Making a short film: Planning The Day

Planning the day (or days) of filming your short falls somewhere between arranging a night out hanging with friends and, well… a wedding. Like a wedding, there’re a lot of logistics and contingencies to work out, and like a night out with friends, you want to be open to genius ideas and flexible enough to deal with last minute cancellations.

How the day of filming unfolds is often determined by how much planning you do beforehand. Because each project can be vastly different, there’s no universal checklist that you can print out and use. That’s not going to stop us laying out ten super important things that you need to consider though!

Checklist

  1. Create a shooting schedule. Chances are, you have limited time in your location and/or with your cast and crew.  A table read and run-through will help you figure out how much time you’ll need in each location, and for each scene. Factor in time to build sets, eat, and take bathroom breaks. Then add at least 15-45 minutes to each block of time for interruptions or inspiration. It might sound crazy, but you don’t want to throw out a good idea just because you ran out of time to explore it.
  2. Have a list of all your props and organize accordingly. Treat setting up your sets or locations like you would moving house. But instead of having boxes labeled by rooms, have everything packed according to the timing of your shoot. And be sure to make a note if a prop will be used in a later shot so you know to move it to the “next box” when finished.
  3. Bring extra. If the script calls for two cups of coffee… bring three — just in case one breaks. If you are relying on your cast to provide their own wardrobe, be sure to bring alternate clothing options or accessories, in case what they bring doesn’t work with the lighting or vibe with the story — sequins only work in certain light, and patterns can be attention-sucking. And bring extra scripts. Someone will probably forget theirs.

    Mugs.jpg

    Safety mug not pictured

  4. Take roll call. The week before, the night before, and even the morning of, reach out to your cast and crew and make sure they’re still on board, know the time and location, and are prepped. Just send a quick, nice note about how you can’t wait to work with them and open the door to any questions or concerns they might have.
  5. Confirm, confirm, confirm. Make sure you have your location booked, and that anything being borrowed has a pick up and drop off time. You can be more pushy with this kind of thing, especially if money is involved.
  6. Prepare for weather to mess with you. Even if you have all indoor sets and shots, a thunderstorm can mess with your lighting and sounds. A really hot day can have the AC buzzing in your mics, and the threat of snow can cut your available time in half. Severe enough weather might force a delay in shooting, so keep an eye on the forecast and keep your cast and crew up to date. You’re going to be like your grandparents constantly watching the Weather Channel, but at least there’s an app for that now.
  7. Make sure your crew is reliable. A short on a tight budget often means cashing in favors and handing out IOUs. When reaching out for support, do your best to find positive people who are passionate about your project, and genuinely want to contribute. People who love what they do, whether it’s acting, lighting, sound, etc. You don’t want anyone on set who doesn’t want to be there or has their own agenda. You also don’t want anyone there who’ll drain the atmosphere and prevent everyone else from reaching their creative potential. You need to set the tone, as the director and leader of this team, and choose people who bring good, creative energy. Your set needs to be a happy, creatively conducive place. With lots of snacks. Which leads us to…
  8. Keep everyone and everything charged. Make sure you have enough chargers, back-up batteries and power cords for your lighting and equipment (especially for your camera!). And bring food. Lots of food. Loaded with sugar and caffeine. If anyone in your cast or crew has a food allergy or special diet, be sensitive and work with them to make sure there’s something safe and available for them to eat. No one gives their best when they’re starving.
  9. First-aid kit. This sounds like it should be on a camping list. But remember that third mug you’re bringing? Whoever ends up breaking it will probably hurt themselves in the process. Hopefully you won’t need it, but you don’t want to delay filming because someone has run out for band-aids.
  10. Find a Snapchattist. When you’re in the middle of changing a set, finding the right camera angle, or trying to shoot dialogue between rolls of thunder, you won’t have time to take candid shots of the cast and crew. But you’re going to want those shots later, either to help promote the film, or just to laugh and remember the good times once you’ve shared the finished product with everyone that came together to make it happen. This person can be a member of the cast who isn’t in every scene, or someone in the crew whose camera phone is never off.

Depending on your script, you’ll probably have a lot more to add to your list, even for a 10 minute short. Plan as much as you can beforehand, think of possible roadblocks and how you’ll get around them… and it never hurts to wake up really early. But, once you’re rolling, keep rolling. Go with whatever happens, let your cast explore their characters and ways to play the scene, and let the sun shine on your main character. Work with what the day gives you, and with any luck, you’ll wind up with something better than you could have imagined.

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