Preparing for shoot day – Part 6: How to make a (good) promotional film
This is the latest instalment in our How To Make A (Good) Promotional Film series. If you missed previous posts or want to go right back to the beginning and find out what it’s all about, click here. New instalments will be released every Friday. Click here to have them emailed straight to your inbox the moment they go live.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.”
You get my point.
- Shot list
- Interview questions
- On-site logistics
- Insurance and risk assessment
So yes, nearly there.
We covered the shot list in Part Four. Before the shoot you want to distribute this to all the relevant people. Your camera person needs to think about how they’re going to capture all of that, and what equipment they might need. The client (or whoever is responsible for the filming site) needs to check that it is feasible to access those places and people.
We’ll cover interviews in depth, but you need to have a list of interview questions in advance. You also need to decide who you are interviewing, where you are interviewing them, and when in the day it will take place.
I cannot stress how important it is to have a schedule. If you don’t… you’ll find that it is 4 pm, you’ve had no lunch, you’ve only got through a fifth of your shot list, and everyone is very miserable and irritated.
Use your shot list as the guide for your schedule. Plan things in a sensible order, so you’re not running back and forth across the site. Then work out at what time of day you should film in each area. For example, don’t plan to do the outside shots at 4 pm in the depths of winter.
How long should you estimate?
Overestimate everything. You may think having someone walk along and check their computer and walk off again would take, what, 10 minutes? Schedule an hour.
The more you are setting up action, the longer it will take. You are not working with professional actors, so it’s not fair to yell at that poor clumsy engineer who’s volunteered to help, just because you haven’t planned enough time for the errors.
Why does it take so long?!
First of all, you need to film everything from two or three different angles. Second, the poor guy or gal you’re filming might look nervous and awkward the first few times. Then inevitably someone will unexpectedly walk into shot. Finally, you realise that the first time they used their left hand, and then used their right, so you’ll have to cover that off again.
On the other hand, filming something that is already busy, exciting and happening anyway is always much quicker. The people involved can just get on with what they’re doing, and you can move around finding the different angles and capturing the action.
I find every shoot involves a mixture of both, because you’re not going to turn up on site to find everyone magically doing something relevant and interesting that fits together into a neat storyline. You’re going to have to set up at least some of the action yourself.
Setting up and packing up
Don’t forget to plan time for setting up and packing up. You can’t just arrive on site and suddenly be filming an interview. You need time to find your way around, for everyone to have tea and go to the bathroom, then to get all the equipment out and ready, and then to find your way to the first filming spot. At the end of the day, you will need to do all that in reverse.
Plan in a lunch break, and plan it early in the day. If you have arrived on site at 8 or 9 in the morning then your crew might have been up from 5 or 6 am. They’re hungry, and a hungry crew is not a productive crew. Which leads me nicely onto my next, and possibly most important, point…
FEED YOUR CREW. Feed them more than might seem necessary. Feed them anything they want. And feed them constantly throughout the day. A well-fed crew is a productive and happy crew. And filming is hungry work!
First of all, the day before you go filming, you need to go shopping. Buy snacks, LOTS of snacks. Think of things that are easy to transport and eat on the move (bananas, crisps, cereal bars) but also a balance of sweet and savoury – avoid a mid-afternoon sugar crash!
Next, lunch. Do you need to bring a picnic lunch, is there somewhere nearby you can go to, can you get food delivered, or is there a canteen on site? Hot food is always more welcome than sandwiches. But don’t forget your schedule. Your crew would love to go out for a three-course meal and a glass of wine, but your budget can’t cover it and that would be the whole afternoon gone.
They say the human body can survive for three weeks without food, but only a few days without water. Keep your crew hydrated.
Have water bottles on hand and keep them filled up. You may expect that your crew are all grown up and can manage that sort of things themselves. However, they are busy and very focused on their work. So make sure they have easy access to water at all times.
Where are you filming, and how are you all going to get there? Film crews will expect you to organise the transport, or at least agree on mileage and timings with them if they have their own car. Plan in advance.
Are you getting taxis, hiring a vehicle or going on the train? What time do you need to meet, have you left plenty of time for any changes overs? Is everyone accounted for? And is there room for you all and the equipment?
For longer distances, trains are quicker. But then what about the journey from the train to the site? Filming needs a lot of equipment and someone has to carry it. Don’t plan to be doing more than a few minutes walk without a car.
Before you arrive on site, have a call with someone who knows the site well, and check out these key logistics. It’s even better if you can go along to do a reccy in advance but time, distance, access or budget may not allow for that.
As I like to do when going on holiday (is it just me?), it’s a good idea to run through the whole day in your head. Imagine what you might need, where you might be going, and who you might need to ask. Then make sure you have as many answers as possible before you start.
Are there toilets? This might seem a silly question, but when you’re filming at an airfield the answer is no. So you’re going to want to think of some options, even if that option is having a pack of tissues in your pocket and identifying a good bush.
Food and water
Are there taps to refill water bottles (if not, bring more bottles)? Is there anywhere that serves food for lunch, or somewhere to heat up or prepare food? Can we make tea or coffee?
If anyone is driving to the site, can you park there? Can you stop the car at the nearest entrance to unload first?
Is there somewhere to put all the equipment? Ideally, you want a ‘base-camp’ where you can put all your stuff, assemble equipment and lay out snacks. This gives the crew somewhere clear to go back to for breaks or to get extra items.
Being looked after
Is there one designated person who will stay with you and the crew all day and check that you have what you need, know where you’re going, and aren’t accidentally leaning on a big red button that says ‘Do Not Press’?
Do you know who to call when you arrive on site? Does your crew know in case they get there first? Does your crew know your number, and do you know each of theirs? You don’t want to waste 30 minutes of filming time trying to find each other.
You need to make sure that this whole endeavour is insured. Hopefully nothing will go wrong, but if a member of the crew gets their arm trapped in some heavy equipment, or an old lady trips in the street over your tripod, you’ve got some serious trouble on your hands.
Freelancers usually have their own insurance, but this might only cover them and not third parties. Production companies will be insured. Hired equipment comes with its own insurance, or you can pay extra to cover it. You can get one-day insurance for these types of activities. Check it out, get it covered. It’s not worth the consequences if something happens.
It’s better if no one gets trapped in any machinery, and that no old ladies even come close to tripping over, so do a risk assessment. It will help you identify what could go wrong and stop it happening. Talk with your site contact to make sure you have covered everything and find out what safety protocols they have in place.
Share the risk assessment with everyone involved and have a safety briefing at the beginning of the day.
Now I know that’s a lot to think about, but if you cover it all before you go, you’ll have a fun and productive day doing the actual shooting. Which is the part we all love.
Next, I’m finally going to let you on set in Part 7 – The Shoot
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