The world of non-commercial film and A-V
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The big day approaches. Shoot number one is scheduled for the following weekend, but there are still a few things which remain to be done.
Several years ago, before PHASE 4 had recruited a number of theatre actors, rehearsals prior to a filming session were unheard of.
Our usual method was to arrange a social evening, when the scripts would be distributed, read through and then discussed. This discussion was fairly brief and largely consisted of everyone passing their opinions and someone asking a couple of questions. It was then left to each actor and their own conscience, as to how much time and effort they put into learning their lines and studying the script. Some were better at doing this than others.
Rehearsals, in the true sense of the word, therefore didn't occur until the actors were “on camera”.
On location, we would set up the first shot. At this point, I would explain the scene, physical action, such as the actors' entry and exit points and when any dialogue should be spoken. The scene would be walked through a couple of times whilst checking the shot through the viewfinder of the camera. If we were all reasonably happy with the result, we would go for a take.
This system was also used in our film days, though dialogue was used much more sparingly then. With video, it is much more practical. Videotape is cheap, so “rehearsals” as you are actually shooting can work surprisingly well and may throw up a few gems.
However, it largely depends on the abilities of your actor to “jump in at the deep end” and begin playing a role which may evolve as the shoot progresses. They would need clear guidance on their character and to know who this person is and how they fit into the plot.
For this reason, our present system of at least one rehearsal prior to filming seems to be a better one.
Theatre actors are more used to several weeks, even months of rehearsals prior to putting on, say, a two hour show. Of course, for a live show with no “re-takes”, extensive rehearsals are essential. In the case of, for example, a 10 minute film shot in a fragmented fashion, the necessity of numerous rehearsals is less critical.
If you can arrange one evening with all the actors present, about a week before the filming is due to start, it is a good opportunity to iron out potential problems and answer any questions which someone may have. The script is acted out verbally, though not physically, as everyone is seated. Usually, as only about ten pages are involved, in a single evening there is time to have three or four read-throughs.
At this meeting we also decide on costumes and work out a shooting schedule which suits everyone.
In the days leading up to a filming session, it is best to check and double-check that everything is in place. Particularly important is a visit to your selected location a few days before (and wherever possible, the evening before) your shoot. It can be disastrous if your location suddenly has been converted into a building site the night before cast and crew descends on it.
If at all possible, I would recommend that you have an alternative in mind for vital locations.
For one film of ours Demons I had driven miles to find a deserted road and a suitable lay-by for the middle section of the film. Upon our arrival for the shoot that Saturday afternoon, a car was parked in the very spot we had planned to use. As it was a beautifully sunny day, an elderly couple had set up a picnic with fold up chairs and had all their paraphernalia arranged along the grass verge. Fortunately, I had a second location as a back up, less than a mile away and we hastily relocated to this spot instead.
Moral: Prepare for the unexpected!
THE BIG DAY ARRIVES
Many things can happen! If your script involves outdoor locations, obviously the biggest worry will be the weather. Tip: Have some indoor locations planned too as you can then relocate to these in the event of torrential rain or gale force winds.
Though this can be a life-saver, it is not always possible to include interior scenes. In addition, as the shoot progresses, you may find that any interior shots that you do have, for one reason or another, have to be shot early on in the schedule and are thus of no use when you have reached day three!
Actor availability can often dictate the order in which you shoot your film. For example, in our comedy, Someone For Everyone, shoot 1 started with scene1, “The Churchyard”. (If possible, I would recommend working in chronological order whenever possible for reasons, which I will come back to later.)
After a number of takes needed to complete the scene, we had to skip forward to scene 3 owing to the fact that the actress needed for scene 2 was not available that day. The following week, we began with scene 4, an interior scene in the Kitchen, then back to the Churchyard location for the missing scene 2. From this point we continued to the end in order. So in fact, we shot the film out of sequence in the order of: 1, 3, 4, 2, 5, 6.
The curse of all film makers is continuity. As demonstrated above, the fact that we sometimes need to shoot out of order, means that meticulous planning and notes are needed to maintain continuity. Actors clothes and in particular small details such as a watch, a tie, earrings and the number of buttons fastened on a jacket, can reveal a point where the action was interrupted.
Typically, on a warm day, a male actor wearing a long sleeved shirt at the outset, can absent-mindedly roll his sleeves up to cool off. Such things should be obvious to cast and crew and especially the actor concerned, but as everyone has their minds on many other things, it is surprisingly easy for such basic errors to be overlooked.
As mistakes can happen when filming in sequential order, imagine how much more likely it is when filming out of order!
Here once again, the weather is a common enemy. As we all know, the British weather is unpredictable and changeable. In a matter of an hour we can have sun, cloud, rain and sun again. This is bad enough at any time, but when shooting out of sequence will be a huge headache at the editing stage.
In my example given above, we had a huge change in the weather on shoot one towards the end of the afternoon, when it turned overcast and became dark, gloomy and windy. As the day for our exteriors on shoot number 2 began bright and sunny and these scenes were ultimately cut together, these differences became a big problem.
In the far off days when we shot on film with separate recording equipment for sound, wind noise caused horrendous problems. Video cameras equipped with a good quality external microphone wearing a fluffy muffler have proved to be a boon in this respect.
As the wind can turn from a gentle breeze into almost a Hurricane in minutes, this can play havoc with attempts to record dialogue. Fortunately, my home-made microphone wind-shield, works really well and copes with adverse conditions brilliantly on most occasions.
Tip: Monitor wind noise carefully on headphones.
All sound and especially dialogue, should be recorded with a good quality external microphone. Never use the built in one for anything important as these are just not good enough.
Many people use a boom to hold the mike above the actors heads and to get in close, however, I use a tripod or stand to hold the microphone just out of shot. This has the advantage of eliminating any handling noise which may be picked up on a boom.
Props are the other nightmare when it comes to continuity and the more your actors use them, the more the risk increases.
A few actors are very careful about watching where a simple prop such as a cup, a pen or a wallet goes during a scene, others less so! This becomes a huge headache when many takes are made of a scene and you are not sure until the editing stage, perhaps months later, which takes will be used.
A simple question from the Director, such as:
“Are you sure the wallet went into that pocket?”, will usually be met with:
“Oh yes! Definitely! I remember putting it in my left pocket.”
Some time later at the edit bench, with perhaps 6 takes of this scene, you will notice that the wallet goes into a different pocket each time and only once into the left one. This take will most likely be the only totally unusable one.
Moral: Everyone should watch continuity!
Shoot plenty of material and especially lots of close ups and cutaways. These can be life-savers at the edit bench when a continuity error is all too apparent.
In part 6, we will go through a shoot in more detail explaining the actual mechanics of shooting a script and getting it all “in the can”.
- By Ken Wilson (first published in FVM)