More things I learned from Shooting Sunset in McDade

So… the lessons keep coming, and I owe them to the wonderful crew that worked on it with me.

You can see who those folks were, right here:

Here are some pearls of wisdom:

  1. ADAPTABILITY: Sets can be chaos. Things change, and you often have to adapt and make a snap judgment. Sometimes there’s a lot of questions being asked, and it really helps to be able to sift through everything quickly and tweak things as you go. Could be the shooting order, wardrobe, weather changes… shot types (i.e. the shot you wanted wouldn’t work, or something new presented itself but you don’t have time for all of it, so you gotta make a choice).
  2. HAVE AN AD: This was a hard-learned lesson. As a director, the AD is your point of sanity. They’re the ones who set the shooting schedule (a thankless task, especially if you’re shooting with a large cast of unpaid actors and have to work around everyone’s schedule as my wife can attest). The AD is an admin person, a project manager, who keeps the set going, and things on track. Of course shooting can go over schedule, but remember, falling behind will cost you money. The AD will also free you from setting up shots with the DP, so you can spend more time with your actors and ensuring you get the best performance out of them (I’m a hybrid director in that I love the techie camera stuff, but prefer to spend time with actors)… an AD is so much more, but definitely, unless you’re doing it all yourself (at which point I highly recommend using all the pre-production tools in Celtx fully, and be sure and sit down with your main people in the production so they know what you’ll want in advance as much as possible and you can spend time being creative, instead of telling people what you want).
  3. STORYBOARDS AND SHOTLISTS: I’ll be blunt… if I had to draw stick-figures to save my life, I probably wouldn’t be here. I use Celtx sketches for my shot list and storyboarding (I keep it simple… I’m not a graphic artist, and have no such aspirations). Make sure your key people see it, and understand it… will save you oodles of time on set. I prefer drawing a blocking diagram (top view) showing all the action and camera set ups, so you can determine the least amount of setups (more setups = more time = less shots done in a day). A setup can yield multiple shots. Jibs are great for this.
  4. Don’t skimp on production design/art direction regardless of budget. Set design isn’t always expensive… lots can be done with a little money. You can still get good quality design, you may just have to find someone who is very creative and resourceful.
  5. Pre-production should be at least 3 times the length of the shooting schedule. Really, the more time you spend planning things, the less holes you’ll have to plug on set.
  6. Trust all your departments heads with their jobs — let them do their jobs and don’t try to hoard everything. A friend told me that if you let them do their job, they will bring you miracles. I second that motion.
  7. Someone once said you should surround yourself with professionals; people who know what they’re doing, because they’ll guide you and you’ll learn. Someone else said you should always be professional in everything you do. Of course, you have to start somewhere, so start where you can… but seek out the pros… learn all the good stuff from them, but also listen to yourself, and be true to yourself… anything advice that would stop you from moving forward, is probably not good advice… at least in filmmaking!
  8. PERSIST: never give up. As the director, you are the driving force behind everything. On set, you are in charge. If you keep things fun, people will have fun, and you can always get people to overlook mistakes or rules if they’re truly enjoying what they’re doing. Remember, you can do anything to a person, so long as you get their agreement first. People are more likely to agree if they feel they’re a part of something, and if they’re having fun. I’ve probably said somewhere else, but… Don’t leave the set without getting your shot. Even if people are upset or tired, they’ll be a lot more upset if you don’t get that shot and the production suffers from it.

Anyway, that’s all I can think of for now. I hope this is of use to somebody somewhere.

And if you have any questions, leave a comment… I will respond to it 🙂

MORAL: If you want to be a director… direct… get on set!

Val Gameiro