The Picnic: June 17th, 2011
In my last post I touched on shooting ratios, and the great discipline and focus that film, even Super-8, can give you because of the expense of the stock. Today I just want to expand on that a little.
I always used to think of myself as a director who only shoots what he needs and doesn’t do loads of takes. I was forced to revise that self-image somewhat after principal photography on The Dark Side of the Earth’s pilot. My first time shooting on film – and 35mm at that – saw me shooting six or more takes of many set-ups. Okay, it was tough to get the swordplay and the inflatable germ suit and particularly the puppet Swordsman to do what they were meant to, but still I should have been more economical.
When it came time to shoot the pick-ups and miniature shots, I resolved to mend my ways. To be honest, my hand was forced by the tiny budget I had left to spend – which could not stretch to purchasing more stock. We could use only what had been left over from principal, plus a couple of short ends Ollie contributed.
So I had to focus. In practice that meant three things:
1. Rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing until we got it perfect, and only then going for a take. Not rehearsing it for a bit and then saying, “Okay, let’s go for a take and see what happens.”
2. Recognising when I had a satisfactory take. How many times have you been in the edit and used take one or two, forsaking the four or five takes that came after? Plenty, because a lot of the things you think are important when you see a shot in isolation (a little camera wobble, for example) are completely unnoticeable once they’re cut into the scene.
3. Making the crew understand that they had a very limited number of takes in which to get it right, so that they would raise their games too.
Everyone rose to the challenge, just as they did on the set of my Super-8 short The Picnic the other weekend. But could I apply this philosophy in a very different scenario? Could I keep my shooting ratio down on one of my paying corporate gigs?
Well, on Monday I had the chance to find out, as I directed a series of educational webisodes in the style of a Gok Wan-type make-over show. Within a few minutes of first turning over, I could feel the discipline slipping away from me. Unlike the Dark Side pick-ups and The Picnic, this shoot had dialogue, opening the doors to line fluffs and obtrusive background noises as potential take-wreckers. Both of these reared their ugly heads early on. What could I do about this? How could I make everyone raise their game, since everyone knew we were shooting on video? Only by moving onto the next set-up after just one or two takes repeatedly at the start of the day, showing everyone that they had to get it right pretty much first time. Unfortunately, by the time that idea occurred to me we were several set-ups in and I’d let some of those run to four or five takes. D’oh! (And when I edited the first set-up the next day, I used take one – just goes to show.)
But in the end, thanks to copious rehearsals, I did get my shooting ratio significantly lower than I would have done without attempting that focus and having that 35mm and Super-8 experience. If nothing else, this benefits me in the editing suite through having less extraneous material to wade through.
On a completely unrelated topic, I am writing this at 36,000ft over the coast of Canada. One of the plane’s audio channels is playing eighties hits. They have a brilliant slogan which runs thusly: “Have you had a fall and you can’t get up? Then you probably remember the eighties.” Harsh but true.
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