05 October 2007

Grad Films: Pre-production

Pre-production is the possibly the longest and most crucial period of film making. Sometimes it's hard to tell when it starts, as it can involve script writing and finalising as well as the usual work of location scouting, casting and art direction.

My role in pre-production for the grad films is scheduling. As we are shooting three films back to back in a specific time period there are a lot of changes when we finally decide on a location, cast an actor and find out their availability, and make script changes. Everything was up in the air until the last minute, even scenes were re-shaped and actors re-cast.

I found myself working a lot with the location manager, as there were the most restrictions on availability. Some people only wanted us to use their flat when they were out, others when they were home, then there were public places we could only access at certain times such as a public square or a cafe. Working round the requirements for Ice, which is set mostly at night, proved to be specially difficult. The actress was not available after 6pm, and the cafe was not available until the end of the day after it closed to the public. So at last we got another location (Imbibe), which was more of a bar and only opened late, to shoot the cafe scenes and blocked out the windows to shoot day for night. 

Knowing how long to schedule a scene for is another challenge, as it requires detailed information from the director and DoP as to how much coverage they want to shoot, how complex the lighting setups are and how much time the director needs on set with the actors. As with everything else, it turns out that preparation is everything. I remember siting in the theatre for 4 hours while thinking about the blocking and possible shots for Othello, Too. It just seemed easier to work it out while I was actually physically present in the space rather than deluding myself that something can be done and finding out on the day that it doesn’t fit.

Also, since we were working with a 16mm camera, which is unwieldy and requires a lot of care in lighting and setup, it was important to think realistically about the number of setups that can be done in a given time with the inexperienced crew that we are. I learnt that art direction is hugely important and really needs to be thought through and tested in pre-production, so that everyone is clear on how the practicalities are going to work, how the locations are going to be dressed so that they look great and appropriate and so that there is no last-minute panic over items that were not thought about before.

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