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The Art of Prep

So what the hell am I talking about here? Well, to me, Preproduction (prep) is the most important part of the filmmaking process. Why do I say this? Stephen Covey, Author of the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, said it best: “Begin with the end in mind”.

If we are effective in our Pre-production stage (I like to call it the “organization” stage) most of our production questions will be answered well ahead of time. So, how do we accomplish this?

  • Thorough script or storyboard breakdown – This means actors, locations, art department, wardrobe, make-up, picture cars, SFX, and special equipment.
  • Casting & Actor availability
  • Location scouting and location availability
  • Then scheduling (the 2 biggest puzzle pieces to figure out are actor and location availability)
  • Hiring Crew – Your crew needs become very clear after your breakdown and schedule are done. You don’t need a technocrane technician if you realize that you don’t need a technocrane (or vise versa).
  • Good question to ask now. . . Is this in the budget?
  • Tech Scout – This gives your crew (and you) a chance to refine crew and equipment needs BEFORE you get on set!
  • Production Meeting – The final opportunity before shooting to recognize any potential problems and address them.

A good (organized) prep leads to a fun shoot. Shooting should be fun! Anyone who insists otherwise needs a new career. Sure there is high pressure (come on, I’m an AD), but for me, that’s when my job gets exciting. There are constantly things that pop up that can effect your shooting schedule (actors being late, equipment malfunction, rain (Oh the dreaded rain) but if you had an effective prep, you should be ready and able to respond.

This leads me to another pitfall of a poor prep: Long shooting days. I was on a job once (I was a few years younger) that shot 5 days. 3 of the 5 were 20 hours or longer (Day 5 was 24 hours). This is not only stupid, it is illegal. Forget about legality for a minute and think about crew productivity for a minute. The realm of universal law that you enter on a shooting day of 16+ hours in the Law of Diminishing Returns. There are a couple of legit reasons why a shooting company goes long. If there is a technical problem, or various delays (weather etc.), I see only 2 reasons why you stay until you finish the day:

    1. Location Availability
      Actor Availability

If you can’t shoot another day at the location for a longer than exceptable time (If your shooting and the location isn’t available again for 2 weeks) or an actor isn’t available another day.

In most instances when a productions runs long hours, what happened is they (pick your they) overscheduled or simply created an unrealistic schedule. Often times a job is accepted, a contract signed (commercials, Music Videos) when there simply isn’t the money in the budget to provide what is promised they right way. Anyone bidding a job should be experienced enough to see this and renegotiate before accepting the job. Anyone who doesn’t is irresponsible at best. I understand the need to “get the job”. Learn better negotiation skills. . .

Everyone has shot with an over ambitious shooting schedule. A good prep can organize this in a way so that it is efficient and completed on time.

Tragedy can strike as a DIRECT result of these long hours. There are numerous stories of crew members involved in accidents as a result of fatigue. And I know a PA, who after working 20 hours, and getting only 4 hours rest and then returning to work, suffered a seizure (the 1st of his life) and collapsed unconscious for 20 minutes. His neurologist says the episode was a result of fatigue.

A lot of these reasons for shooting 16+ hour days can be alleviated with a good prep. Important? YES!

Good organization in prep, back up plans and a solid strategy are ways to foresee almost any scenario.

Begin with the end in mind.

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