The director of photography is one of the crew members who has the greatest influence over the pace of a shoot. How long you take to light each set-up has a huge impact on how much gets done in a day. So it’s only natural that you are usually consulted on the shooting schedule during preproduction. More often than not, your pleas for more shooting days will be ignored because there simply isn’t the money. Nonetheless, it’s your duty to feedback on the schedule, and if you can be specific about your concerns then you may occasionally succeed in getting tweaks made. And if not, at least you can say, “I told you so.”
Here are some things I’m looking for when I assess a schedule.
- Length of shoot. Are there enough days? Is there a second unit to mop up up anything you drop, or do you have to cover everything on every day yourself?
- Turnarounds. Is there a full day of daylight exterior immediately after a night shoot, for example?
- Night scenes scheduled during daylight hours. Is the AD expecting you to black out windows, or is this a mistake? I hate blacking out windows; it robs the visuals of depth.
- Stunts, VFX, make-up gags etc. Has the AD factored in the extra set-up time that comes with these things? Again, if there’s a second unit for this stuff then it may not affect you.
- Nightmare shots. Has adequate time been allowed for any special, fancy shots that might take longer than usual to set up?
- Location moves. Are there any location moves during the day, even just between rooms in the same house? Has time been allowed for these moves? Has extra time been allowed for the first scene in each location, to allow it to be lit properly? This may be less of an issue if you have a pre-rig crew.
- Easing into it. Does the shoot start off a little easier to give the crew time to get into the swing of things?
- Movie star shots. Are there any big heroic or romantic moments late in the schedule? Towards the end of the shoot, everyone will be tired, and this will show on the actors’ faces. Try to have key close-ups brought forward in the schedule, or warn the AD that lighting and make-up will take longer than normal.
- Seasonal variations. On long shoots, there may be noticeable changes in season (trees in leaf/not in leaf, for examples) during production, and the available hours of daylight may change. Has this been taken into consideration?
- Cover sets. Has the AD got contingency plans if the weather is bad?
A good 1st AD should have thought of most if not all of these things, but it never hurts to check them out yourself.
Want to learn more about scheduling? Check out my posts on scheduling my feature film Soul Searcher and my short film Stop/Eject.