My original plan for this week was to research another director’s shooting method and incorporate this into my own filmmaking process. However, I realised that I’m only one shoot/less than two weeks out from my final scene where I will be using real actors. Thus, I think it would be beneficial to do a ‘test run’ of the method I am going to use for this final shoot instead of experimenting with a new one yet again. I have thoroughly enjoyed trying out all of these different ways of going about creating a scene, and it is hopefully something I will continue with for the rest of my life, but for now I think I have investigated enough to understand what end of the ‘improvisation’ spectrum I favour.
I have decided to collate all of the best elements from the filmmaking processes I have explored over the last four weeks and turned this into one ‘super’ method, which means it will be uniquely tailored to me. Thus, by the time I do my final shoot I will already know if there are any problems with the method I am choosing and I can try to solve these beforehand. Listed below are some of the techniques I have found most helpful:
- Shooting chronologically. This helps to ensure continuity and provides a sense of flow to the shoot. When improvising any content or camera work this method is essential so that the scene can develop organically in terms of aesthetics, tone and story.
- Setting up as much of the equipment as possible before introducing actors onto set. I found this process beneficial because it lessened the time the actors had to wait around for me to be ready. As a result, I felt less rushed than usual, which enabled me to think through things clearly.
- Using a prose rather than a script. Although both have their advantages, a prose generally elicits more interesting camera coverage because it is not so concentrated on speech. I have found that a prose gives me more creative license with setting the tone of a scene. In saying this, it might be beneficial to also have a script version on set, because some actors prefer to have more direction, even if they end up changing the wording of the dialogue slightly.
- Drawing rough ideas down on paper before shooting. This is a good process to do straight after reading the prose of the scene as it helps to record initial concepts that come to mind. It can help to identify the type of location that will be needed and can inform later storyboards.
- Taking test shots within the actual location. This can help to spur ideas for the final storyboard and will give me an idea of the amount of space I have to work with.
- Drawing clear but not definitive storyboards before shooting. They need to be legible so that the cast and crew are able to understand what is going on in each shot. These drawings act as a guide to how the shoot will run, however, if a better idea springs to mind on set they do not need to be followed to a tee.
- Having a first assistant director. This person will act as an ‘all round’ helper. They will work off the storyboards to ensure continuity throughout the scene, look out for changes in light (particularly if the shoot is relying on natural daylight), ensure I have set up the camera correctly (i.e. ask me: if I have correctly exposed the shot, if the subject is in focus and if I have set my white balance), make sure the shoot is running on time, ensure that the actors are happy and well fed, look out for safety precautions on set, call the shots and help with the setting up of equipment. This will allow me to primarily concentrate on the camera coverage.
- Shooting one more take than needed, even after the shot appears to be perfected. This is a just a precautionary strategy because often the tiny screen/viewfinder on cameras is hard to see; thus sometimes there are things in the shot that don’t get picked up on during the shoot. Recording an extra take guarantees that there will be at least one shot that is usable for the final edit.
- Trying to get the first take of a shot perfect. The first take generally appears to be the most natural and thus believable. Subsequent takes often appear overly rehearsed because the actor has had to repeat his or her lines. Therefore, it is important to have the blocking and camera work prepared before pressing record.
- Shooting at least one alternative shot perspective that is completely improvised for each shot in a scene. This shot should overlap the preceding and proceeding shot. For example, if, in the original storyboard, shot 1 was meant to show a character saying ‘Hi, how are you’ and then shot 2 was meant to cut to another character saying ‘Fine, how are you?’, the alternative shot might encapsulate both of these lines of dialogue by framing the characters in a two shot. Having this ‘backup’ perspective will ensure that I can achieve a sense of continuity when editing the scene. The improvisation of these alternative takes will inject some spontaneity into the shoot, which could end up producing a better shot than the one originally planned.
- Making sure the script/prose facilitates interesting camera coverage. Ultimately if the content of a scene is uninteresting and does not offer me any creative license it will limit my ability to construct an engaging scene.
- Shooting with one camera unless a multicam setup is vital. Multiple cameras should only be considered if there is a lot of movement/action in a scene.
- Enabling improvisation from actors. If they have a good idea, take this on and be open to changing the original plans for the scene.
- Shooting using own camera. Although there are some downfalls to filming with DLSR cameras, I have had the most experience with a Canon 7D out of any camera model and thus I know how to exploit its capabilities to the fullest.My next shoot will amalgamate all of these techniques into one method. Hopefully it will work well, however, having an extra week up my sleeve to refine this process will allow me to change anything that becomes problematic. In essence, this weeks shoot will be a practice of my method for the creation of my final scene.