Three days to go before principal photography starts and I’m still tinkering with the shot list.
I posted a ‘definitive’ shot list to our team’s shared Dropbox folder about a week ago, but it’s changed several times since then. Actually, the list of shots itself hasn’t changed, it’s just that I keep adding notes to how we might approach them.
For example, in one scene we have a character (Luke) in bed, dreaming. When I first imagined this scene, I saw a high-angle shot looking down on him. Now I’m thinking, should we shoot this side-on, from pillow level? The answer, of course, is that we should do both, to provide coverage – if we have the time.
The problem is that I’ve been thinking about this too much. I keep running scenes through my head, and every time I do that I think of a new way to do it.
In fact, while writing that third paragraph, about which angle to take, it occurred to me that the high angle will echo an earlier scene, where Luke is lying on the ground in a state of distress. Hmmm… time to make a note on the shot list.
The process of developing the shot list was educational. I decided against having a storyboard – not just because my drawing skills are limited, but because it’s too prescriptive. I think it’s easy to lock yourself into thinking a scene has to be shot a specific way when, in fact, the decisions you make at the storyboard stage can be quite arbitrary.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve shot a number of tests, mainly to work out how I want to handle camera placement and movement. But it also brought home to me that you shouldn’t try to dictate the shot before you’re on set/location. As a photographer, this shouldn’t have been news to me.
The next lesson was turning the reading script into a shooting script. When I started adding specific shot descriptions, I learned to what extent each scene would need to be broken down into individual shots. That was an eye-opener. The number of shots quickly multiplied. And I found that, once I started to work out where the camera would be positioned, I had to think again about where the actors would stand and how they would move.
In fact, drawing up the shot list underlined the fact that, in a couple of scenes involving multiple actors, we haven’t really thought through how they would move around in such a way that we can shoot them adequately and still maintain a sense of cohesion. We’re going to have to do the blocking on the day of the shoot and these two scenes are still the ones that worry me most.
Another thing that came out of creating the shot list was thinking about continuity. Early on, we’ll have a montage of shots of Luke walking down some country lanes. In my test shots I had a stand-in (wife long-suffering wife, Trish) walking right-to-left through the frame. But when I pulled the list together I realised that the first shot in the sequence would have to have Luke walking left-to-right. In order to maintain a proper continuity through the montage, I’ve had to rework all the subsequent shots.
Finally, the shot list was surprising in terms of the number of shots we’ll be shooting MOS (mitt out sound – ie, silent) – at least on the first couple of days. That’ll give Tom, our sound guy, time to practice, which is something we’ll all need.
I have a feeling the next couple of weeks are going to be an educational experience. At least, I hope so.