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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chief A.D's Thinking. Part -1 (1st A.D's Tips Part - 1)

"I'm king of the world!" - Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic (1997)

Chief A.D's  Thinking. Part - 1

As a chief assistant director or first assistant director (1st A.D.) the way you look at all departments is a bit different than the way the director’s assistant (D.A.) or the director looks that department. This blog is in continuation to the previous one How to plan a shoot in 10 easy steps. and this gives you the 1st A.D.’s perspective to each department and understanding these might give you some tips on how to make your shoot a smoother one.

Remember not all projects are the same and therefore do not follow all tips and suggestions blindly, each project is unique and one has to develop a style that suits all departments but mainly works for that project. There are software’s that help planning and scheduling a shoot like Ep-Scheduling, Celtx , Gorilla, Reel Production Calendar, etc while some of these are free you have to buy most of them, so before spending the producers money do a bit of research and choose what software suits the best to that project or choose what you have used in the past and are comfortable with. While these software’s do help in large productions not always will one get the budget for picking up a planning software. Here one has to plan using tools like excel or word and try to bring in the same accuracy these software’s provide. 

The following perspective’s on each department give a bit of insight into planning and scheduling without the help of software’s. Like said in the 10 easy steps first one has to read all material, and then one does a breakdown of it. In this blog we cover Script BreakdownGenre of the sceneNumber of Shoot Days and Actor’s availability and timingI would put all these under the direction and  production teams responsibility. 
As the 1st A.D. you have to know the script and may be storyboard thoroughly. In features it is reading the entire script and knowing what the story is quite well, in advertising its knowing the storyboard by heart almost frame by frame, in serials reading the script in advance and knowing where the story is going helps, while in documentaries there rarely is the role of any 1st A.D’s if there are any asst’s then they usually double up as production assistant as documentary’s rarely have a large crew. After reading your script you have to break it down get what’s required to plan your shoot from it. Below is the minimum information that would be needed to process in order to plan a smooth days shoot. 

Sc No
Audio / Dialogues
VFX / Special Equipment
scene opens on a wide shot of a camp...
“I am coming..”
Hero camp
Hero in 
Set – 1
As per art break up
20x 20 
blue Chroma 
 Jimmy Jib
area  to be kept clean

Depending on the script and the style that you develop as the 1st A.D. stuff like axis of shoot, day / night, animals, hair n make up or anything else that the script calls for can be added to this. Art can be further broken down into set / location dressing and key props. Some times when there is too much information or there will be repeat in information a totally separate sheet is used and they are then coded which could be Set -1, Set- 2 or Costume 1, Costume -2 etc  Once you have done this break up it will give you a fair idea of the combination of the various elements that would be required so that time is used most efficiently at the shoot. In features you can use one sheet per scene to do the breakdown, this helps when combining scene from all over the film to put your sheets in the order of the schedule and see if it fits all requirements. This is quite similar to what some of the software looks like Below is an example of what that looks like.

What you need to find after this exercise mainly is what is the key driver of the shoot? (importance could be different across different scenes) is it the actor or the equipment or VFX. A lot of times there will be more than one important factor that would drive the planning of the shoot order. You would then use your experience and assign the minimum time to the maximum time required so that the days schedule can be completed without any hassle.
Sometimes there is not much time to get into this amount of detailing in that case one can also use different coloured highlighters and mark it out on the script, like actors (yellow) Art n Props (green) locations (blue) etc then coloured copies of these can be made and each department will have a colour to follow.

What makes shoot planning easier is knowing the genre of the film or rather more importantly of the scene to be shot. You arrive at the time required for each scene basis this like in a stunts sequence prep time before each take is quite long, sometimes you have only one attempt at filming it like in explosions or accidents, here you have to get all things right and everything needs to be double checked before rolling that takes time. Or in case of a hair commercial the hair flying shot, or pack shot in case of commercials reset time needs to be considered. Luck also has to play a huge role in trying to divide the no of shot’s to be taken in a day as anything could go wrong or right, the hair will fail to bounce or the product splash won’t happen the right way, knowing how little time is left for the shoot to warp and how critical it is to get the right hair shot so that you could advice the director that either time is running out and therefore to move on to the remainder shots or when asked to say that we could attempt one more take if the shoot is on track and you can afford that time. In short this helps in knowing how long that scene would take to shoot.  

Number of shoot days represents to the shooting schedule or the number of days that the producer allocates according to the budget. Within this there are usually breakup’s depending on different number of locations, distance between locations and no of scenes to be shot per location.  The first A.D. has to divide the number of scenes into the number of days allocated at each location and see if there is sufficient time to finish all scenes in the script at that location, if number of days are not allocated then you would combine all the same location scenes through the film and then divide them into time required to shoot per scene, add that up and you arrive at the number of days required at each location. For eg, 10 scenes in total at Location A, depending on the type of scene you will assign each of these scene the number of hours you think it would take to shoot that scene, (here is where the previous points come in handy) therefore scene 1 = 2hrs, scene 2 = 1 hour, scene 3 = 4 hours and so on, then you will total the number of hours and divide it across the feasible shifts and you arrive at the no of shoot days or more precisely the no of shifts required.  You have to keep in mind master lighting of the location / set which could be part of the shooting days or extra. 
In advertising where usually it is one location it’s easier to plan, it’s when u have multiple location when this kind of breakups do help. There are ad's which are shot over multiple locations and here knowing distance and time taken between locations, how fast would it take for the crew to shift bases or is there one base and multiple spots close to that the main base while most of the crew then move on smaller mobile units. Here the challenge of scheduling is greater as usually you have have a lot to do and much lesser time to it in.     
In Tv serials usually the time allotted is that at the end of the day the producer should have a minimum of  18 mins of edit time which is the time required for 30 min episode. The time could be across episodes but is what is required for feasibility, in daily soaps there is usually some who is only in charge of scheduling as it takes quite a bit of time getting all combinations of actors and various locations in place and since most serials are shooting on a daily basis it requires someone dedicated to only doing this.
In documentaries if it is budget dependent then one shoots till one is out of money or has the full story covered. Since the crews in most cases are small sometimes just the cameraman and director or even times when its just one person doing all the work, the main thing to get here is to cover as much as is required to finish a good documentary.

Another step in planning your shoot especially if it involves lots of actors over various scenes is to know at the beginning what their available dates are. 
In features there needs to be a larger plan drawn up so that all scenes and locations are covered, usually the A.D. would club all the same location scene’s together, then check the actor combination and date availability, going by the method the AD would request for actors availability at each location by trying to club all their scenes together, this is where it gets tough more the no of characters involved in scenes the more complex it gets when trying to club. It gets even tougher when one is shooting outdoors as actors have to be flown in and out and you calling a actor to travel twice to the location over a few days could add quite a lot to the producers budget. In India there is a reverse way that also happens when big celebrity stars are involved. Here the dates of the stars are given and then the A.D. has to try and finish all the scenes with that actor on the dates given, this usually results in shooting at various locations and coming back to the same locations to complete the remainder scenes at that location which is not ideal, there is a very thin silver lining to this, usually these stars give the producer block dates, which could be anything from 1 week to 2 months, so it’s easier to schedule then. Another thing to be kept in mind when dealing with star’s is their punctuality, each of these usually follow a pattern, like some will always come 3 hours later to the call time while some are bang on time, it’s important to know this as that helps in planning the day and covering as much without the crew waiting idle for stars to arrive. When working with these stars for the first time one can always find out about their patterns by asking other A.D’s who have worked with them earlier.
The same planning is required even further more in advertising when shooting with a celebrity, there is usually only one or two days of shoot and if time is spent waiting the producer might go in a huge  loss if the shoot goes up by even by half a shift. Having said this one cannot keep the star waiting once they have arrived, in advertising usually these stars give only a limited amount of time and extension of that could cost the client for a whole day more.
Some of these shift timings for stars begin from the time they leave their residence and therefore travel time to location is also counted in their total time, eg:- if a star gives 8 hours for a brand for a day’s shoot then the clock begins from the time they leave home and if it takes 2 hrs to reach location then you are left with 6 hours to finish with them which includes hair, makeup, wardrobe, in effect you may end up with only 4 hours of the star on the shooting floor, so real smart planning is required in these cases. In non star cases the A.D. can plan the shoot whichever way is best suited for that project.
In Tv serials its up to the person scheduling to figure out the dates in advance so that perfect combinations can be scheduled. The lead cast are usually available throughout the schedule while most of the secondary cast have no pf days per month as contracts, so a actor might give 3 - 4 days per month only as per contract and any further day costs the producer. Here when u have 3 or more such actors to deal with is when scheduling gets really tricky. The best way is plan early to have the entire months plan drawn up before the schedule can begin and that way all the possible ways to combine have been considered.
In documentaries if the subject is a person then his availability to the filmmaker had to be obtained, if its a topic where different people are involved then again finding out the right time to get from them in advance is required.   

Check out the Chief A.D's Thinking. Part -2 as well, 

More of these coming up in Chief A.D's Thinking. Part -3.

Auggieism:- What do you call Auggie with a whip.... 
Ans:-  Floggie....

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