There is an old saying that goes along the lines of “if you want to learn about films, go and make them”.
That is certainly true, but it’s often only after your film is complete when you have the first chance to reflect back and think about what you could do differently/better next time.
To make film after film, one after the other, month after month however, is just not within my pocket allowance. To help balance my learning in between my own projects, I take to the forums, websites, podcasts (here’s some great ones on my playlist right now), videos and DVD/Blu-Ray commentaries. I learn by projecting myself into the shoes of my filmmaking idols, so that when I shout “action” on my next short film, I am a better filmmaker.
Another way to improve is by actually being a fly on the wall on other film shoots, so that’s exactly what I set out to do for Slapshot Films and their new film ‘Dog Eat Dog’. The film is an action packed (and I mean ACTION PACKED) fly by the edge of your seat action-thriller about a gangster on the chase of what is owed to him. Director Steven Santillan, a friend and 2nd AD for The Cure, asked me to help with some Behind The Scenes video to document the shoot and production. How could I refuse!? I’d be on set, get some great content for a great production crew and learn at the same time. It offered me a chance to soak in the environment, whereas a traditional crew job would have seen me completely absorbed in the shoot at hand. Win win!
So, I picked up my gear, headed down for two crazy cool days, and here’s what I learned from watching from afar (and very close up!)
Before the cameras even rolled, Steven and team had meticulously crafted and rehearsed each scene. Dialogue reads, stunt choreography, even the shot coverage had already been filmed during rehearsals, so that on the day everyone knew exactly how each shot was taking place and test edits had been made to identify what would need to be re-thought or changed for the main shoot. It also meant that the actors were already primed and set for their scenes, each knew their character’s objectives and motivations, something that can be missed during a busy stressful shoot short on time.
Lesson learned – spend more time rehearsing
I could have used so much more time in rehearsal for The Cure, instead I feel that rushing in to the shoot may have cost us an even better short film.
2. Keep The Cameras Rolling
Rather than call ‘cut’ on a take, if Steven thought they needed to reset or go again, he would continue to roll cameras and audio. This meant that instantly, cast and crew could be ready to go again instead of having to wait, losing energy and momentum as the slate was updated with new take numbers, and file notes made for the camera department & sound department. There’s nothing worse than slowing down during a film shoot as it is so hard to pick up pace again.
The downside is much larger digital resources are needed if filming in something like 4k, but the upside is far more advantageous; a more streamlined, faster paced shoot. Big tick in my book!
Lesson learned – If you want to go again, keep rolling and just do it.
I’d probably save that 2-3 mins were saved every time we kept rolling instead of cutting. Add that up over the day and you could have a whole extra setup or two you could be filming.
3. Budget Should Never Dictate Production Value
If you look at Slapshot Film’s YouTube Channel, you’ll note that every film looks slick, well polished, and worthy of budgets that you’d expect for tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, these guys are pushing everything beyond budget limits.
On Dog Eat Dog, they had two cameras running for most of the shoot. That’s an extra angle for every single setup. Think of how much you can add to the story with that. They also would ditch these cameras and move to DSLRs on camera cranes, and even had a drone come in to provide a birds eye view for a scene, and during filming inside for a fight sequence, the drone operator was outside capturing shots of the location to help set the scene up autonomously.
Lesson learned – A 2nd Camera Unit could be priceless in terms of value
I’d certainly love to have more options when editing my short films, until now I’ve only ever run with single camera shoots.
4. Wear More Than One Hat
The traditionalists might disagree here, but I dislike film hierarchy. I know that there is a reason that they exist, but they can introduce a mentality of ‘that’s not my job’ way too easily in the low/no-budget film world in my opinion. On Dog Eat Dog, every one had a set role, and carried out that role to an awesome level, but they also kept an awareness that meant that they helped set props, dress sets, move lights, and a millions other things that meant that the shoot could move on quickly.
Everyone leaned in when packing down after the shoot, it was great!
Lesson learned – The passionate people will always go above & beyond
Now I’ve never worked with someone who didn’t go above and beyond, but it goes without saying that it really shows the people who are keen to make the production the best it can be, and the community the best it can be, when they’re running around picking up rubbish when it’s not their job.
5. Have Fun!
I seem to say constantly, that filmmaking (as fun as it is) is very stressful if you’re not careful. This can affect everyone else around you if you’re not actually appreciating what it is you are doing in the first place. On Dog Eat Dog, there were moments where the cast & crew were focussed on getting a scene done, but there was an overwhelming energy on the shoot. It was positive, fun, and hilarious. Everyone bonded, and I was made to feel a part of the team instantly because of this.
How do you then end of with a bad result after an experience like this? Surely impossible!
Lesson learned – Remember what you’re doing and why you’re doing it
There is pressure and so many restrictions when you make a film that sometimes you forget to take a moment, look around you and smile. I’ll definitely be doing that more often!
Dog Eat Dog is going to be immense! – Nick