note that many of the best cinematographers keep pushing for choices beyond their ever-expanding comfort zone, so they rarely fall into a formula and play it safe. The more you push, the more you grow.
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#7 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 05:51 PM

 

Sorry...my error.  For some reason I was multiplying 12 instead of 4 by 3 in my head.  It was 1200 feet of test footage I shot.  Not 3600.

 

Hey Bill,

Three rolls is still quite a lot,  when I try and guess at the context, your resources and so on.  What were you looking for? 

 

I went to IMDb to try and find out more about that film,  the one you are probably still cutting.  The initiating premise looks quite powerful.  The content of your work (life) transformed into film (potentially art).  Can you upload a couple of frames or sequences from that?


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#8 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 09 January 2016 - 07:09 PM

 

Hey Bill,

Three rolls is still quite a lot,  when I try and guess at the context, your resources and so on.  What were you looking for? 

 

I went to IMDb to try and find out more about that film,  the one you are probably still cutting.  The initiating premise looks quite powerful.  The content of your work (life) transformed into film (potentially art).  Can you upload a couple of frames or sequences from that?

 

Hey Gregg.  Thanks for the kind words.

 

The key to this film was the pre-production.  I had every detail planned out and that made everything go very smoothly.  As for the tests, I'd never shot on 7219 before but I knew I wanted a grainy look.  I talked to a bunch of people on here about that stock and found it to be too fine-grained at 500ASA.  First, I shot a roll for dynamic range & filtration tests pushed 1 stop but found it wasn't grainy enough.  I retested with an ASA rating of 2000 and that came out with the look I wanted.  The last roll was to test the Lee Urban filters but the lab forgot to push the film, so they tried to compensate with the timing of the print (I was getting work-prints made.)  And they didn't charge me, of course.  It actually came out looking pretty good but I had no time to retest that roll even if I'd wanted to because we were starting the shoot that weekend!

 

Luckily, it all came out looking nice.  Yes, I'm still cutting it on my Steenbeck, but I'll try to find some stills to post.


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