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Take One - Diary of a Shoot (1)

As we discussed in the last issue, we will now take a closer look at the shoot.

This is perhaps the most critical phase of film making, as it is here that we will acquire all the material we will need for creating our movie. Until now, it has only existed as an idea but now we can turn this idea into a reality by capturing all the shots we will need for assembling together into a coherent whole at the editing stage.

To illustrate a typical shoot, I will now recount the details of our most recent filming session as it actually happened.



Tuesday 18th May

I print out my copy of the script as I have given the actors the only copies I had. Reading through it all again, I still find it amusing, which is a good sign. With only 5 days to go to the shoot, everything must now be prepared and checked. The actors were contacted several weeks ago, but I must check that everyone knows that the shoot is this Sunday.

I carefully study the last two scenes. Paul Crossley, one of the actors, told me that he likes the script, but thinks the ending is a bit rushed. I agree. I can do more to improve it and think I know what is missing.

Wednesday 19th May

I try to contact Paul by phone, but once again it is the answering machine. He works shifts as a police constable and is difficult to contact.

I am working on the ending and think that I will take up Paul's suggestion that we need the extra scene.

I check the script and make the props list. This time it is quite short; only 6 items.

Thursday 20th May

Narelle (Summers) rings me to check that the shoot is still on for Sunday. I tell her that I am still trying to contact Paul, but that it is a “go” as far as I am concerned. I tell her that we plan to shoot a “making of” documentary of this film as we did with Someone Special 2 years ago. Richard and Sheila Thacker from the Cheadle and Gatley club are coming along to film some behind the scenes material.

I eventually get a call from Paul at 10.00pm. Everything is ok for Sunday and we set a start time of 12.00 noon. I check with him what he is going to wear. (This is usually done at the rehearsal, but this time, as this film is a sequel to Dropping Off, we already know the characters and I decided this time to manage without one.)

Friday 21st May

I ring Keith (Pottage) and Narelle and confirm arrangements for Sunday. Everyone is still available and the weather forecast is good. A warm day with sunny spells is expected. I hope they are right. One problem will be Keith's hay fever!

Saturday 22nd May

This morning I have written the extra scene for the film. It is too late for Paul to learn it, but I doubt that we can finish shooting all 7 pages in one day and will probably need another session anyway. I print out a script for my continuity girl, assistant and Wife (Carol) with strategically placed spaces for notes such as take numbers and comments.

During the afternoon we drive to our location, Denby Dale railway station, to check that nothing has been done to interfere with the shoot tomorrow.

I express some concerns to Carol about the lack of toilet facilities during a long filming session. Last time we used the show-house of a nearby housing estate. Surprisingly after two years, there are still some show-houses there and Carol bravely walks in to ask if we can use their facilities again. “Of course, no problem”, says the sales advisor. “You can make a hot drink too if you want to”. A very nice gesture.

Sunday 23rd May

The big day arrives. The sky is grey and large snowflakes fall. There is a blanket of snow! I then wake up and realise that it is 3.30am. I have been dreaming!

7.00am It is sunny with a clear blue sky and little wind. This is more like it.

I begin gathering all of the camera equipment and props together. Carol prepares cakes and biscuits and soft drinks, tea and coffee. Past experience has taught us that refreshment breaks are vital to keep us all going.

This morning is the hectic part during which last minute checks are made. I prepare a reflector to soften the harsh shadows, which we will have to deal with due to the strong sunlight. Batteries are checked, cables, microphones and tapes are all ticked off the list.

11.00am The phone rings. It is Keith!!

Don't worry!” he says, “Everything is fine. I am just wondering which trousers I need to wear?” (Phew. A momentary panic over.)

11.30am Narelle is the first to arrive.

I load the car and Carol packs the food and drinks. Keith arrives and then Richard and Sheila who are shooting behind the scenes footage. Paul and his girlfriend Carol are making their way to the location directly. We arrange to meet at 12.00 noon.

12.20am With all the rushing around, packing and checking, we arrive at our location 20 minutes late.

A lone car is parked in the station but Paul and Carol are nowhere to be seen. I set up the first shot from the bridge, an establishing/ title background shot of the station. Paul and Carol turn up, having been visiting the show-houses.

1.00am We shoot in sequence as much as possible.

There is a lot of dialogue and we need to choreograph physical movements so that we are not filming a play. Paul is a bit manic today, somewhat similar to his character in the film. The first rehearsal for scene 1 is I think slightly underplayed.

Comedy is notoriously hard to get right. Judging pace, performances, delivery of dialogue and so on, is never easy. Amateur actors mostly go “over-the-top” and the usual instruction from a director should be to “tone it down”. However, much of our comedy is similar to farce and as such needs to be larger than life. (Think Jim Carrey or Steve Martin.) Ultimately it's always going to be a matter of judgement and sometimes it is a close call.

I tell Paul to enlarge on his physical gestures slightly.

2.15pm We pause for refreshments.

Apart from helping with production, Narelle has a small non-speaking role in the film. She is a commuter waiting on the platform for a train. We discuss a shot which will be needed showing her actually getting on a train. As this is a very small (un-manned) station and trains pause here for a very short time, she anticipates the possibility of the doors closing behind her and whisking her away to some unknown destination. I reassure her with an all-purpose: “Everything will be fine” type of comment which fails to convince anyone. (The Director needs to sound confident!)

We continue shooting.

Despite meticulous planning, there is always the unexpected element to contend with. As Keith is seated and is speaking to Paul who is standing, the position of the sun means that Keith is squinting as he looks up. We try to reposition slightly which helps a bit, but ultimately, we need to move the action a few feet further down the platform.

This is corrected in the next shot.

People gather on the platform and a train arrives. We hastily set up for Narelle to board the train and grab the shot before she is spirited away. It is important to get this shot prior to her arrival scene as we will then know where on the platform she will need to end up to match with the shot of her embarking.

A chalk mark is made on the ground to assist the positioning of the sequence.

4.00pm There is now a long scene to shoot with a lot of quick-fire dialogue.

Paul and Keith try a few dry runs and are confident it can be done in one continuous take. I direct the physical action to keep the shot visually interesting, though the dialogue is what should really hold the interest for the audience.

At this point, Paul questions the name I have given for his girlfriend.

Names for characters are carefully chosen to “suggest” the kind of person they might be. Such stereotyping is often a useful short cut.

For no obvious reason this time, I have chosen “Maureen”. (No offence intended to anyone called Maureen who may read this.)

Paul objects and asks for another name to be used. A light-hearted discussion takes place as names are suggested and considered.

Several minutes are wasted as everyone puts in their point of view. I tell the group that I am not fixed in my idea that Maureen is the best name, but as no better alternatives come up in the conversation, Keith gets restless and tells everyone that:

Maureen is fine! Let's get moving.”

We all take up our places as we prepare to continue with the shoot.

The first two takes are spoilt when a line is “fluffed , first by Paul and then by Keith. We then try a third and a fourth take. Take five is excellent until Carol and Narelle on continuity, notice that a line was missed. Opinion is divided as to whether or not to go to a sixth take as number “five” was so good. I ask for one more attempt to try and “get it”. Take five could be used as the missing line is not crucial, but there is no harm in trying for perfection!

Take six is the one. All the lines are there and performances are excellent. This is one of those occasions when perseverance has paid off.

4.30pm The light is changing.

The shadows of the trees are moving across the platform. We will soon need to stop shooting, but for the moment continue.

I realise that it would be a good idea to jump forward to do the last scene on the bridge. The sun is still shining there, but the main reason is that we need to use Narelle's car for the scene and as she will be unavailable for the next shoot, we need to do it now.

This confuses the marking of the slate board slightly, but this is quickly sorted out.

All the shots are identified on a “slate board” to assist in editing. As there will often be several takes of each scene, marking each one can only help to avoid confusion.

As a point of interest, most takes would go to 3 or 4 but sometimes up to 7 or 8.

As we rehearse the battery runs out and needs changing. We shoot 2 takes without getting a good one and then the tape runs out. With a new tape in the camera, we quickly capture the last shots of the day. It is a “wrap”.

There is still one more session needed to complete the filming, but this one has gone well. 5 hours have resulted in 5 pages being shot. The script was closely adhered to, with only minor additions or changes by the cast.

Typically, few ad-libs actually work at the time of filming as often judgement is impaired “on set” due to the “buzz”, or excitement of the occasion. It is always best when agreeing to additions that (cover) material is shot so that these sections can be removed at the editing stage if they fail to work.

In part 7, we will continue with the second shooting session, which shows the many problems which will occur on location.

- By Ken Wilson (first published in FVM)

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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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