This past Saturday was the first time I gave out my business card, as well as sent out an email as a “Director”. That felt amazing. Small, but significant steps towards “living the dream”, as they say. Over the course of three days I directed a commercial and learned hella a lot from it and some more. Read the final installment NOW.
May The Odds Be in Your Favor
This is it. The dream moment you’ve been readying yourself for so long is now a dire reality. Except there’s no time to take it all in. Upon arrival on set you must introduce yourself and give everyone a hearty hug or a handshake. You are being pulled in all directions, but also must find a quiet moment for each of the cast and crew to tell them how important they are for the project. You must be confident and energetic, but also you slept only about four hours the night before. In other words, it’s a blur.
After the greetings, it is time to team up with the Director of Photography and line up the shots. What it means is that you and him or her walk through every set on location and determine where to put the camera and how to provide the best script coverage for the scene, i.e. we do a master of the entire scene. Then we do a reverse angle of when the actress walks into the room. Then we do another, tighter one, of her delivering her lines as she walks.
The safest thing to do is to back each master shot with a tighter shot of the same action. This way when working with an editor, you will have the option of cutting between the master takes, and you can even save your ass by cutting a scene out of good and/or acceptable, and even partially screwed up pieces, like Doctor Frankenstein. A master plus tighter shot combo is an ultimate Dynamic Duo and an ass saver.
Blocking rehearsals are FUCKING important
After the camera is ready to roll but before it’s actually rolling, it is a good idea to hold a blocking rehearsal. Essentially, a full run of the scene like it would play on a theatre stage. Sometimes blocking of the scene is pretty complex so it becomes necessary to work out the kinks beforehand. Sometimes extras are non-actors and have less sense of timing so it is helpful to walk them through the scene step by step. For instance, men extras must react when the actress enters the room. In a blocking rehearsal you figure out that it looks more natural if they react a little off from each other. Something like this. Or you may want to give your actor an eye line. Such as, if an actor must take a selfie in the scene, you may want to fake his or her eye line to make it play better on camera. Unexpected things like that. What you can’t model in your head before the shoot, you will be able to work out in a blocking rehearsal. If something seems off, hold the rehearsal, make adjustments and continue. Rehearsals help to cut the amount of takes! This technique really works!
“Off of 7s going into Atomos if we can stay in a 4K world” Something my Director of Photography said, and I thought it sounded cute. Ha ha. Cue the professional lingo of various film departments. You don’t have to know or understand it. Hell, if a director knows what a stinger is, bless his or her heart. Some things, however, you must know. For example, HOW TO START A TAKE. Duh! Seems important. So a take basically starts when the AD goes:
AD: “Picture’s up”.
That means “We are ready to shoot,” as opposed to “Rehearsal is up” or “Blocking is up”.
AD: “Roll sound!”
Sound guy: “Sound rolling.”
AD: “Roll camera!”
1st AC: “Camera speeds.”
2nd AC slates the shot. “Scene 1 Take 1 Marker” He or she is using one of those things, 🎬, that are sold in avalanche in souvenir stores across California. On set, they are mostly nice and electronic, though, and not wooden and old school.
“Hold!,” says Director of Photography, as 1st AC pulls focus from the slate back to the framing of the shot.
“Camera set,” when it’s done.
Director yells “Action!”, and somewhere a baby unicorn is born 🦄✨.
“Cut!” to stop the take. This effectively stops recording of the sound and picture.
Then you can pat yourself on the back and say “Great job!” or “Good first take.” Just kidding, you should say it to your actors, doh! 🙄😂
It’s in this moment when the fluffy Baby Unicorn, still covered in slime and mother’s milk, gets up on his cute wobbly legs and takes its first step into the world.
Seems pretty straightforward, and wow — I just legit wrote down this entire sequence from memory.
The morning after
It’s a wrap! Ideally, everything went smooth and you feel no shame, only mortal exhaustion. An acquaintance director once told me that after a 17-day production schedule, he felt like a shell of person he used to be. I believe it vehemently. My recovery after a three day shoot was about three days, too. Like in relationships, actually. Three years of a good or not so good relationship for three years of a love-induced hangover. Here are some final pieces of feedback that I gathered from my more experienced comrades.
DO’s and DON’T’s
While waiting on someone to start a take, don’t call out whoever you guys are waiting on. DO say, “Waiting on camera.” DON’T say, “Pedro fucked up. We are now all waiting on Pedro to fix his shit. No pressure, Pedro. Guess who is not getting hired ever again, Pedro.” Don’t make it personal. Broader terms, bro. “Waiting on camera”, “Waiting on sound”, or “Tech difficulties” all are good and non-personal.
DON’T say, “Just one more take”, because unless it is indeed the last take which you will not know for sure until you cut, there is a great chance it may end up being a very first take of the bloody bunch of twenty more “last” takes. It’s psychological, and the crew will hate you for that. DO say, “Going again” or “Another one”.
DO get hammered with the crew on the final night of the shoot. JK. It’s, obviously, not a requirement!
After the production is done and dusted, it’s now time to get together with a good editor and make your product come to life. I am going to cover working with an editor in my next post, because a) we are still going at it b) I ran out of steam for this one. Kbyeeee.