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Planning the Shoot

Big budget, small budget or no budget?

A large-scale production with significant financial backing can afford to have a broad distribution of labour to skilled specialists who collaborate to create, distribute and exhibit the finished product. Small-scale or independent productions are often constrained by low or non-existent budgets, limited technology and a small cast and crew.

These constraints may challenge the creativity of the independent filmmaker. They can however provide greater opportunity for creative control over decisions made during the production process.

Production management and coordination

Crew roles are assigned during the planning phase, with each member of the production crew allocated one or more specialist roles prior to filming and during the production phase. Independent filmmakers will often perform several production roles. Working in a small production team, there is the opportunity to rotate through the specialist roles to gain experience of the different responsibilities required in each.

Key production roles include:

  • Director
  • Cinematographer
  • Production assistant or floor manager
  • Art director
  • Clapper
  • Casting director
  • Costume designer
  • Actors

Script breakdown

Prior to constructing the shooting schedule, make sure the screenplay is broken down according to all the components that are required to shoot every scene and sequence in the script, including:

  • Equipment
  • Locations and settings
  • Cast and specialist crew
  • Costumes and makeup
  • Props

This breakdown will help the production crew devise a realistic production schedule and detail all the facilities needed to shoot the production efficiently.

Shooting schedule

A production or shooting schedule indicates the estimated number of days required to film each scene. The intention of the shooting schedule is to organise the shots and scenes so that no time is wasted in setting up or moving equipment and props and, most importantly, so that there is sufficient opportunity for the cast to give the best performance possible.

To create the shooting schedule, follow these guidelines:

  • Break down the screenplay by location.
  • Detail all the scenes to be shot at each specific location.
  • Break up each scene into segments and list all the equipment, cast and crew needed to shoot the scene.
  • For each segment, specify the duration, difficulty and time of day the scene needs to be shot.

The total number of days indicated by breaking down the screenplay in this way will indicate the time frame required to shoot the entire project.

Rehearsing the script

Film production traditionally begins with a set-up and rehearsal. Once the screenplay is prepared, a script read-through is held to check the quality of the scripted dialogue and as a last-minute chance to make any further changes to the screenplay.

The read-through also helps to prepare the entire cast and crew for the actual shoot, so it is best done on location with all cast and crew present. Actors block their scenes (the positioning of cast on set to determine how the scene will be shot) while the camera crew starts to visualise all the individual shots required to frame their performances.

Pre-shoot checklist

Consulting a pre-shoot checklist before the first day of shooting will help to ensure you have everything you need. An example of such a checklist is as follows:

  • Camera equipment: fully charged batteries, spare batteries, cables, microphones
  • Script
  • Props and costumes in labelled boxes
  • MiniDV tapes
  • All equipment should be labelled (especially tapes, to keep track of footage shot)