In the fifth part of his series on How to Make a Film, experienced Norwich based filmmaker Matthew Stogdon from Cheesemint Productions takes us through the manic filming process.No matter what role you play on a film set, your job is the most important component. To you, it has to be. If you are responsible for delivering an emotional monologue to another character, you have to really convince the audience you’re living those pre-prepared words. If your job is lighting, you need to make sure the lights are fully functioning and casting the right shadows without over-exposing the cast or backdrops. And if you’re the director, you need to oversee everyone and everything from the technical to the performances. Unlike big studio productions, everyone’s on borrowed time, the sun will eventually go down and the location will eventually go back to being a bar or your grandmother’s house or whatever its primary function is. Everything has to be perfect. And it almost never is.
If you’ve prepped and primed your cast and crew, the majority of the hard work will take care of itself. People will know their roles and execute them to the best of their ability. Keeping a level head and ensuring everything is done roughly on schedule is tricky but necessary. And things will go wrong, it’s unavoidable. Equipment will break, actors will be ill or simply not show up, venues and locations can turn you away despite having booked them months in advance. The real test is to know when to just wing it and try something else and when to call it a day and reschedule.
There are so many schools of thought as to where to place the camera, lights and audio equipment to ensure you capture everything perfectly and make your life easier in the editing stage. Rules and guidelines like the 180 degree rule, the 40 degree rule, screen placement and alignments are all useful but don’t feel constrained or overwhelmed by them. It’s something you’re just going to have to learn through trial and error, so experiment.
I don’t know if it helps others but I try to remind myself of the final product and the reason I’m making this movie in the first place. You’ve seen this film in your head, got it down on paper and managed to convince other people to invest their time and money to be involved – chances are, someone is going to enjoy watching it. For that reason alone, you can’t give up. But the process should be enjoyable and hopefully fun. If it’s becoming a chore and nothing is working out as planned, speak with your cast and crew, find out what’s not working and how it can be resolved. Because the longer you leave it, the more apparent it will look on film. You’ll be grateful for finishing the shoot according to your schedule but when analysing the footage the performances will be unimpressive and the camera/audio and other practical aspects will feel rushed.
Every filmmaker has countless anecdotes about horrible shoots and how they’ve worked around them. The last film I worked on suffered from late actors, the general public ruining takes, a venue turning us away after keeping us waiting for an hour, tricky camera work that held up production and a last minute cancellation from a key actor. These things happen and you work around them. There are an equal amount of horror stories surrounding the pre and post production stages but they’re personal frustrations and mostly remedy themselves. With the actual filming stage, so much can go wrong (and invariably does) but a little flexibility and ingenuity can remedy almost anything.