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 CAMERASRED 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 weath­er 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.