Directing

Making the Day

In an average 12-hour single-camera production day (7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.), most television shows average about 25 setups (individual shots) per day. It takes that long because each scene must be rehearsed, blocked, and shot. There is also time allotted for things like hair and makeup touch-ups. Uncomplicated shots take a minimum of 30 minutes. Depending on the lighting, and what kind of shot it is, it could take far longer than that—up to 2 hours. (Feature films usually top out at 10 setups a day.)

But then there are complicated shots, plus things can go wrong, which is statistically likely because of the sheer number of people involved. If there are 50 crew members, plus let’s say 5 actors, that’s 55 opportunities for obstacles, not to mention the equipment snafus. So let’s say that almost every TV production can accomplish 25 setups within the usual 12-hour day. If two cameras are used, obviously you could double the amount of setups. You are normally expected to shoot 4 to 7 scenes in a day.

What if, in your prep, you planned to shoot 12 setups in each scene? Well, 4 (scenes) times 12 (setups) is already 48 setups, which is generally not possible. If you have two cameras, you might make it. But what if you have 6 scenes, not 4? Logistically, you have to look at your day and know that only a certain amount of sausage will fit in the casing. You have to add up the shots you planned in all the scenes scheduled for the day and determine whether what you have planned is feasible. You also have to restrict the number of takes , or tries, of each shot. Three good takes require much less time than ten takes, especially if you know what you’re looking for in terms of performance or shot execution. If you have overloaded your day, then you have to make adjustments to your plans. If you stubbornly don’t adjust your shot planning and think, “I’ll just make it somehow,” you run the danger of having the producers pull the plug . That’s a pretty literal description: suddenly, it’s all over, and you may have to drop a scene and not finish your planned work.

So now you are over budget and you didn’t make the day (complete the scheduled work while staying on time and on budget). Not a good place for a responsible director to be in. So let’s go back: how could you have figured out what to do in order to tell the story in the time allotted? Perhaps you get less coverage , which refers to the number of shots it takes to do a good job of telling the story. You might choose to shoot a scene as a oner, with only one shot. This is generally effective if it’s a walk ’n’ talk , when two characters stroll in a straight line while talking. You could either have the camera at the end point on a long lens, or dolly alongside the actors, or you could do both at the same time if you have two cameras, and that would be a very effective and efficient way of covering the scene.

A director going for less coverage as a means to save time (and therefore, money) might play a moment of a scene in a two-shot (one shot, thirty minutes) rather than getting the two-shot plus two singles (three shots, ninety minutes). But less coverage is potentially dicey because you’ll want as much film as possible in the editing room—more choices could mean better storytelling. We say “could,” because there is also a case to be made for spare, decisive directing, like that of Clint Eastwood. It’s a little like that old game

show Name That Tune , in which a contestant would say, “I can name that tune in four notes.” Well, a director like Eastwood might tell the story in only four shots, but they are magnificently perfect ones. And he might print only two circled takes of each shot (which means that only two completed shots are forwarded to the editor), but he is confident that the performance is the best it can be and that no more takes are needed. As actor Matt Damon said of Eastwood, “He’s so prepared and expects everyone else to be, and so there’s nothing wasted, ever. It’s a real lesson in how to run a super-efficient set.”

The other method of condensing your shot list so that you can make the day is to block the scene more efficiently. The way to do that is to try to make sure all of the movement by the actors in a scene is on the same axis , which allows you to shoot in two directions instead of four. And that means less lighting and fewer setups. In other words, in a two-person scene, both actors may move north and south, but not east and west. Another way to say it is that the actors can come closer to the camera or go farther away from the camera, but cannot go side-to-side in front of the camera. There is nothing to be gained by shooting all four directions, because as we know, every time the DP and his crew have to light in a different direction, it takes more of the director’s precious time. But sometimes it is necessary, given the scripted action or if there are multiple characters, to shoot in all four directions. All we’re saying here is that if you can block it on the same axis, it will serve you well. Playing all the action on the same axis will not dumb down the energy of the scene because it will still register with the audience as movement. The audience is not counting how many directions or shots it takes to tell the story. The audience is just caught up in performance, going along with the story.

Bethany directed a scene in Brothers & Sisters that is a good model for the work process in prep, both on the director’s part and the 1st AD’s part. The script called for a happy occasion (a charity event) to turn bad when one of the main characters punched someone—the wrong someone. Below shows a script page from this scene. The undulating marks on the left side of the page are made by the script supervisor during production to indicate which lines of dialog were covered in which shot.

The marked script supervisor’s page 41 of the Brothers & Sisters script entitled “An Ideal Husband.” (Brothers & Sisters trademarks and copyrighted material have been used with the permission of ABC Studios.)

The script supervisor kept all the data about the coverage, including the slate, the shot description, how many takes, and so on as a facing page at the beginning of both scenes. Below shows these facing pages for this scene.

The script supervisor’s facing page 41 of the Brothers & Sisters script entitled “An Ideal Husband.” (Brothers & Sisters trademarks and copyrighted material have been used with the permission of ABC Studios.)

With the script and floor plan in hand, Bethany sketched a small version of the floor plan on her shot list page and gave each of her characters a starting point, then imagined where each of them would go during the scene.

She then began shot listing the scene. Below shows Bethany’s shot list. By the time she was finished, she had 12 shots planned, which was extremely economical because several shots evolved to become multiple- use coverage. Also below shows the actors’ starting points, some camera placement for scenes 25 and 26 and how the scene evolved.

Bethany’s shot list for scenes 25 and 26 of the Brothers & Sisters script entitled “An Ideal Husband.” (Brothers & Sisters trademarks and copyrighted material have been used with the permission of ABC Studios.)

Brothers & Sisters trademarks and copyrighted material have been used with the permission of ABC Studios.

Meanwhile, after the appropriate concept, department head, and production meetings, the 1st AD (Sally Sue Lander) initiated a shooting schedule and later the call sheet. The below images show part of the 1st AD’s call sheet and an excerpt of the 1st AD’s shooting schedule. So on the day, all of the elements were in place to shoot a terrific scene: and so it was!

It requires a fair amount of effort to stay focused and creative while deciding how to block and shot list every scene in a script. Some people might refer to it as the drudgery of the job, compared to the excitement of being on set, saying “action” and “cut,” being the boss, and making movies. But by blocking and shot listing ahead of time, during your prep period, you free yourself to live in the moment on set and allow the magic to happen. If you haven’t done this work, you’ll be all knotted up in anxiety, wondering how to shoot a scene, unsure whether you’ve really told the story. It’s hard to be a leader when you’re not sure where you’re going.

An excerpt from the 1st AD’s call sheet for scenes 25 and 26 of the Brothers & Sisters script entitled “An Ideal Husband.” (Brothers & Sisters trademarks and copyrighted material have been used with the permission of ABC Studios.)

An excerpt from the 1st AD’s shooting schedule (page 2) for scenes 25 and 26 of the Brothers & Sisters script entitled “An Ideal Husband.” (Brothers & Sisters trademarks and copyrighted material have been used with the permission of ABC Studios.)

Excerpted from Directors Tell the Story: Master the Craft of Television and Film Directing by Bethany Rooney and Mary Lou Belli © 2011 Elsevier, Inc. All rights Reserved.

Related posts:

0 Comments
Tell us what you think!
*

Latest Tweets

Stay Informed

Click here to register with Focal Press to receive updates.


about MasteringFilm

MasteringFilm, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for aspiring and current filmmakers. No matter what your filmmaking interest is, including directing, screenwriting, postproduction, cinematography, producing, or the film business, MasteringFilm has you covered. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of filmmaking, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.