A film director’s worst enemy – TIME

Advice I recently gave to a young up-and-Coming film director who was about to shoot his first short film in Hong Kong. I told him a film directors worst enemy is time. You will never have enough of it.

Hi Mal,

I thought I would share a few things with you as you are about to embark on your film directing debut. Originally, I thought of giving you a few pointers on directing but it looks like I may go on a bit and for this I apologise in advance as I know your mind will be full of how to shoot the story you want to tell.

Over the years I have worked as a 1st. Assistant Director on many film sets both big and small, on location and in the studio, with directors great and some not so great ha. My experience has been mainly shooting with film and although we are now in the digital age of film making, a lot has remained the same with regard to the filming process.

All of the directors I worked with faced the same challenge – TIME. The shooting schedule never seems to give you, the director, enough time to get all the shots you want which leads me to my first point, COVERAGE.

It is paramount that you get enough coverage to avoid the editor tearing his hair out as he does not have enough shots to play with and you as the director not having enough shots to tell the story in the way you wanted to.

The sort of fast paced, fast cutting action film you are going to shoot will need a lot of shots especially as you are going to be doing a lot of stunts. I know you will have thought of this and forgive me if I state the obvious and for not having read your script and knowing what camera gear you will be shooting with.

First off. If you haven’t already decided, I suggest you shoot 4K. It will of course add to you work load in post but worth it for a number of reasons.

Number 1 reason, it’s ability to crop the picture without losing too much resolution. This can save your arse in post. Think, that all important CU you should have got on set can now be got in post from a mid shot for example. 4K is good in low light and will give you more control of depth of field because of larger sensor size and for that cinematic look. Also, by shooting 4K you will be future proofing your movie.

Here are my suggestions to save time on set and get the shots you need most:

* MULTIPLE CAMERAS – RED cameras are very versatile and ideal as your principle camera if you have the budget or 4K DSLR cameras such as Sony and Panasonic LUMIX. Consider using GoPro’s that shoot 4K. You can put them in the set and they will not be seen because of their size. They will give you all the coverage you need when shooting the stunts and shots that you may not be able to repeat such as complex action scenes and stunts that take a long time to set up. Rely on your stunt coordinator as he will know the best position to place cameras to get the most exciting shots.

* LIGHTING – This is a big time consumer and very much depends on how your DOP wants to light the set. If you have the crew and the availability of the locations, prep the lighting in advance. Rigging the lighting can take time especially in a difficult location. If you are that organised and able to do it it will save considerable time, then all the DOP has to do is finesse the lighting once he knows where the actors are going to be placed.

Discuss with your DOP about lighting the set for different shots/camera angles, otherwise you will be having to move the lights around each time you change the shot. Avoid “hot” lights and go with LED’s as they are easier to handle especially in any run-and-gun situation which I am sure you will encounter ha.

* TIP – If you can find it in your budget, hire a small water bowser and use it to wet down roads, side walks and pretty much any surface that will give you reflections especially at night. Lot’s of neon lights in HK look great in reflections. Helps to add Production value.

* CAMERA OPERATOR– You can also save time by having a camera operator to work with you to set-up the shots. This will relieve the DOP to concentrate on the lighting as he will not have to operate the camera as well. Also, you will have more chances to rehearse camera moves and actors with a dedicated operator who is always by your side.

* ACTORS – Be sure to rehearse them in advance and do not wait until you are on set to do this. The more time actors have to prepare the better and all must know their lines before they get on set especially if you intend to shoot out of sequence.

Never be afraid to adapt to changing situations when on location. For example, if the script calls for fine weather and you do not have whether cover (an indoor location you can go to at a moments notice), then be prepared to shoot it in the rain. It can have surprising results and add a bit of spontaneity into the scene – actors love that sort of thing.

* HAIR, MAKE-UP, WARDROBE – After they have made-up and dressed the actors have them standby on set and not hang about in dressing rooms in case they are needed quickly. Do not let them do their checks until you are ready to shoot otherwise, they will just get in the way and waste time.

* CREW – You will be working with a largely young and inexperienced crew with lots of energy and a go-to attitude and immense enthusiasm, as they all want to make the best movie ever. This is great. But they will need leadership and that goes without saying, will come from you. As long as they feel you know what you want they will follow. It sounds obvious but you need to show it.

For this to work they need to know what you want, so meetings are important before you set foot on set. If you can show them storyboards all the better. Ridley Scott storyboarded every single shot and used them to show everybody what he wanted. He wasted no time and followed them religiously and often came in under budget because of his meticulous preparation.

* ON SET DISCIPLINE – What you want to avoid is chaos on set. Crew running around with lots of enthusiasm seemingly doing something but not doing the right thing and often getting in the way at the wrong time.

To control this it is best to start with a routine on set. Before you start placing the camera, doing any lighting, apart from the basics, and before the actors are made-up and dressed, you should get the actors on set and do a run through of the scene so the camera operator/DOP can see where the actors are going to be. Once the staging of the scene has been sorted then the camera assistant/grip can start putting some marks down, the lighting can continue and the actors can go off to get ready.

I could go on Mal but as your Associate Producer, I think I have said enough. One last thing, and you will have heard this before, like an army, a film crew marches on its stomach. Some good food goes a long way to keep the crew together and happy.