The Order That Comes When You Shoot In Order

9 07 2008
How To Run A Set

How To Run A Set

One of the hardest things for beginning filmmakers to internalize is that there is a smart way to organize a shoot and a dumb way. The photo at the left, taken by a USC student — Mitsuhiro Sakai — describes the smart way.

The first item on the list is the one that nearly every one of our student crews here at USC have trouble internalizing amidst all of the craziness of shooting. Faced with vanishing time and the normal confusion on any set, they often move right to the lighting.

But any seasoned set professional will tell you that the time you spend in blocking out the entire scene — from top to bottom — in the actual location where you’re shooting, will more than make up in time savings, any time that you spend doing the blocking.

Let the actors and the director run through the scene and find their moves. It makes a huge difference in terms of prep if you discover that an actor is never going to exit through a doorway. Rather than lighting the hallway outside the door, you can use all of that saved time in extra takes, or getting more coverage. Once your sound, picture, wardrobe, production design and assistant directors see exactly where the characters will be moving, it becomes way easier to set up for the actual shooting.

During that time, only the actors and the director are actively working. Everyone else — which are generally the department keys — are watching. They are examining how the blocking of the scene will affect their work on it. If there’s a potential problem they can discuss after the actors are released to go into wardrobe, hair and makeup. Now everyone needs to shut up and watch how the scene wants to play itself out.

Occasionally there will be changes that need to be made in the blocking because of technical issues (if we shoot in that corner of the room, we’ll shoot off the side of the set; there’s no way that the lighting crew can hang that many lights out of that window, etc.). That’s cool. Everyone will decide what changes must be made, and then the director can communicate them to the actors. When everyone arrives back on set, after the lighting is done, then the rehearsal can incorporate all of those changes much easier — because everyone has worked on the original conception.

The rehearsal is also where you can do the actual fine tuning — where the edges of frame are so the boom operator doesn’t invade the frame, for instance. But spending the 15-30 minutes that it will take to block out the scene ahead of time will make each of the ensuing steps easier — including the shooting.

And everybody will be happier.

So don’t blow off the blocking. Don’t forget about it. Don’t ignore it. It can be among the most valuable minutes of your day.




One response

17 07 2008

Thanks for the post, Norman. I’m a film student at the University of Central Florida. On my junior short film I spent a huge amount of time with the actors blocking out the scenes much to the dismay of my crew. They just wanted to show up and do it. After the shoot, however, I received a huge amount of positive feedback about how my set was one of the smoothest student sets they had ever been on. Yay for blocking.

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