A Six Step Guide To Shooting A Film On Location
Everything you need to know about starting a shoot on location the right way.
A film production on location can be thought of as a circus. It's a collection of vehicles, artists, and animals setting up a tent in a field, and then, when everything is ready, beginning the performance. While a circus will be in place for several days or weeks, a film production might come to a location for just a single day.
The 'big top' must therefore be set up as quickly as possible. To avoid chaos and to get to the performance as efficiently as possible, here is a step-by-step guide to starting a shoot smoothly.
Preparing For Shooting
The first thing you will need to do is figure out is how the location should be prepared.
What Is Needed At The Location?
The logistical preparation of the location will have been completed in pre-production by the Location Manager long before the filming day. After the shooting location has been selected, he negotiates with the location owner about the actualities of the shoot and makes sure the location contract is in order. He will figure out the necessities of shooting during the technical scene inspection: this will help him visualize how the filming location will look in the film and what the requirements of the set will be. He translates all of this information into a concrete, and highly detailed, plan.
A location will not only have to be artistically prepared for the scene, it will also need to have a certain infrastructure. Among the things required will be lounges for the cast and crew, work spaces for the make-up and costume departments, storage rooms, toilets, parking areas and electricity and water connections. Studios provide these necessities with mobile infrastructure like tents, trailers, portable toilets and other sanitary systems, generators and catering vehicles with built-in kitchens, depending on what is required at the location.
The Location Manager sets up these logistics and creates plans to use them. He also collects all permits, such as for road closures or erecting lights. Depending on the size of the production, he will work with the 1st or 2nd AD (or perhaps even another production manager) to draw up a schedule and translate the planned work into a schedule, which is distributed via call sheet on the eve of the day of shooting. The times on the call sheet are binding for all team members.
Managing the logistics at the location will take teamwork and coordination.
Teamwork And Organisation
On the morning of the day of shooting, the Assistant Location Manager (and/or a Location Assistant) is the first person at the filming location. They will overview the plans for the day, the requirements of the set and all approvals or prohibitions so that all the necessary elements required to facilitate the day's shoot are in order.
The Location Manager will, depending on the shooting schedule, often have moved on to the next location, where he gets to work planning the following day's shoot. When shooting is over, the ALM and Location Assistant take care to ensure the filming location is returned to its pre-shooting state and ensure that mobile infrastructure is returned.
Preparing The Base
Now it's time to prepare the location base camp for the influx of people.
In the next step, the location is prepared for the arrival of the departments. The mobile infrastructure is arranged at the base and connected to electricity and water. This area around the base will also include parking areas for vehicles not directly involved in shooting. This is the focal point of the filming location, it is where everyone will congregate, rest and work. Drivers arrive and depart here, actors are prepared by the make up and costume departments and the extras will kill time here between scenes.
This will be the first point of contact for crew looking for information and updates about the production. It is also the interface for communication between the location and the outside world. Once built, it will not move. If the shoot is taking place in a studio, the base area will still be prepared accordingly, even if in this case it will be directly beside the set.
See the image below to get an idea of how everything should be arranged:
Arrival Of The Film Crew
The arrival of all of the various departments to the location will have to be effectively managed.
The time has come for the team to arrive. Every specialist department - sometimes every position in that department - has its own start time, which is based on the amount of lead time required by the department or the employee until the start of a fixed schedule point. This ensures that all necessary preparations are completed by the time the shooting starts. It is not good for the budget if a team that only needs two hours to prepare before shooting is on site six hours beforehand.
The ASL coordinates the arrival with his team: private vehicles are parked in areas where they do not hinder the shoot, and functional vehicles like trailers and trucks are assigned to their designated positions. Since the technical departments and production design department need their equipment in the immediate vicinity of the set to facillitate the shooting process, these vehicles park in separate parking lots to the rest of the team.
The vehicles with the largest equipment, mostly lights and additional camera equipment, are the closest to the set followed by the cameras, props, sound equipment and other essentials to which this privileged parking space is also granted.
The distance from set to base depends on the shooting location. Supervision therefore evolves with the arrival of the technical teams: The Location Assistant, for example, might advance to the set while the ALM takes over the base. This way they ensure that as little time as possible is wasted with maneuvering and logistical clutter and that all crew members are briefed as quickly as possible.
The better the preliminary planning and the internal organization of the location and set management, the sooner everything will be successfully prepared for the beginning of the shoot.
A logical sequence of events is required to make sure everything progresses as planned
Preparing Work Spaces
Once the departments have arrived, they prepare their work spaces for the shoot. At the base, in make-up and costuming, the preparation of the actors begins while on the set the technical preparations are being finalized. All departments are aiming to be on stand-by at a certain point so that they can handle the shooting process quickly and flexibly when the time comes to roll the cameras. What this means in actuality depends on the location and the requirements of the first scene of the day.
Delays are avoided at all costs in this tightly timed sequence; if an actress cannot be made up because there is not enough electricity in the make-up trailer, she will not be ready on time when the rehearsal starts. One department experiencing a delay at the beginning of the day therefore immediately means a loss of shooting time. It is essential to coordinate the development of each department's tasks and make sure that they are completed within the scheduled time.
It's almost time to shoot, but first everyone must be put through their paces.
It is only at this point that the Director can start the rehearsal - which does not mean that the Director only comes to the set now. Often he or she comes earlier to get ready for the day of shooting and scope out the set. Only now, when all the departments are organized, does the staging work begin with a rehearsal for the first scene of the day.
A control test always takes place directly on the set. Together with the actors, the director develops the sequence of the information described in the script. Emotional subtleties are usually not part of the rehearsal. It is instead about finalizing the camera settings and at the same time providing the crew with the necessary information to prepare their own work spaces specifically for the shooting sequences.
Ready To Shoot
After the rehearsal, the camera department knows where to set up the camera for the first shot, the lighting team can align the lights to the positions of the actors and the sound crew can position their microphones. While this is occuring, the make-up and costume departments have time to complete their preparatory work. These times will have been coordinated during scheduling and will be reviewed by the 1st AD.
It is only now, when everything is finally ready, that the cameras can begin to roll and the performance can begin.
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