While it's not possible to account for all the variables that will occur, there are a number of things you can do to save time and effort. With that in mind, experienced First Assistant Director Jesper Petzke has compiled ten helpful tips and tricks to help you make the most of your schedule.
Oh, and look out for a bonus tip at the very end.
1. Find The Right Amount Of Work For The First Day
Set The Right Tone For Production
The first day of shooting is a phenomenon. The concentration and dedication of a team are never as great as when shooting begins. In a sense, therefore, the first day of shooting dictates the course of a shoot. As a rule of thumb, if things go smoothly, things will go smoothly through the whole shoot; if things are difficult, then the shooting days to come will not be easier.
Don't Start Too Big
Therefore, the first day's workload should not be too much or too little as you want to give an excellent example of what is to come for the rest of the shoot. It should be organized so everyone can focus and get to work.
It's no harm if there are a few challenges to be addressed, like staging questions for the director or technical issues for various departments – these are normal parts of any production and do not have to be avoided. You should, however, always refrain from filming complex or technically challenging scenes on the first day.
2. Smalls Sets First, Larger Sets Later
Get Potentially Difficult Scenes Out Of The Way First
One of the first scheduling decisions is the location distribution over the shooting period. It makes sense to always start with small sets - with filming locations that will require one day of shooting or less - and finish the shoot at the primary filming location.
Why? Shooting on small sets is associated with particular difficulties and risks. Also, moving from one location to another means less is completed than on a key set where the team can set up a studio-like approach to maximize productivity.
Make Up Ground at the Main Location
The main sets provide greater planning flexibility and more opportunities to make up ground lost earlier in the production. Leftover scenes, for example, can be rewritten for the main location and made up for there. On the main set, it's also possible to schedule a long shooting day which includes overtime, which is generally not possible on a small set.
3. Creatively Combine Sets
Be Careful with Location Changes
One of the biggest time drains on any movie production is moving between two locations within a day of shooting. These changes mean all departments at the first location have to pack together, reposition and redevelop at the second location. This not only costs time but is also a risk. If any unforeseen problems occur during the change of scene, the rest of the shooting day can be endangered. For these reasons, you should avoid location changes whenever you can.
This can be done by finding creative solutions in the shooting schedule. You can capture certain scenes on another set: There is a high possibility that a scene set on a 'Secluded Road' can be combined with the film location 'Forest' without the need for a move.
Certain sets can also be staged in other locations - ‘John's Bedroom' can very likely be staged in the filming location 'Harry's House.’ It is crucial to search for these potential combinations early to maximize the possibility of doubling up on sets and locations.
4. Pool Staff and Resources Efficiently
Minimize Working Days for Staff and Equipment
The people in front of and behind the camera and the necessary resources required for filming are paid for on the basis of whole working days. These days can be correlated with the schedule easily. Compile the scenes that will need the same staff and resources to be filmed and keep the working days needed to film them as low as possible.
The fewer shooting days an actor, a filming location, a crane or a dog with a coach will be required, the less they will cost. Therefore, prioritize resources based on their costs: An actor or location costs more than a crane or a dog with a coach per day, so focus on these things first before moving on to the cheaper parts of the puzzle.
5. Pay Attention to Chronology
Accommodate the Artistic Process
At the same time, it must be understood that the artistic needs of actors and directors should not be secondary to purely financial considerations. Instead, you should strive for a certain chronology. By doing so, you help the actors find their characters and develop relationships with each other.
You also allow the director to build on what he has already worked on and help him or her develop the staging of the scene. This does not have to be associated with additional costs.
With small sets, it is usually sensible to shoot chronologically as there will not be many scenes to shoot. With a main set, you can set out to shoot chronologically and adjust things as necessary as you have more scope with the extended shooting time you will be working with.
You also help directors and actors if you try to stage crucial emotional scenes chronologically, even if these shooting days are supplemented with various small scenes, which should also be organized so that they follow the story's narrative arc if possible.
6. Start With The Most Difficult Picture Of The Day
Take Emotional Intensity Into Account
The scenes of a screenplay are challenging in different ways. Just as each scene requires a different technical effort, scenes also have different emotional weights. A highly emotional scene is more difficult and strenuous for directors and actors than a scene designed to provide the necessary cinematic information to move the film along.
Therefore, you should start each day of shooting with the most difficult scene of the day and keep emotionally complicated scenes spread out over the entire shooting period.
By doing this, you are not only thoughtfully considering the energy and concentration everyone involved on set can expend during the course of the day, but you are also providing the ideal circumstances for the filming of the dramaturgically important scenes of your film - which are usually the emotional ones.
7. Merge Related Scenes
Combine Scenes Where Possible
Every shot in the shooting schedule has to be rehearsed and filmed. Consider a scene with a conversation between two characters in a room, with separate over-the-shoulder shots capturing each actor.
First, everything will be set up to capture Character A. All cameras will face in one direction for shots 1,3 and 5, after which everything will be rebuilt to face in the other direction to capture Character B in shots 2,4 and 6.
Now imagine if Character A leaves the room to make a cup of coffee in another room while the conversation continues. This might be listed as a separate scene and set in the script. A director might reasonably decide that putting a coffee machine in the first room would make the whole set-up easier to film.
When analyzing the script, you should keep an eye out for individual scenes like these that could be merged, for example, because the plot information merges seamlessly or because the scenes are only separated by a brief leap in time. If the director decides to shoot everything in one room, two or more scenes will become one.
This is always associated with time-saving due to the absence of additional set-ups, tests, and rehearsals. In addition, it helps both actors, too, as they can perform for long stretches at a time, meaning the result can also be better.
8. Planning A Night Shoot
Avoid Working with a Tired Crew
Everyone has their own internal body clock, and each person handles deviations from it differently depending on their constitution. People are used to being in bed after midnight. Unfortunately, in the film industry we are confronted again and again with shooting situations which are required to take place at night.
Experience has shown that shooting becomes increasingly slow and unfocused during the night, and the scene being shot suffers because of it.
So, think about creative alternatives before planning a long night shoot until dawn. Maybe the night can be divided into two half-shift days, each with half a shift in daylight and half at night? Nobody wants to work long into the night if there is a better alternative.
9. Weather Issues
One of the most significant uncertainties in filming is the weather. This means you must prepare your schedule from the outset for the possibility of bad weather. It will help you to create cover plans for shooting days - flexible workloads which are intended to adjust to weather situations in the course of the shoot. A shooting day can be covered in two different ways.
Keep Interior and Exterior Sets Flexible During a Shooting Day
On a day of shooting with mixed indoor and outdoor work, you can keep the order of the scenes flexible to react to weather developments in the short term: In good weather, you can start outside. In bad conditions, you can start indoors. With this trick, you can avoid at least half a day of rain.
Exchange Days and Cover Sets
The second option is to exchange a day of shooting completely. Instead of undertaking the planned shooting day, you choose another one at short notice, which can be implemented independently of the weather.
For example, with “indoor” cover sets. However, such a shooting day must be identified early in the production of the shooting schedule because it can only be actioned if fully prepared. The downside of this: Potentially higher costs and definitely some stressful prep hours for the creative departments.
10. Prepare To Change
You can only plan for so many things during the pre-production process. The closer it gets to filming, the more logistical requirements and restrictions increase. But even for an experienced director, it can be a stressful situation if an actress has to leave the set at 3 pm because she has a theater performance in the evening or if a restaurant must be closed by 12 pm.
Both of these situations have consequences for staging and concentration. So, you should avoid such limitations if possible and give yourself flexibility. The fight is worth it: The more flexibility you have, the easier it will be to handle unforeseeable circumstances when shooting.
Use the Right Shooting Scheduling Tools
While software tools replaced physical strip boards some years ago, it's still recommended not to use the next best thing to create your shooting schedules. You don't want it to be bothersome to move scenes and shooting days around — be it for optimization reasons or because of emergency replanning.
Remember that changes also have to be distributed to all people concerned. A tool which updates your crew automatically can save you many hours of work you typically would have to spend on writing emails and individually watermarking documents.
Feel fully prepared? If not, no worries. Making movies is teamwork. You don’t need to find all solutions by yourself. Talk to the crew. You can distribute your draft plan to all production participants and ask for their opinion. From the perspective of their respective departments, they may have valuable ideas.
But do not be under any illusions - a schedule is never perfect for everyone, and somebody will always have to compromise. The trick is to find the best solution for each project.
What would be the worst outcome? Not finishing all the scenes planned for a day. Prepare for this to happen — because it can and it will happen. How to prepare? You should try to ensure that the last scene of a shooting day can be restarted (cost-neutral at best) on another day of shooting — either because it returns to the location or because the scene can also be staged in another location.
With the latter option, close-ups are easier than wide shots. So better to shoot the wide angles first. A close-up could be picked up more easily in a different location — if just a small portion of the original set needs to be seen in the background.