With this in mind, I want to direct you to a passage from a book by Bruce Mamer called Film Production Technique: Creating the Accomplished Image:
Intricate moving shots are quite attractive to first-time directors. Both the time devoted to them on the set and the internal pacing of the shots themselves, however, pose significant challenges. Movement is essential to a film, but specific camera moves need to be weighed in terms of their value in the script versus the time it takes to execute them. Activity on the set slows down whenever you start moving the camera, particularly with inexperienced crews. Focus marks must be set, dolly track may need to be laid, and the movements have to be practiced. The talent must be thoroughly drilled on what the boundaries of their movements are. Lights and the microphone boom have to be carefully considered so they are not in the shot.
This is one of the fundamental albeit subtle differences between commercial features and low-budget independents. The previous example [in which a simple shot took half the day] might take a professional crew about an hour to work out and so may have been worth the time devoted to it. Independents are often stuck in the position of needing to accomplish more script pages with a less experienced crew, a primary reason why independent films do not have the production values that commercial features enjoy. The thoughtful expenditure of limited resources — human, temporal, and physical — is a fundamental aspect of successful shooting.
I wanted to quote Mamer because he writes about this topic so eloquently with thoughtful consideration. He is absolutely right when he discusses how you must consider your resources and appropriate them efficiently.
I also brought up Mamer’s quote because I want to expand on a few areas Mamer mentions (and one he doesn’t) that take time on set.
With moving shots, no matter how wide the lens is or how deep the depth-of-field, a quality camera assistant is going to grab marks. If you read my post about getting marks for dolly, you can see that this is no small task. Whenever there is a dynamic between the camera and the subject, having marks is necessary to keep a shot in focus.
How much time grabbing marks adds will depend on the experience of the camera assistant and how comfortable they are “winging it,” but marks always add time. The best camera assistants will try to minimize this process, but they also won’t be willing to roll on a take without being the most prepared they can be.
It seems these days that rehearsals are a commodity. I soak them up as much as possible because they’re becoming more rare. With digital cinema, the footage seems so disposable that everybody rolls on everything. But as Ed Colman said, “when you are told to ‘shoot the rehearsal’ it’s not a rehearsal any more.”
Even if you are rolling on rehearsals, a camera move is going to need multiple takes to nail down the coordination between the various crew involved. The choreography for the perfect moving shot does not come without practice. Even if it’s a simple shot, a couple of quick run throughs are necessary and these all take time.
Last Minute Changes
Mamer does not mention this in his book, but it’s a problem I’ve run into multiple times on set. The dolly track is laid, the camera is set, the rehearsals finished and then I hear from behind a monitor, “Hmm. Can we punch in a bit closer?”
Suddenly all those rehearsals don’t mean anything. But it’s not just lens changes that get the last minute treatment — it can be an added aspect to the move, a repositioned camera, or new blocking for the talent. These last minute changes, while necessary sometimes, serve to set you back to square one. Those involved with the move have to wrap their heads around the new parameters.
Constant last minute changes are going to be a huge time waster on set. I’ve talked about it before on this blog — know what you want!
Time is a Valuable Resource
As any experienced filmmaker knows, time is a valuable resource on a movie set. Crews are always racing against the clock to put in a full 12 hours of work. Consider what camera movements are essential to your project within the parameters of your vision and your goals. No you shouldn’t be compromising your artistry, but as my film professor would say, “creativity is problem solving.”