Shooting Methodology – Planning in Pre Production
In my career as an assistant I have been very fortunate to have sat in meetings that have been spread over a few weeks, watching seasoned filmmakers discuss the film visually and in respect to story and budget. There are elements which I have tried to adopt for The Three of Us (TTOU). Invariably, the director will hold script meetings with the writer, leading to a new draft, which then leads to a read through, with everyone there in the room, cast, HODS, producers, financiers sometimes, execs etc. Then, a director will sit with the 1st assistant director, for a few hours every day, discussing what he or she wants. This feeds the 1st Ad’s workload, he or she then articulates the director’s requests to production and to other relevant departments such as locations, art department, visual effects, stunts, casting, crowd assistant directors, and almost finally camera, which will then feed the gaffer and the key grip allowing information to trickle down all the way to riggers, set builders. The director will touch base with these HODS every week to monitor/discuss their progress or problems.
After that, the Director also holds script meetings with the creative HODS, especially if they are one that is secure/friendly enough to invite second opinions on the story itself, editors are sometimes seen at these meetings, even weeks before shooting. This is sometimes with an eye to discussing the strengths of a script, and areas that possibly need to be fleshed out more, or muted.
And then, in my experience, comes shoot methodology, which is a series of meetings with the director, the first AD, the DOP, usually someone from production, and any other creative HODs that might benefit. Here, the director talks through what he or she wants to do on the day, what specific shots they would want, scene per scene, this is mainly for camera, a chance for the DOP and Director to really combine and bring every line of the script to life. This helps every department gather their bearings as well, some shots take weeks to plan. Stunt sequences for instance, take weeks in some cases, for safety reasons, for creative reasons and also for physical production reasons. They have to plan when the actor can be used, when the stunt double will replace them and when visual effects takes over and so forth. This is all in a bid to make sure things are happening in the most creative way, and it also highlights where money can be saved with quick tricks in some cases.
Thus, on TTOU, I compiled a list of key images from blogs onto a tumblr blog that anyone could access. I think this has been going on for two years. So when I sit down with the producer, the DOP, the costume designer, production designer etc, they already have visual clues as to what the film looks like in my head. I also compile filmic references, ‘watch this scene from that film’ etc which catalyse the shoot methodology meetings. This all helps fuel the creative minds around the table. It also helps the producer understand the vision of their director. It is one of the only chances they will get to even coming close to seeing the film before a single take is shot.
Think of shoot methodology as rehearsals, but instead of with actors, you are letting everyone else behind the camera know what you want. The director, the producer, and the First AD are invariably the ones that should understand what their decisions mean to a film’s script, budget and schedule. A director’s job is to make the film the best it can be, but also to do that on schedule and on budget, a good director will be able to read a budget and a schedule almost as well as a script. And the sooner a director realises that they need a team of people to clearly understand their plan, the easier and more enjoyable it is for everybody during the shoot.
Of course, some directors hate doing this, whether they hate hearing people’s opinions incase it muddies theirs, or perhaps it is a reaction born from insecurity, or from a fear of their amazing ending being revealed (Christopher Nolan, no one knows the ending other than him apparently).
If you are true to your style, and your decisions, then the personality of a film will be created that gives the project an identity, a persona.