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Getting better at coverage. Where to learn?


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#1 razerfish

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 04:31 PM

I've directed about a dozen shorts (comedy sketches meant for TV to be specific), and am trying to get better each time.

I'd like to get better coverage than I'm getting, and to make it easier than it is. I found shot lists only somewhat useful, and storyboards more useful than shot lists, but I still missed some coverage with my storyboards. It's difficult to keep everything together when you shoot out of sequence, at least for me it is.

I'd like to get to the point where I could put a film together at a highly professional level, and I think I need to improve in the area of getting the right coverage.

Is there some place I could really learn to get better at this aspect of directing? I'm a strong writer and can work well with actors, and even do well with my staging, but getting the best possible coverage is what I struggle with the most.

I'm interested in theory as well. The best book I read so far is Shot by Shot. Any others to be recommended?

Any suggestions, books, forums, or even classes would be appreciated. I'd love to pick the brain of an experienced DP or Director for an hour or two but there aren't very many in my neck of the woods.
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#2 Chris Keth

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 10:29 PM

I've directed about a dozen shorts (comedy sketches meant for TV to be specific), and am trying to get better each time.

I'd like to get better coverage than I'm getting, and to make it easier than it is.  I found shot lists only somewhat useful, and storyboards more useful than shot lists, but I still missed some coverage with my storyboards.  It's difficult to keep everything together when you shoot out of sequence, at least for me it is. 

I'd like to get to the point where I could put a film together at a highly professional level, and I think I need to improve in the area of getting the right coverage.

Is there some place I could really learn to get better at this aspect of directing?  I'm a strong writer and can work well with actors, and even do well with my staging, but getting the best possible coverage is what I struggle with the most. 

I'm interested in theory as well.  The best book I read so far is Shot by Shot.  Any others to be recommended?

Any suggestions, books, forums, or even classes would be appreciated. I'd love to pick the brain of an experienced DP or Director for an hour or two but there aren't very many in my neck of the woods.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>




Shot by Shot is about the best book of its kind I have come across. Reading it cover to cover really gets you thinking in the right mindset.

As far as actually getting the coverage you need, I think doing it is the best thing. You will remember where your coverage lacked and learn from it.

Aside from that, think like an editor. What shots might you like to cut to at some point? Those are the shots you need.

Hopefully someone else will chime in, but this worked best for me.
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#3 razerfish

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 11:54 PM

Shot by Shot is about the best book of its kind I have come across. Reading it cover to cover really gets you thinking in the right mindset.

As far as actually getting the coverage you need, I think doing it is the best thing. You will remember where your coverage lacked and learn from it.

Aside from that, think like an editor. What shots might you like to cut to at some point? Those are the shots you need.

Hopefully someone else will chime in, but this worked best for me.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I'll take a stab at his other books as well. And I do edit, so that has helped me. I'd just like to walk onto the set and know every shot I need and be able to start in the middle and work from different places in the script and still get every shot I need without wasting all kinds of time and tape shooting coverage I know I won't use. And that is extremely difficult for me right now. I hope it gets easier.
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#4 Sean Azze

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Posted 06 August 2005 - 01:27 PM

If you are such a good writer, the coverage will come from the story. Think about it.

If the character you are focusing on says something that pertains to another character in the scene, or even stirs some sort of emotion from them, get their reactions. Even if the only thing they are doing is merely staring at the character and not reacting in a big, "silent film" way, you need to cut to a shot of them. It is important we see them, and know that they are in the room. Think to yourself - who has something at stake here? Training the camera on them will emphasise that point.

I'd just like to walk onto the set and know every shot I need and be able to start in the middle and work from different places in the script and still get every shot I need without wasting all kinds of time and tape shooting coverage I know I won't use.


Do that! Go to the location where you will be shooting with your script in hand. Walk through the motions. Think about where you can put the camera and what will visually be interesting. A good director sees every shot of the film in their head as they're reading their script. You don't need a book or theory for that - that comes from the gut.
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#5 Greg Gross

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Posted 10 August 2005 - 12:19 PM

Hello razerfish,
I like comedy also and specifically romantic comedy. I think your shots,scenes
come from your script. I've been making my own independent productions in dv
format for three years now. I have to write,produce,direct and photograph my
productions. This October I will shoot my first romantic comedy on 16mm in the
city of Harrisburg. If you have a strong story than base your scenes on your sc-
ript. I write for the screen so that I develop three acts. These acts will tell the st-
ory for me. Of course each act will contain a certain number of scenes that you
will have to photograph to tell the whole story. My heart really lies with the cam-
era and cinematography but due to budget constraints, I have to take on a lot of
roles in my filmmaking inlcuding acting. I like my leading ladies to be a little goofy.
I really like beautiful ditzy blondes. Have you seen "The Island" (Michael Bay). Im-
agine the scene in your mind where the couple stepped out of the cloning facility
into the real world for the first time(they did not know that there was a world out
there). So how did Michael Bay and Mauro Fiore ASC decide how that scene was
going to look? I'm sure they referred to the script. I wonder in my mind how many
takes were done for that scene. Remember the two are seeing the real world for
the first time. They step out of silo #3 into a new world. What I like about dv is th-
at you can keep the camera running(your actors are still fresh) and just do another
take. I say something like okay guys and girls lets please try it again. I never let
any one actor think that a bad take is their fault. I keep my remote control(camera)
in my hand. I'm going to have to change my methods with the 16mm format. I
don't think I have to explain why. I do visit locations and imagine in my mind how
to set scenes up. When we start shooting my camera goes where my gut tells me
to put it. Most of the time I photograph true to the script. Two books that I have
found to be useful are- "Setting Up Your Shots" by Jeremy Vineyard,"Grammar
of The Film Language" by Daniel Arijon. Also another good book is Directing Actors
by Judith Weston. Hope my post will help you in some way. Happy Shooting! If you
have a chance watch some interviews done with Clint Eastwood. He has some great
ideas and tips for communicating with actors and crew.

Greg Gross
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#6 Bill Totolo

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 11:29 AM

Anyone can get coverage but as F.W. Murnau once said "there are many places to put the camera but truly there is only one".

If you're interested in getting the creativity flowing why don't you watch Spielberg, Soderburgh, Kurosawa and some Murnau with the sound off. You'll pick up a lot of blocking techniques that might inspire your coverage and your creativity.
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#7 Michael Nash

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Posted 14 August 2005 - 04:02 PM

When you get right down to it, there are really only so many basic shots you can do, and everything else ends up a variation or combination of those basic shots. You don't have to overthink it or try to re-invent the wheel when determining coverage to tell a story. Wide shot, medium shot, closeup. From different angles, moving or static. At different focal lengths. That's really about it.

Think about it this way: the only two things you need to worry about with coverage are the subjects included or excluded from the frame, and the angle or point of view of the camera. That's really all that coverage is. When you think about it this way you're really focusing on the story;"what information do I need to show the audience at this moment?" "what angle or point of view is going to be the most expressive, and consistent with the narrative of the film?"

Focus on telling the story with the shots first, then worry about making those shots look cool. Try any cool angle or inventive shot you like, but do it for a storytelling purpose. Be consistent with the point of view of the narrative -- the camera represents the "consciousness" of the storyteller; whether it's third person objective, first person, or whatever. The shot always represents something the storyteller is aware of, either consciously or emotionally. Don't break from that, or you take your audience out of the moment.

And I agree 2000% that editing makes you a better director. That's where you find what works and what's missing for the telling of any story.

Another interesting book of shots (although shy on explanation of when and why to use them) is "Setting Up Your Shots -- Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know" by Jeremy Vineyard.
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#8 Alex Ellerman

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Posted 14 August 2005 - 04:36 PM

I bought the six dvd set hollywood camera work... I won't pimp their website or anything, but I'm halfway through and very much enjoying it. It's meticulously produced. I purchased it b/c I'm a writer first, and I don't have much practical camera experience, so I not only wanted to learn coverage, but camera moves, and storytelling techniques. I'm not sure if everyone would benefit from it, but I think I am. It's expensive, but a professional product.

I'm going to read that book Shot by Shot, and Katz's other book, Cinematic Motion.
theturnaround
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#9 Paul Bruening

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Posted 25 August 2005 - 04:57 PM

Hello,

All of these suggestions are quite fine. You lucked out on some excellent observations. One rule of thumb that might serve you well is: Shoot what matters. Yea, that's obvious but it has to do with human psychology. The veiwer is depending on you to create and interpret a reality. Fill the screen with what you want to demonstrate. Leave out the parts that don't apply.

You'll develop your own style just like all directors do. Think like a magician, think like an editor... But, always think like the guy sitting in the seats, eating popcorn and needing a satisfying movie experience.

Just a thought.
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#10 Matt Pacini

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 07:02 PM

I think it comes down to how much pre-visualizing of the scenes you do.
Think of all the different ways you can shoot certain parts of the scene, how to draw more, or less attention with the camera, to tell the story, and maximize the effect of the performance with composition.
Having said that, I think a good educational experience is, pic one of your favorite movies, pick a few scenes, watch the film, and storyboard & shot list those scenes.
Then look over your storyboards & shot lists, and you get a good idea of what's needed.
Sounds silly, but when you just watch, you're pulled into the story.
Also, my advice is to err on the side of close-ups.
There's nothing more boring than scene after scene of "master-shot looking" footage, and it's damn hard to edit too!

MP
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#11 santo

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Posted 10 September 2005 - 08:09 PM

I tend to agree with the above post.

Also, as you've probably read a lot of times, editing experience is an amazing learning tool for coverage. You will learn after editing countless miles and hours of shot on video stuff what works and what does not. That's why I'm all for shooting your first few efforts on video rather than film. Shoot them on quality video, certainly, and follow the text books mixed with your creative muse, as they may end up pretty good -- you never know -- but once you've learned more about coverage and what you need, then make the move up to originating on film.

If you plan it right and have the experience that comes from editing, you might even end up with a 4 or 5 to 1 ratio and have terrific coverage. 10 to 1 is not the end of the world, but can be avoided. But that does depend on your personal style of filmmaking and your budget. I've seen directors who shot everything in the room that moved, driving the editor nuts, but ended up with pretty okay stuff. If you've got millions or you've got a pair of trust fund brothers paying the bills or whatever, more power to you! If it's coming out of your pocket or you've got investors to answer to, it's a different story.
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#12 Jeremy Russell

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Posted 12 September 2005 - 03:43 PM

My workflow is generally as follows:

Make a temp shotlist and boards, and collaborate with my DP to get a final shot sheet/storyboards.

Working from these are pretty important when working with expensive equipment/big crew and sticking to a schedule is extremely important and your AD will constantly be reminding you of that. Get through your boards/shot sheet, because if you finish those, at least youve got your sequence.

Then if time permits, sit back and look at your set, move your actors around, talk with your DP and figure out what other coverage is neccesary/interesting.

Good luck

Jeremy Russell
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