AD's 2

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chief A.D’s Thinking. Part – 2 (1st A.D’s Tips Part – 2)

"Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!"- Oliver Hardy, Sons of the Desert (1933)

                                                   Chief A.D's  Thinking. Part - 2

Continuing from where we left off in Chief A.D's Thinking Part-1 we cover a few more tips as how a first assistant director (1st A.D.) looks at different departments. Also read  How to plan a shoot in 10 easy steps. before you go ahead with these tips. In Part -2 we cover Director Understanding, Location / Set – Art, Lighting Shift and DOP’s Preference, Shoot order and Back up Plan.

Director Understanding

What I mean when I say director understanding is simply understand the director, as the 1st A.D. understand what the director is trying to say and what the director wants to do. Remember the most important thing whether the director is a established one or even if he is a beginner, all they want is from the 1st A.D. is that the shoot should run smooth. Most directors have a standard style of working, like some would do the shot breakdown only on the set just before the scene, some like to leave the entire day planning to 1st A.D. and don’t bother what needs to be shot next. Understanding their style can come from having worked with them or the production house earlier, may be asking people who have worked with them about how the director likes things done. The genre of the film also helps in understanding what needs to be done, like some directors concentrate on the style, so this guy would look very closely into details of props like fabric or lenses or kind of equipment being hired etc. Some like the actors to do most for the film so they would concentrate a lot on casting and would like spending time explaining and rehearsing with actors. This does not mean that the rest of the areas are overlooked but whatever be the style of your director its easier for you to function as you will know what areas you need to concentrate on and what areas may be less important from the shoot point of view. Lastly in general Directors in features always look at the larger picture while advertising directors will be looking at minute details like even the colour of a prop in the background, the tv serial directors would be concerned with timing of scenes (to fit the episode) and documentary directors would mainly worried if the point that they are trying to make is coming out or not.

Location / Set – Art

Shoot at a outdoor location 

Location v/s Set in features, TV series as well as in advertising, as a 1st A.D. it is important to know when the place would be ready to be handed over for shooting. In case of actual locations like airports or railway stations or landscape shots  there usually is no set dressing or a few props to be placed and one can begin shooting as soon as the DOP is ready to roll. Sometimes in these cases where some propping has to be done the art team needs to be made aware of the time available in which to finish it, public location’s like streets or like the ones mentioned are usually available only for a few hours and therefore reaching these locations on time and fully prepared helps. Planning and finding a base that is as close as possible to these locations and getting all ready in advance there before moving to the final filming location helps. In case of locations that are houses or mills or places like stores there could be a bit of propping that needs to be done and the A.D. needs to find out how long this would take. 

Indoor built set for a shoot

In case where a Set is required, set construction is followed by set propping and after which lighting can begin, as a A.D. when meeting with the art team one would have get a time line from the art director for each and every location so that the final schedule fall into place. E.g:- a project that involves set as well locations the A.D. will have to find out these details and make sure the set construction has begun on time so that the floor is ready for shoot on the desired date keeping the time taken for lighting in mind as well. Set construction could go on for days or even months if the detailing is elaborate, there also needs to be the meeting between the Art and the DOP and VFX team (if any) to figure practical light sources and if any part needs to be constructed in such a manner to suit easy filming, like movable wall’s or extra windows or in case of VFX like a portable chroma wall or even a moving set like in case of an airplane, ship interior.

Set built of a ship's cabin

Bottom line wherever you are shooting is that a time frame has to be agreed upon and stuck to by the art team, direction team and the producer who has to make sure that all is done so that this can fall into place. As simple as this may sound if there are minor delays here it will just spiral into a lot more other problems. Like a delay in obtaining the location for art work to being might delay it being ready for shoot which in turn will delay the start of the shoot and that could throw a lot more things out of gear.

Its always good to have at least one dedicated A.D. to art especially in features and TV series where continuity of set, and props go over a period of many days. These days its easy for the A.D. to keep continuity using a simple digital camera, as long as the pictures are clear and organised into folders with details the job on set is fairly simple and yet could go drastically wrong if no one is paying attention, like same props being used in 2 different locations.

Lastly don’t forget to clear all the requirement lists with the art and production team, this is one space that mostly goes into grey area where art say’s this needs to be done by production or vice versa, you don’t want to be stuck on set where one assumed the other is getting it. It's best to have lists typed and copies given to each department so that all know what they are responsible for and the job gets done.

Lighting Shift and DOP’s Preference

So depending on whether your shoot location is a built up set or a existing location your cinematographer (DOP) will ask you for a certain amount of time to light up the place. In places where lighting is not possible like a street or a market usually the time taken for the DOP to be ready would be amount of time taken to load up the camera and rig it if necessary and you are ready to roll. This does not mean that there may be no lighting in these places, there could be sometimes the placement of reflectors and or large lights at distances to add fill or spot light in the environment.     

In cases of controlled environment mostly indoor locations and in cases of where u are on a constructed set, the DOP and the gaffer would determine the no of lights that would be required to light up the place and in turn how long would it take for the lights to get set up and be ready to roll, this could vary from a few hours to half a shift to even a full lighting day or two depending on the size and kind of lighting required. 

As a A.D. once you have this information it helps to determine the time required by the DOP and his team to be ready to roll the first shot of the day. So now depending on the kind of shot’s to be taken (Storyboard or shot break down) which is decided by the director you would go about planning the shots from the time for the first roll onward's. You have to try and fit all the shots planned for that day and make sure that there is sufficient time to finish all the planned shots, or complete the scene, in case of shooting for more than one day balance shots could continue the next day but being careful that too much of shots moved to the next day might increase the work the next day and if further moved then shots or scenes required from that location might not finish and therefore leave you with a incomplete scene or a film.  Generally large amount of time goes into the first shot of the day and you pick up pace after that, this happens because you want everything to be right and all departments to fall in gear before you proceed. Also once all the master lighting is done there is lesser amount of shifting of light’s (compared to the master) for the shots to progress.

Remember to ask the cinematographer his preference for shooting order, (either at the recce or the previous day if needed) but do so only after u have a plan already ready so u can discuss it out, don’t forget to include the director in the plan if not at the discussion stage at least before you lock on your final shoot order. Remember to keep all other factors in mind in this discussion like time of actors arrival or time required for special equipment  or prop to arrive so that u don’t plan something and have to change it last min.

Shoot order and Back up Plan.

Planning your shoot order usually happens the day before the shoot, this could be because you could have had balance shots from the previous day, or the director or DOP might have a preference to being with. That does not mean that you should not have a basic plan ready in advance. Irrespective of where you are shooting, in scheduling you would give a large amount of time to the first shot of the day as getting everything right for the first usually takes time, you generally pick up speed after you have taken your first shot. Most of the time you would plan your shots one axis at a time and scene wise, you would complete one scene and then move to the next unless the other scenes are similar in continuity and you can afford to shoot 2 scenes simultaneously. You finish all shots from one axis before moving to the other, rarely does one jump axis from shot to shot in a scene. This usually happens when the scene is acting dependent (some director's like to do it this way) or if there is permanent damage by the end of the scene like breaking of a key prop.

Basic plans per axis are the wide master shot is covered first then you would get closer into the scene ending up with close ups. You would make a basic plan in this manner in advance and then discuss it with the director and DOP before you finalise the plan. When you have your plan in mind you should also have justifications to the order that you have planned and be open to suggestions before fixing the final plan. Light plays a huge factor in a shoot especially outdoors and the director and the DOP might want to shoot a particular scene at a particular hour of the day, like sunset or backlit scene’s. You have to have alternate plans here as on the day of the shoot your plan might change completely, like late arrival or a key prop or a actor. Here is where knowing everything that is happening in all departments help as that decision to change shoot order affects all and could make or break the entire shoot.

Axis Plan

 If you have the time, and you have all the shots that you have to shoot numbered you can make a Axis Plan (like the one above)  this is something that I would do especially on shoots that have a large number of axis to be kept in mind and shoot in the same location for the same scene (or a commercial) it helps a lot in sequences that have stunts or visual effects to go with it. Its easy to see from this if you have covered all your shots for that sequence. The above Axis plan was done for a Limca Commercial which had a lot of VFX involved and since it was a outdoor shoot the plans had to be bang on.

Lastly after you have done you schedule for the day, you can  do a time division to each shot and see if all your shots fit within your planned shift. Don’t forget to include your break time and keep buffer for each scene, for e.g:- in a 9-9 shift if you roll call is 10:30 am (assuming that major part of lighting would have already been done or only an hour and half is required to light up) your first master shot you would assign 2.5 hours, this is from 9 am  - 11:30 am assuming that after the first roll (which usually gets delayed) you would take reset time and do  3 – 4 takes of the same, so this time has a buffer of 15- 20 mins, your next timing would be 11:30 – 12 for shot 2 of the day, 12- 12:30 for shot 3, 12:30 – 1:30 for shot 4, lunch from 1:30 – 2:30 and so on. You would keep buffer time of 10 – 20 mins for small shifts in axis and 30 – 1hr or more for complete shifts in axis (like cross over’s where a lot of things have to shift and be reset.) It’s not always possible to plan in such a manner as shots could be added or changed at the last moment, sometimes the director does not even plan the number of shots per scene till they are on the set, in such cases you could keep your division to scene timings, like scene 1 to be shot could take 2 hr’s scene 2 could take 1.5 hr’s etc so that you know that you have to complete those many scene’s by a certain amount of time so that you could push for work to move faster if you are falling behind the schedule.

You could print your timings for each scene on the call sheet to let all know if they are behind or ahead of the schedule. This is not a known practice at all, but I did it sometimes as it helped to keep everyone on their toes right from the beginning instead of trying to push too much at the last minute.   

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

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