Seeing Double: The pros and cons of a multi-camera setup

Seeing Double: The pros and cons of a multi-camera setup

So, you’ve got the script that you’ve been working on for what seems like centuries and you’re still not 100% happy with it. You’re starting to assemble your crew which changes daily, mostly new faces coming in, bringing on friend of a friend of a friend. You are in the heart of PRE-PRODUCTION. You’re trying to decide what camera to use and a friend asks, “Why don’t you shoot with two cameras?”.

STOP!

Is this really a good idea? Of course it is! You can shoot twice as much coverage in the same amount of time, right? Well…

A good friend of mine decided to shoot his first short on two cameras. It was a detective mystery drama with lots of spontaneous gun pointing and asking each other for lighters to smoke. The problem with shooting with two cameras is that there’s twice the amount of setup time, twice the amount of reflections, twice the risk of weird shadows in the background. Perhaps weird shadows are what you want for a dark detective drama but not when the shadow is clearly the boom operator and their boom pole. I have to hand it to him, the film won a few awards at film festivals, but a lot of time was spent re-adjusting cameras, setting up/packing away cameras and going for another take due to shadows, reflections or even one camera getting IN SHOT of the other camera.

If it’s so difficult, why should I shoot multi-cam?

Multicam isn’t only useful for shooting documentary or live events/performances. Using multicam in narrative is highly beneficial when shooting big explosions, stunts, or action sequences because you will save time not having to reset everything and go again for the sake of getting a different angle. This will be a time saver AS LONG AS you have enough lighting for two cameras AND a second camera crew to set up/pack away the other camera.

You may want to shoot with two cameras, because you’re shooting a very emotional scene in the morning where the character finds out their partner has been cheating on them with their best friend. Then after lunch, you’re filming the part where the character destroys their partner’s belongings with a sledge hammer. Using multicam for your tear-jerking scene prevents your talent from getting worn out. By the time you’ve moved cameras to do four set-ups, the actor may have already given their best performance. In this case, if you know you’ll be using mainly the Close Up for this scene, Script Supervisors will hate me for saying this: shoot the Close up first. Work on getting the performance right first where it counts the most, before your talent starts to get tired.

Okay, so multi-cam sounds good, but both of my cameras are different brands! Is that okay?

Ideally, you’d want to work with the same brand of camera for multicam, but if you have no choice then at least match white balance, frame rate, ISO, shutter speed, picture profile and time code. This is ESSENTIAL and NOT something you can just ‘fix in post’ by tweaking colour or exposure settings.

All of my camera settings are matched – do I need to buy (or hire) two clapper boards?

Not necessarily. In fact, it would be easier to slate with one board, so you get the same clap on both cameras, which will be very helpful when syncing the footage in post. Just remember when you call out the information to say “A and B CAM”.

 “But my cameras are pointing in completely opposite directions.”

 Then use two boards.

 “But I only have ONE board!”

Second sticks will do.

“I DON’T HAVE A BOARD!”

Get someone on screen to clap their hands. If you are going to spend the extra twenty minutes fixing lighting for two cameras, then you can spend the extra three seconds to clap.

Script Supervisors: The unsung heros

Script Supervisors: The unsung heros

You’re a script supervisor on a film set. It’s hectic, you’re losing light fast and still have a quarter of the scene left to complete. People from EVERY department will fire questions at you quickly and you have to know the answer.

Makeup: “Does she get the bruise on her knee before or after this scene?

Hair stylist: “Does the hair need to match scene 25 or has time passed?

Boom operator: “On what line does Jane stand up?

Sound Mixer: “How many takes did we do for 34 Apple?

Prop Master: “Was the window open on that last shot?

Director: “What was the timing on the rehearsal?

DOP: “What time of day is this?

2nd AC: “Was 23 Baker MOS?

Actor: “Did I look over my left shoulder or right shoulder?

AD: “What time was first turn over?

You get the picture. As a Script Supervisor you need to keep track of all of these things, ensure we have enough coverage to edit the scene AND keep consistent continuity while filming. Although departments such as hair, makeup and props will keep their own continuity, they are relying on you to be their safety net so that nothing slips through the cracks.

To maintain mental sanity, it’s good to have checklists of what to look out for before each take to ensure perfect continuity. Before they start rolling, look at EVERYTHING one by one. First, costume. Are the actors wearing the right costume? Is his shirt tucked in? Has her dress got that rip in the sleeve from the scene before? Then, hair. In front of or tucked behind the ears? It was raining in the last scene so shouldn’t it be a bit damp? Props: We have already shot the scene after this and the character was carrying a briefcase, so we need to see the character pick up a briefcase in this scene. Another one is time of day. One of the Script Supervisor’s jobs is timing the script to know it’s run time and also break it down into narrative days. Do the events in this film take place over a year? A day? An hour? What time is the clock on the wall in the background? Does that time match the time on the actors watch? If it’s midday, then there shouldn’t be long stretched out shadows on the floor.

One thing that can catch anyone out is eye line. Take screengrabs of whatever we are matching this shot to and make sure the actor is looking the right direction AND correct side of the line to cut with the reverse.

You also need to pay attention when actors say their lines. Adlibbing or the occasional slip up is to be expected, just be sure to keep your ears open to nudge them if they get stuck and make a note of any on-set script changes.

However, slip ups and errors don’t occur just on set, they can occur in the script long before filming begins. Part of your pre-production preparation is to get extremely familiar with the script. You are the Script Supervisor after all. You should know it inside, out, back to front. And this will happen naturally as you breakdown the script, noting location, costume, props, character, action, time of day etc. This will also help you spot any errors in the script. For example: a character says “I had such a lovely time on our dinner date today” when we have already established it’s the morning.  Or, it’s Monday, eleven O’clock in the morning and a woman looks out of her office window to see children running up to an ice cream van. Unless this is on purpose and a key beat in the narrative, normally the children would be in school at this time.

No point sugar coating it. There is a lot of pressure and work for a department of one. But every day is different. You know the story better than anyone else. You’re right next to the action, you are the director’s trusty right hand man/woman and you build friendships with every department on set. It’s a crazy job and you may feel like every day you’ve lost a few marbles but it’s one of the coolest and most fun adventures to get paid for doing.

Foley: the hidden sounds of cinema

Foley: the hidden sounds of cinema

How often have you sat watching the credits crawl at the end of your favourite movies and wondered what some of the obscure job titles were? One of the roles you might be wondering about is a “Foley Artist” – some of the most unsung heroes of movie magic!

Foley artists work in post-production sound and are responsible for bringing all of the footsteps, rattles, punches and sound effects to life. Often the best foley is the interpretation of a sound rather than the literal sound itself and is a confluence of several different sounds. The single sound effect of the goblins’ shrill growl in The Hobbit is made of 16 different layers!

Below are some examples of how every day items were used to create some of the most crucial sound effects that you may recognise!

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)

The unique antagonist in this Science Fiction classic was a construction of mercury. So just how do you get the sound of liquid metal? Well, it turns out all you need is a bucket of water, flour, furniture cleaner and a condom.

The condom was wrapped over the microphone which was then submerged into a bucket filled with the above mixture. After some editing, it produces that slimy “glooping” sound that we’ve come to associate with the T-1000.

MEN IN BLACK (1997)

The film opens following a dragonfly cruising through the night. Now you would have a hard time capturing the sound of an actual dragonfly’s beating wings, so the actual effect was made using nothing more than an everyday handheld fan with a cloth and duct tape wrapped around the motor.

JURASSIC PARK (1993)

We all must have fallen in love with the baby dinosaurs when they emerged from their eggs. Of course, nobody knows exactly what a hatching dinosaur egg sounded like but it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t anything like a chicken egg.

The sound actually comes from crushing up an ice-cream cone and mixing it with the sound of massaging melon flesh whilst wearing soapy gloves.

THE MARTIAN (2015)

The red planet where Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded needed to be more than a landscape – it needed to be an antagonist. A monster. Amongst the tribulations which Watney endures is having to live in a habitation held together on one side by a sheet of tarpaulin and duct tape during a horrifying storm.

To create the ominous sound of being inside such an environment, low frequencies were played through subwoofers that had been installed inside metal filing cabinets. The result is that horrifying and somewhat alien crashing sound you hear.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

Whilst on their journey to the Misty Mountain, Bilbo Baggins and the Hobbits get into trouble with a subterranean city of Goblins. Seeing as Goblins don’t exist, the team had to think outside the box and imagine what they might sound like.

The sound of their scuttles was achieved by one of the foley artists donning banjo picks on each finger and scratching, dragging and tapping them against a variety of different surfaces.

In case you were wondering, the term “foley” is named after sound effects artist Jack Foley who in the 1920s pioneered sound design in Hollywood (and subsequently the rest of the industry) by recording the effects in sync with the picture.

BONUS FACT!

DOCTOR WHO

Whovian or not, EVERYBODY knows which sound heralds the arrival of the quirky Time Lord. But how does one work out what a time machine sounds like?

Well, the base for the iconic sound comes from a house key being run along the bass strings of a gutted piano!

Shooting On Location: the Dos and Don’ts

Shooting On Location: the Dos and Don’ts

There’s a thrill about shooting on location, but the logistics can be difficult to get right and there’s a lot to think about! Here’s some simple dos and don’ts to get you started when shooting out on location.

DOs

DO carry a copy of your Public Liability Insurance certificate with you, no matter what you’re shooting or how you’re shooting it. You could be asked to present it at any time. I like to carry a folder which has my insurance certificates, risk assessments and other important safety information on but if this isn’t your style then have a copy on your phone.

DO make appropriate provisions to safely dispose of litter – especially cigarettes! The latter is something frequently overlooked, especially be filmmakers who don’t smoke. Cigarette ends cannot be disposed of in plastic waste sacks and must never be left on site. A small metal bucket will do.

DO thank the location owners afterwards. This is a courtesy that costs nothing and will go along way. I like to buy a card and small box of chocolates for people who have helped a film come to life. You can even allow for this in your budget by creating an account or line-item for gratuities. You’ll also be doing a great job of representing our industry and help other filmmakers use fab locations!

DO think about your cast and crew when planning a location shoot, even if you’ve only for 4 or 5 people with you. Where can they use a toilet? Where can they find shelter if it’s too hot, too cold, or too wet? Where can they sit down and eat? Where can they park their cars or keep their personal belongings? Remember, filmmaking is seldom as simple as getting a camera and shooting something; as a producer, everything becomes your responsibility.

DO have a plan B. Unlike shooting in a studio where you can control every aspect, location shooting presents many variables that are completely out of your control. Recces are great opportunities to start planning shots and deciding where exactly your set will be, but you must also decide what to do if that set or those shots suddenly won’t work when you turn up to shoot.

DON’Ts

DON’T shoot anywhere without Public Liability Insurance. Even if you’re doing run-and-gun or guerrilla filmmaking or you’re not using any fancy equipment, if somebody gets hurt or something gets damaged the compensation will be coming out of your pocket unless you’re appropriately covered.

DON’T leave car engines, generators or lights running unnecessarily – or anything else that could cause public nuisance. Not only will leaving everything switched on cost an awful lot of money and increase your production’s carbon footprint, you’ll drive the public, neighbours, location-users and pretty much anyone else in the vicinity mad and they won’t be so welcoming to future film projects.

DON’T use megaphones and PA equipment unless you really have to. Film sets draw enough attention to themselves as it is, and you must always be respectful of neighbours and those near your location, plus the use of loud communication equipment will end up giving you and your crew a headache, too. Try to use a walkie with headsets to communicate across the set.

DON’T use offensive language. You never know who is listening and who is sensitive to what and you could inadvertently really upset the public or neighbours and then cause havoc for your Location Manager or yourself.

DON’T forget the weather. Especially in the UK where we live with a schizophrenic weather climate. Don’t just look at one weather resource – compare lots of different services and keep an eye on trends throughout the week. Let your cast and crew know on the call sheet what sort of weather to expect and if it’s anything too adverse, pop a banner across the top with a warning to dress appropriately!

Are short films worth it?

Are short films worth it?

Making a short film is no easy task, there are a bunch of things to take into consideration, cast, crew, locations… just to name a few. Short films require just the same amount of attention and dedication as a feature film, just on a smaller scale.

Short films can be a gateway to boost your career within the filmmaking industry, for instance, in 1967, academy award winner Martin Scorsese made a 6-minute short film titled The Big Shave, which had positive reviews and helped him to become the director that we know and love today.

As well as learning how to make films and gain all of the skills and techniques needed, they can be a valuable resource to get you on the next step of the ladder.