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Issue #174 – July 16, 2017 (Director’s Pre-Production Activities – Pt 2)

Issue #174 – July 16, 2017
(Director’s Pre-Production Activities – Pt 2)

The following list is a detailed overview of what is expected of a director during pre-production which is the most important time for a director because it’s where we go through a “process of discovery.“

It’s also during this time that every department discovers what they need to make a particular movie. All this takes time and the more time you have in prep the more you will discover and sort out before you go to camera.

Please keep in mind that these pre-production activities will vary in time and importance depending on whether you are shooting a (no money) short film, a (low budget/high budget) feature film or a episode of a television series.

(9) Shot Lists, Storyboards, Schematics

a. Shot Lists

A shot list is a description of all the camera angles for a scene and can include shot size, camera movement, character movement, coverage and cutaways.

Creating an accurate shot list is useful for several reasons: it helps you understand the flow of each scene and how it connects with other scenes; it guides you through the rehearsal stage and the on-set blocking process; it gives the 1st AD an idea of how many shots/set-ups you have per scene to help them create a better schedule; and it helps the DOP know your shooting style and potential coverage.

A shot list is like a road map: it gives you a path to your destination but you don’t always have to follow it. Changes will happen on set so you will want to always use your shot list as a good guide.

b. Storyboards

A Storyboard is a series of illustrations or images used for the purpose of pre-visualizing certain scenes in a movie. Some directors will want to storyboard the entire movie but most storyboard sequences are created just for complicated action scenes or visual effects sequences.

c. Schematics

A Schematic is a top-level view diagram of how the Director wants to block a scene and shows where the actors will move and where the camera positions will be placed for coverage.

(10) Casting and Callbacks

When a director first starts prep, they read the script through several times to get a feel for what the story is about and who the characters are. They then have a meeting with the Producers and Casting Director to discuss their ideas of the characters. After this meeting, the Casting Director puts together a list of actors that fit the character traits and specific looks discussed in the meeting with the Producers.

The Casting Director then has her/his own casting session where they record a “short list” of actors for the director and the Producers to view. After the Producer and Director have chosen the actors they want to audition, casting sessions and callbacks are set up and the actors are chosen.

(11) Second Unit Meetings

Second Units are smaller film production units that work on specific scenes during the main unit shooting period. They usually handle visual effect plate shots, stunt scenes (car chases with stunt doubles), aerial shots, establishing shots and insert shots. They can even film entire dialogue scenes with actors if the main unit could not find the time to shoot it in their schedule.

Some TV Series have full-time Second Units that act as “clean-up crews” and they tend to shoot material from scenes the Main Unit couldn’t get as well as re-shoot scenes from previous episodes. (I like to refer to Main Unit as “shooting from the neck up” and Second Unit as “shooting from the neck down”.)

(12) Key Location Survey

The Key Location Survey is where the Producers and Director plus the department heads and their assistants visit all the locations for the film. This gives the shooting crew one more chance to go over all the technical and logistical requirements for filming at a particular location. Depending on how many locations you have and the budget of your film this survey could take a half day or several days.

From the Director’s point of view, this survey is not about explaining every shot. It’s about discussing where the camera will be looking, what the lighting requirements are, what the art department specifics are, where the work trucks can park and other technical concerns such as sound, stunt and special effects.

Who goes on the key location survey: Director, 1AD, 2AD, PM, LM, ALM, Producers, Set Dec, Production Designer, Art Director, DOP, Grip, Gaffer, Transportation Captain, Construction Coordinator, Sound Mixer, Stunts, Special FX, Visual FX. (Depending on the complexity of the film, you could have more crew or less crew on this survey.)

(13) Production Meeting

The Production meeting is an open discussion about the show and all the department heads (and their seconds) need to be at this final meeting to review the director’s creative concepts, film production elements and specific production logistics.

The First AD reads the script scene-by-scene (no dialogue) so every department can discuss their specific requirements with the director. After the script is read, the 1st AD goes over the one-liner and shooting schedule to discuss each shooting day.

Side Bar Meetings: If certain departments need more time to discuss their specific scene requirements with the Director, the 1st AD schedules
these smaller meetings after the Production Meeting.

(14) Actor Meetings

Informal meetings and dinners are a great way to get to know your actors personally and they really help to strengthen the trust bond between the director and the actor.

(15) Script Read Through

The script read-through (or table read) is when the Director, Producers and Writer sit around a table with all the available cast and read the script scene-by-scene to see how the script flows and how it will “sound”, to discuss the story and characters and to address script problems such as dialogue concerns, character motivations, scene length etc.

This read-through is the first opportunity for all the creatives to get together and start the process of re-working the script based on the actors suggestions. If the whole cast cannot be present, two other actors (one male and one female) are usually hired to read the other parts. (If you have a small budget, the Producers can read the other parts.)

Other key crew members usually present are the DOP, 1st AD and the Script Supervisor. Not only do these key crew members get to meet the actors in an informal setting, but everyone around the table gets a sense of how they will all work together for the next few weeks or months.

(16) Cast Rehearsals

After the script read-through, you will want to rehearse as many scenes as possible with the actors based on your specific needs and actor requests so you can sort out character concerns and story issues privately before standing on a set with 25 crew members watching.

Most of these rehearsals take place in large rooms, but sometimes they can take place on the actual sets or real locations that are going to be used in the film. Again, it is all based on how much time and money you have.

(17) Wardrobe Fittings

The Costume Designer needs time to find the right wardrobe for the actors based on the early concept meetings with the Director and Producer. This process gets more complicated if your film is a period piece or when the costume department has to “build” (design and make) the costumes.

The Costume Designer will never find or make all the costumes for the entire show before you go to camera and like all departments during this last week of prep, the Costume Designer will only fit the costumes based on the latest shooting schedule.

(18) Props Show-and-Tell

Actors will need a variety of props during a shoot so this meeting is where the prop department has gathered up the props for each actor so they can get approvals from the Director and actor as well as measure the actor for proper ring sizes etc.

(19) Art Department Meetings

Depending on the subject matter and the time period of your film, the Art Department will need to get personal photos from the actors as well as shoot photos of the actors “in character” to help sell the environments in which they live. For example: when an actor walks into her “home” on the set, you will want to see photos of her and her “family.”

And what about when a cop shows his Police ID photograph, or we see a mug shot of a ”bad guy?” These photographs have to be taken by the props department before the scene takes place.

(20) Special Training and Rehearsals

Do the actors in your film have to ballroom dance? Swordfight? Shoot weapons? Drive a certain vehicle? Be part of an special unit like a soldier, cop, firefighter? Speak with a dialect?

This last week of prep is also the time when actors are given the opportunity for special training and rehearsals. A character in a film knows what they are doing in their chosen profession but the actor may not, so it is imperative that the actors get as much training and rehearsals as possible throughout the film.

(21) Hair, Make-up & Costume Camera Tests

Actor hair and make-up tests are essential at this time as well. The relationship between the actors and the DOP is a very important one because the actors want to know how they will look in front of the camera. (Many a DOP has been fired after a few days of shooting because of this fact alone!)

Special make-up effects need to be tested for colour and texture as well as the “filmic” look of specific hair designs and wigs. These camera tests are also important for studio and network executives who want to see what they’ll be getting for their money.

(22) Technical Camera Tests and Lighting Tests

Technical camera tests are very important for both the DOP and Director because they give them a good idea of what the film “will look like” before they go to camera. Lenses, shutter speeds, filters and lighting designs are just some of the examples of what gets tested during this process.

Make sure you have enough time in the last week of prep for a variety of camera tests so you can solve any technical and creative issues early on with the DOP. It gets very expensive after everyone see the dailies to realize that something is not working and you need to re-shoot the scene

(23) Pre-Shoots

A pre-shoot is exactly what it means – it’s a scene you shoot a few days before principal photography with a minimum crew. These scenes can be anything from a newscaster sitting at a news desk in a real TV station to reporters standing against a green screen to generic B-role of traffic in the street or an actor walking by himself on a beach.

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