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Getting Ready to Roll: On-Set Preparedness

Zack Burkett

In Video Production Posted

The first stage in any film or video project, pre-production is critical, as it sets the pace and shape that your shoot will take. Storyboarding, location scouting, shot lists, call sheets—all of these tasks are crucial to prepare before you begin shooting. They’re the foundation on which you build your production. Like with any foundation, a weak or hasty one can lead to structural problems, and the building will crumble. But with a strong foundation, one prepared with care and attention to detail, the building will stand tall and proud—and so will your video.

On a film set, time is money. Actors and crew are paid to be there and, the more time you waste, the more money that’s flushed down the drain, which should be avoided at all costs when working under a budget. (And even if you’re not working with a budget, it’s just good to be considerate of people’s time.) Waiting around tries people’s patience, and you want to keep everyone happy as can be so they can bring their best energy to your project. If your cast or crew are annoyed because things have been moving too slowly or unprofessionally, it can reflect in their performance. Here are five ways to streamline your shoot, waste as little time (and money!) as possible, and ensure that you know what you’re doing when you get on set.

Storyboard

Storyboarding is essential for visualizing the look of your video and ultimately composing shots. It saves a load of time framing up and blocking shots since you won’t have to waste valuable time figuring that out on set, shuffling actors around like pieces on a chessboard and asking the question, “Does that look good?” You will already know, because you’ve carefully storyboarded it. They don’t have to be masterpieces, or even particularly artistic—there’s no pressure to make them Marvel comic book quality. Storyboards can consist of stick figures, as long as the director and cinematographer can understand them. No one is going to see the storyboards—all that matters is that they convey the important visual information. Having your sequences storyboarded beforehand will help your shoot move faster and more smoothly, and they’re a surefire way to show that you have your you-know-what together.

Have a Shot List

Preparing a shot list ensures that you capture everything you need and don’t forget anything. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to review your footage and realizing that—damn!—you forgot to grab a shot of the character removing his coat and hanging it on the coatrack, and now you have a continuity error. Need an insert of a character’s hand reaching for the doorknob? Or an establishing shot of the busy city street? Creating a shot list will help you make sure you get everything you need the first time, and save you the time and hassle of getting additional pick-up shots—or worse, reshoots—later. This is basically your to-do list, and it can be invaluable.

Make Call Sheets

Let’s say that, hypothetically, you haven’t made it professionally yet and you’re shooting a short film or music video with friends or volunteers. You might be tempted to reach out to your cast and crew through Facebook or a group text. No need to be so formal, right? However, call sheets aren’t merely a formality, but a necessity. Organizing and coordinating large groups of people is difficult, whether you’re amateur or professional, and whatever the nature of your project—call sheets are a must. Rather than communicating with people individually, it is extremely helpful to have all call times and locations laid out clearly and in one place for everyone to see. That way, there can be no misunderstandings and everybody will know exactly where they need to be and when. So hop on Excel, throw together a spreadsheet, and ensure that nobody is late!

Create a Props List

Another part of being prepared is having all of your props accounted for and ready. Create a list to ensure you think of every prop you might need. If you’re shooting a scene on location at somebody’s house that calls for a corded telephone, do not assume one will be there. Have one ready just in case. (Besides, who has home phones these days, anyway?) Never assume something will be available, because then you could waste time scrambling to find something you should’ve had in the first place. Moreover, when compiling your props list, it’s important to consider what kind of phone is it? Is it a rotary phone? A hamburger phone like Ellen Page had in Juno? The transparent kind where you can see all the inner workings that every 90s kid had? Though they might seem minute, these are important decisions that you should think about during pre-production.

The same principle can be applied to costumes, too. If your scene is set in the 1980s, you can’t have an extra sauntering around in the background wearing the Imagine Dragons T-shirt he showed up in. Have a Van Halen shirt on standby for that one guy who didn’t read the memo. Be ready for every possible contingency because—unless you’re prepared—everything that can go wrong, will.

Have Extra Copies of the Script

This might seem like a no-brainer, but have plenty of copies of the script on set—enough for each person. The trees will understand, knowing their sacrifice has helped to streamline your shoot. Getting on set and realizing that you’re short on scripts can lead to people awkwardly reading from their phones or scrambling to find a printer—and good luck with that if you’re shooting a scene in the middle of the woods (oh, the irony).

Think back to school. No matter how well you think you know a subject, if you don’t study, you’re bound to still miss a few questions on the exam. Walking onto a set unprepared is like showing up to an exam without studying. You might know the script backward and forward, but there will always be something you didn’t think of. Utilizing pre-production to complete these tasks will greatly help to maximize efficiency on your set and ensure that your shoot runs smoothly, so you don’t have to waste time sweating the small stuff and can do what you came to do—ace that exam!

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