Running the Set:
“Who’s sailing this ship?”
When it comes to who is truly in charge on set it is primarily the 1st AD’s job to make sure everyone and everything is where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there; that the set is running smoothly, and that the production comes in under time and under budget. They literally call the shots!
They are essentially pulling off a balancing act between the creative aspects of getting what the director wants and needs, and also the time management and financial feasibility the producers have put forth.
If there is a problem the AD solves it. The success or failure of principle photography rests on the AD’s shoulders. Make sure you have a good one!
Check out The 1st AD on Funny or Die
and don’t be like that guy!
“What are we doing here?”
The point of principle photography is to get your shot list “in the can”. However that doesn’t mean that is all you will capture. If it’s possible shoot with 2 camera set-ups at once, you will either get better continuity coverage knocking out two shots at once or at the very least get something extra that might just be an amazing shot you weren’t previously planning.
Check out: How to Shoot a Scene! – Film Riot
Order of Operations
Everything and everyone has arrived on set on time and everything’s unpacked and the crew is ready to get set up for the first scene. It seems like chaos but the 1st AD has it all under control. So what exactly is happening?
Besides the production department, the first people on set should be the art department in order to get the set dressed and ready to go. Hopefully, you haven’t gone crazy with your production design, and this shouldn’t cost too much or take much time.
Check out: FilmSkills.com – Production Design Course
“Something in the way you move me!”
First things first, block out the Actors and Camera. You can use stand-ins for the actors so as to not waste their time if you have a difficult actor, just kidding actors aren’t difficult… all the time. Let the sound guys figure out where and what to mic up, then once you have everything blocked and marked, send the actors back to the greenroom or let that poor PA get back to work!
Lighting and Camera Set Ups:
“Let there be light”
The next step is to get your lights and cameras in place, rehearse the camera moves with the actors if possible, if not use stand ins and check your lighting. Get your focus marks and walk through your camera moves.
Your DP’s lighting should be simple and direct; using natural and practical lighting set ups that avoid large electrical needs.
Ideally you will be shooting on at least two cameras in order to capture multiple shots at the same time. This also helps in maintaining tighter continuity in your editing. If you have a third camera throw it in somewhere, you never know what gem you may accidentally acquire.
“Tommy can you hear me?”
Once you know what you will be seeing, bring in the sound guys so they know where they can be, where they can place plant mikes, check their levels, and record room tone. When they are ready its time to shoot a take!
“Making the magic happen!”
You are all set and ready to shoot. The actors are all lav’d up and blocked to the camera moves. Give the art department their “last looks”, then Kill two birds with one stone by rehearsing the whole crew, sound, camera and talent, and roll the cameras for fun, make adjustments to the moves if necessary then fire off some takes! Like I said earlier, the AD literally calls the shots, and it goes like this:
“Quite on set!
The AC puts the slate in front of the camera…
“Scene 1A, Take 1”
AC snaps the slate!
“Settle!… Call it…”
Now the crew watches the magic happen. Nobody should ever interrupt a scene while it is running. Unless the sky is really falling, the director is the only one who should ever call cut! But if the sky is indeed falling, you should probably just yell, “The sky is falling!”
If you go over seven takes you have gone three takes too far. Try and nail each shot within three to four takes, with a possible safety shot, but no more… you have a tight schedule and you have to move on! Be prepared so you can move quickly and efficiently.
“Be calm and move on!”
Since there is no “gate” to actually check anymore, we now have the digital luxury of “reviewing!” the take on set. If you think the take has been nailed, simply check it. If you got what you need… Move On, if not, “Re-set!” and nail it.
DIT/On Set Editing:
“Picture in picture!”
If you have the capability to have your editor and their rig on-set then you can be multi-tasking a little post-production during production. The DIT (digital image technician – and possibly your assistant editor) will take the footage from the DP to the editor, and they will immediately up load it to hard drives, back it up, and begin a rough assembly of the scenes while everyone else continues to shoot. In this way you can not only review the daily’s but also see how everything is cutting together, and if there is something that may be missing or overkill.
Re-Shoots and Pick Up Days:
“Eight days a week?”
It is the hope and the dream that you do not have to do either of the above, however if you do find yourselves needing to go back to a location, or need more time to shoot a scene you just didn’t get to. Schedule it; budget it; and wrap it up as soon as possible before any momentum fades from the cast and crew.
That’s a Wrap
Nothing feels better then completing the last shot of principal photography. It is a huge accomplishment and you deserve to celebrate. But don’t get too comfortable because your work is nowhere near done yet. Pack up everything and make sure to get everyone’s equipment, props, costumes etc. back from whence they came. Wrap up any loose ends on the production front – then get ready for post-production!