Since coronavirus lockdowns began, producers and production crew have been on the front lines hustling to get us back to work safely while having to prep for more logistical chaos than they already dealt with before. While I’ve been cautiously optimistic about these plans, their execution could be improved. So, here’s ten ways production can make film shoots safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to survive in the film industry: from setiquette to crafty
Most Recent Articles in "Miscellaneous Tips"
We swapped the heat on our backs for water from the trees as the sun disappeared behind the canopy of the forest and the rain clouds drifting above. Day 10 of Assassinaut was rocky and wet and rain was on my mind as I tried to keep it off the camera.
Brandon Tonner-Connolly with Alicia van Couvering write excellently about “The Seven Arts of Working in Film: A Necessary Guide to On-Set Protocol.” The seven arts being:
Imagine that you are in a dark cave with a group of people, and all of you are running around in different directions. In a corner of the cave is a flashlight, which is spinning through the room.
Suddenly, the flashlight lands on a single person. Everyone stops. Until that person does his or her job, no one can move forward.
At some point during the shooting day, that flashlight will land on you. Everyone will be looking at you and waiting for you to do your job, or the production will stop moving. That flashlight can feel like a warm spotlight or it can feel like the high beams of a speeding car, fixing you in its headlights, determined to mow you down. It all depends on how well you understand your job and the jobs of others around you.
This is one of the best guides to setiquette (set etiquette) I’ve ever read, so if you feel you’re still a little green on set, drop what you’re doing, read it, and savor every word.
Nobody is perfect – I’m certainly not – and there’s always room for improvement. As we wrapped the short week 1 on Assassinaut, I spent an after-wrap run thinking about, “What could I do better?” After some reflection, I came up with five ways I could up my game as we head into week 2.
Cameras don’t tell stories, people do. Since we can all agree this is the case, there is really only one thing you need to tell great stories… YOU. However, none of us are born knowing anything about the tools of the trade. In an effort to improve the one tool all storytellers have in common, their mind, a must-have addition to their library is Joseph V. Mascelli’s The Five C’s of Cinematography. I picked this book up a few years ago, and I have learned more from it than any other resource on the subject. I’ve been to courses, classes, looked to chat rooms online, and experimented by trial and error; but none of those things have come close to the pure undistilled story driven explanation of cinematography found in Mascelli’s classic book.
The five C’s, if you don’t know them already, are:
- Camera Angles
Read the article for a better idea of what each means and how you deliver on them. And read the book if you’re serious about cinematography. It’s as relevant now as it was when the post was published 2 years ago and when the book featured in the article was published over 15 years ago.
Arthur Vincie at Pro Video Coalition breaks down the intricacies of scheduling and accommodating prep time for film crews. The money paragraph(s) – and the reason why this article is awesome:
So the real question is how difficult you want to make things for yourself. Sometimes you have no choice – you’ll hire fewer people, keep their prep days to a minimum, and either do things yourself or let them go.
Don’t get too gung-ho about this, however – you don’t want to be figuring out the bagel order instead of directing your actors, or typing up an equipment run list instead of a shot list. In that sense, prep (and other non-shoot) time does add production value, even if the connection isn’t obvious. Usually, a compromise can be found between the “deluxe” prep needs and the bare bones minimum, and you’ll also be telling the crew that their time is valuable, which can go a long way towards ensuring loyalty, as well as a better shoot.
I applaud Vincie’s thoughts that prep time adds production value. Within the camera department, I can think of several ways a solid camera prep translates into a better on-screen film – the most important being that a prep gives AC’s time to troubleshoot and learn about issues with a camera package which allows them to build the camera faster, spend less time fixing problems, and have more time to shoot.
I’ve been on several jobs without a prep where someone from production picked up the gear. This is not ideal. It means I’m walking on set the morning-of hoping they have everything that’s needed.
Because of that, even if I don’t get paid for prep days, I like to have them scheduled to make my job easier during production. How long should be scheduled is typically dictated by the size of the camera package, but really just use common sense as suggested by Vincie:
There’s no magic formula for figuring out how much prep each person on your crew needs, since each script is different, but you can use common sense. If the script is a gory monster story set in one house, your location department’s prep needs are not going to be that huge (since you’re not hopping from place to place); but your hair/makeup and visual effects staff will need a lot more time to prepare molds, do makeup tests, and possibly buy supplies.
There are some general guidelines, though. You can plug these into your budget as you build it and then see where you land. Even if you’re in the (crappy) position of not being able to afford to pay the crew for all the non-shoot days you need, you’ll be better prepared. Sometimes you can make a deal, wherein you pay the crew members for a set number of prep days and give them flexibility as to when they work. Most people, I’ve found, want to do good job even if they’re not getting paid for every minute of it. But they appreciate being able to take days off during preproduction to go make some real money.
The article is pragmatic, practical, and covers prep expectations for various departments. Great read.
American Cinematographer interviewed Roger Deakins in April’s issue for their ASC Close-Up column. Among other things, Deakins is asked,”What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?” The same question that 88 other cinematographers have given thought to. He replies:
A onetime producer and studio head advised me to forget my ambition of becoming a cinematographer. Luckily, for me at least, I am not good at taking advice.
A brief interview, but always nice to hear from the man behind 11 Oscar nominations.
Anybody working in a creative field knows the relentless pursuit of perfection can be time-consuming and fruitless. But it’s that detail over your craft that helps propel it to excellence, so long as you can let the reality of the practical settle in.
Raw Stock is back answering questions from readers working below-the-line and behind the camera. We discuss why some TV shows look so different from movies, the best way to approach your job title on a business card, and why it’s proper setiquette to walk, not run, on a film set.
When I set out to redesign The Black and Blue, I knew I’d be hiring freelance designers, developers, and a few others to help. What I didn’t realize was the difficulty of doing so and how much time and money I’d waste jumping over obstacles and making mistakes.