ON SET PROCEDURE - CinematographerTools.com

2.  SET UP THE CAMERA, TRIPOD & MONITOR(S)

Start with the tripod and level it.  Then attach the camera body with lens and other accessories to the tripod.  This includes any rail system, matte box, follow focus, monitor, etc.  Power on the camera and monitor(s).  This is also a good time to format the memory cards and make sure all of the camera settings are correct (like frame rate, recording format, etc.).

3.  FRAME UP THE SHOT & PLACE MARKS ON THE FLOOR FOR THE ACTORS

Frame up the shot.  Have the actors or stand-ins run through the scene.  This is not about performance, so tell the actors to not over do it.  This walk-through is just for setting up marks and seeing how the actors will fit and move in frame.  Place marks on the floor using gaffer tape in the shape of a T.  These are the marks that actors will stand at or move to.  Be careful that the marks are not seen in the shot!

4.  MARK FOLLOW FOCUS POINTS

This is also a good time to mark focus points on the follow focus ring if focus needs to change in a shot.  This is often required when multiple actors are standing at different lengths from the camera and they do not all appear to be in focus at the same time because of shallow depth of filed.  The DP or Camera Assistant will control the follow focus during the scene as the actors move to and from their marks.

5.  LIGHT THE SCENE

Light the scene using the basic principles of 3 POINT LIGHTING.  Make your lighting feel natural and motivated.  Don't be afraid to enhance existing light sources (like lamps and sunlight) with your professional lights.  It is helpful to have stand-ins model for you while you adjust your lights.  For more drama, use hard lighting and high contrast.  For a lighter mood, decrease contrast and use a lot of soft light sources.  Also use background lights to illuminate the background of the shot.  See our LIGHTING page for more details.

6.  SET YOUR EXPOSURE

After your lights are in place, go back to your camera and adjust ISO, APERTURE and SHUTTER SPEED to achieve proper exposure.  Use Neutral Density filters if necessary.  Continue to tweak your lighting until you and the Director are happy with it.

7.  WHITE BALANCE THE CAMERA

Place a white card or an 18 percent gray card in the shot (preferably where one of the actors will stand).  While zooming in onto the white or gray card, press the auto white balance button on your camera until the white or gray card turns neutral white or gray.  If you do not perform the white balance procedure, your colors may not be accurate (often resulting in blueish or orangeish tinted footage).

8.  LOOK AT THE SHOT CLOSELY FOR DISTRACTIONS

This is a great time to look at the shot carefully.  Try viewing it on the biggest monitor you have available (you will often miss things if you only rely on the cameras small viewfinder).  If there is anything in the shot that will distract the viewer from the story, remove it or hide it.  Also look out for lens flairs caused by light shining into the camera (usually caused by BACK LIGHTS).

9.  CONNECT AUDIO GEAR TO THE CAMERA

This step could come much sooner (depending on your work flow).  The important thing is to make sure that the audio mixer is calibrated with the camera if your sound engineer plans on using an audio mixer that he or she feeds into the camera.  This is usually done by the audio mixer generating tone and the camera audio levels are adjusted so that tone hits -20db.  This is not necessary if the audio will be recorded to an external audio recorder.  If this is the case, the camera should still record reference audio with a camera microphone.  Use a film Slate to give an audible and visual clap that can be used to sync audio with video later (in the Post Production Stage).

10.  REHEARSE THE SCENE WITH THE ACTORS

If you were using stand-ins to model for lighting, you can have them leave.  You are ready to call in the actors (if they are not on set) and rehearse the scene.  During this rehearsal, final light tweaks are made if necessary, audio levels are set by the sound engineers on the mixer, follow focus is practiced and the DP and audio engineer make sure that the microphone on the boom is not in the shot.

YOU ARE NOW READY TO ROLL!!!

After a few rehearsals, you are now ready to roll.  If you have a big crew, the following dialogue (or some variation of it) takes place:

 

Assistant Director:

"Roll Sound"

 

Sound:

"Sound speeds"

 

Assistant Director (to the 2nd Assistant Camera typically):

"Slate"

 

2nd Assistant Camera:

"Scene 1, take 1"

 

Assistant Director:

"Roll Camera"

 

Director of Photography (or Camera Operator -- not always the same person):

"Camera Speeds/rolling!"

 

2nd Assistant Camera:

*claps sticks* walks out of frame

 

Director of Photography (or Camera Operator):

"Frame"

(Frame is said after the framing and focus are reset in case they were adjusted to capture the slate)

 

Director:

"ACTION!"

 

At the end of the take...

 

Director:

CUT

 

It is important to note that not all crews have this many people.  A smaller crew will simplify the above dialgue.  The important thing is to make sure that everyone is ready to go so that camera and sound are in sync with each other.

MOVE ON TO YOUR NEXT SHOT

After everyone is certain that they have 1 or more useable takes of the first shot of the day, you move on to the next shot.  Lighting can be tweaked as you move into closer shots, but becareful not to dramatically change the lighting or the different shots will not cut together in post.  Take pride in crossing shots off of your shot list and make sure that you do not miss any shots.  If you are not accomplishing all of your preplanned shots on schedule, consider simplifying your shot sequences.  This is not uncommon.

MAKE TIME TO KEEP THE SET SAFE AND TAKE BREAKS

It is easy to overlook keeping the set safe, but it is necessary to keep everyone safe and to protect your gear.

 

It is also important to take breaks for meals.  A crew that doesn't break will crash and burn.

BACKUP YOUR FOOTAGE AT THE END OF THE DAY

At the end of the day, make sure that you back up your footage to multiple hard drives before formatting your memory cards.  All of your hard work can be lost if you are careless.  Testing the backed up footage with a laptop with editing software is a wise idea.

CREATE YOUR OWN PROCEDURE & DON'T BE AFRAID TO DELEGATE TASKS

As time passes, you will develop your own procedure and may decide to do these tasks in a completely different order.  That is quite acceptable and this is just a guide to get you started.  The more complex a shot is, the more tasks need to be completed (especially when adding equipment like dollies and jibs).

 

Many of these steps (especially the earlier ones) can take place at the same time with a bigger crew.  This saves a lot of time and allows you to accomplish more in a day.  A Cinematographer should take advantage of delegating tasks when a crew is available.

 

Crews are usually not as fast when they first start working together.  Because of this, it is often a good idea to shoot simpler scenes on the first day of production.  A crew will pick up speed and gel together as time goes on.

 

When you arrive on location to shoot a scene, there are several steps to take before rolling the camera.  The set can be a very high pressure place for a Cinematographer.  Everyone is waiting on you to make things happen and the clock is ticking.  Whether you are a crew of one or of many, the following steps need to take place before the Director can yell "action".

"People say I pay too much attention to the look of a movie but for God’s sake, I’m not producing a Radio 4 Play for Today, I’m making a movie that people are going to look at."

 

- Ridley Scott

 

1.  PICK YOUR FIRST SHOT

ON SET PROCEDURE:  Getting ready to Roll!

Preferably before shooting, the Director and the Cinematographer have discussed the scene and how it will be shot.  An agreed upon shot list and/or storyboard will go a long way to keep things moving on set.  A storyboard shows how a scene will be covered visusally and the order of how the shots will be assmbled in edit (Post Production).  The Cinematographer and Director pick the first shot of the day.  Often, it is a wide shot.  Medium shots, close ups and other angles, are generally shot second so that the actors get used to hitting their marks and repeating their actions.  Actor continuity is important for the different angles/shots to cut together properly.  It is generally a good idea to shoot a scene from start to finish at every angle even if the storyboard says that only a portion of the shot will be used in the edited sequence (the storyboard is only a guide and may not be followed in post).  It also benefits the actor's performance to go through an entire scene so that they can connect with each other.

3 POINT LIGHTING - CinematographerTools.com
3 POINT LIGHTING CHART - CinematographerTools.com
THE BALANCE OF EXPOSURE - CinematographerTools.com
MARK ON THE FLOOR - CinematographerTools.com
SAND BAG - CinematographerTools.com
BACKUP YOUR MEDIA- CinematographerTools.com
FOLLOW FOCUS - CinematographerTools.com
AUDIO XLR INPUTS - CinematographerTools.com

2.  SET UP THE CAMERA, TRIPOD & MONITOR(S)

SET UP THE CAMERA - CinematographerTools.com

3.  PLACE MARKS ON THE FLOOR

4.  MARK FOLLOW FOCUS POINTS

5.  LIGHT THE SCENE

3 POINT LIGHTING

6.  SET YOUR EXPOSURE - EXPOSURE IS A BALANCE BETWEEN ISO, SHUTTER SPEED & APERTURE.

7.  WHITE BALANCE WITH AN 18 PERCENT GRAY CARD OR A WHITE CARD.

9.  CONNECT AUDIO GEAR TO THE CAMERA.  THIS CAMERA HAS 2 XLR INPUTS.

KEEP THE SET SAFE - SAND BAGS HELP KEEP LIGHTS FROM FALLING.

BACKUP YOUR FOOTAGE - BEFORE ERASING YOUR MEMORY CARDS, MAKE SURE YOU BACKUP THE MEDIA TO MULTIPLE DRIVES.

PROCEDURE

On this page we will:

 

1.  Examine On Set Procedure (Getting Ready to Roll)

2.  Meet Hugh Scully.  Hugh is an experienced actor who will discuss the challenges of working on busy set and interacting with the crew.

Hugh Scully, Actor

Actor Hugh Scully 3 - CinematographerTools.com
Actor Hugh Scully 2 - CinematographerTools.com
Actor Hugh Scully 4 - CinematographerTools.com

1.  Tell us about yourself and the types of projects you work on.

I am a NY actor. I spent many years working in the theater and later began acting in films and TV. I have recently appeared in AMC's "The Making of the Mob" as a gangster, Arnold Rothstein, A&E's "American Genius" as Joseph Pulitzer, and The History Channel's "The World Wars" as Adolf Hitler.  My films include "Break Up at a Wedding," "Why We Cry," "Dear Lemon Lima" where I got to work with Academy Award winner Melissa Leo.

 

I originally studied acting at Adelphi University where I won the Alexander Barnes Memorial Scholarship for Acting. I then studied with Lee Strasberg and Kim Stanley at the Actors Studio. Life led to a hiatus in acting. When I returned in the late 90's, I studied at the Atlantic Theater School, Commited Impulse with Josh Pais,  and The Labyrinth Theater.

2.  Who or what influenced or influences your work?

I have to say that working with Kim Stanley, even for a short while, was an eye-opener. I learned what truth in acting looked like, and the depth of what was possible. I have my heroes too including, Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando - too many to mention. Actors love acting and love actors.

3.  What's it like working on a movie or tv show and how can a director help you focus on your job as an actor on a busy set?

Working on a big set in TV or film is tough for an actor. There is little, if any rehearsal, and so your preparation has to be complete. You get you're blocking and you go! There are many moving parts on a film set and you have to be aware of them. The camera crew needs to execute complex tasks and you need to be a helpful collaborator. The best advice was attributed to James Cagney, I think, "Learn your lines and hit your marks."

 

The best directors know the language of acting and will take you aside and give you one bit of intention or action to focus on to mold your performance in the coming take to their vision. The director is the only sanctioned "audience" for your work and so their feedback is the key to success.

4.  What can a director of photography do to help you do your job?

DPs have a lot to do on a busy set. Your interaction with them is usually through the director or Assistant Director. The best thing they can do is to keep your working space as reasonable as possible by honoring your eye lines and giving you enough physical room to execute your blocking. They are genius at making these busy places comfortable to act in. My favorite people on set are DPs. I don't think anyone appreciates good acting on set more. It's a busy place but I have, more than a few times, had DPs stop me after a setup is done and give me a really sincere "nice work." They are as present as we are on set and so we share a temporal work space with DPs.

5.  What's your basic approach to acting in a film or tv show?

I learn lines by rote and I learn them backwards and forwards. I prepare physically, including dialects or accents, thoroughly so that they are immediate on set. I do an analysis of the script for intentions - what does my character want from the other character in this scene, in this beat?   This liberates you from playing the lines. Then when the camera rolls, I go for it with all the honesty I have. I play the intention and let the lines fall out of me however they do.

6.  Is it difficult when the camera changes set ups vs a play that keeps going?

Yes, but it's a different challenge. I played guitar in bands for many years. I liken it to playing a gig or playing in the studio. The gig is theater and the studio is film. There is a beauty to playing the whole piece in front of an audience for sure but there is a beauty also in nailing a take. In film, you can take chances. The biggest difference, and it took a long time to get this, is that on stage you need to help the audience "see" you with your physicality and voice but on film you do not. The camera sees deeply into you - into your eyes - and so liberates you to behave naturally, and quietly and with a stillness and honesty you cannot afford on stage.

7.  When you read a script, what do you look for to help build your character before you get on set?

Good scripts contain beats and scenes where something happens. Your character goes from one place to another. Your job as an actor is to find these places, decide or intuit where they are and what is taking place. The key is specificity. With specific actions you can free yourself during performance.

Actor Hugh Scully - CinematographerTools.com

8.  What advice would you give to an actor just starting out in the business?

I'd say, take care of your body. The whole of the human emotional experience is not experienced in the mind. It is experienced in your body. We talk about "broken hearts" and "in the pit of my stomach" not our pre-frontal cortex!

Also, it's a really tough business. Take care of your life. Melissa Leo says "if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, do that!" If you can't then get out there and knock 'em dead!

 

COPYRIGHT 2016 J. MORRIS.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.