Many micro-budget filmmakers have an adverse reaction when it comes to pickup shots. After many weeks or months of shooting (usually under extremely difficult circumstances), deciding to put post-production on hold to go out and shoot even more footage can be a tough pill to swallow… I know because I used to dread pickup days myself, and generally did everything I could both in pre-production and production to avoid having to go down that path.
Over the years though, I’ve learned to embrace pickups, and now truly see them as an essential part of the filmmaking process. What I once saw as an inconvenience that slowed me down, I now see as a creative opportunity with massive potential.
I realized that pickups shouldn’t simply be looked at as a means to capture scenes that were missed during principal photography, but rather to discover new material that could further elevate the story.
The pickups on my current feature Shadows On The Road, are a perfect case in point.
Currently, we are approaching a picture lock on the feature, and quite honestly we could finish the film without shooting any pickup shots at all. While there were a handful of missed shots during production (mostly b-roll), and a couple of minor scenes that were omitted due to time constraints, the vast majority of the material was captured as planned. And subsequently, a full assembly cut of the film was put together that could have easily been polished up as is, and that would have been that.
The old me would have left things there… But just because the film didn’t absolutely need pickups, didn’t necessarily mean that it couldn’t benefit from them immensely. Most importantly, there were some opportunities to enhance the backstory/character development of one of the main characters that would in turn strengthen the story as a whole.
Specifically, I didn’t like the way that Silver (our second lead) was introduced in the film, and I wanted to clarify her backstory a little more. The story doesn’t hinge on these details, but it could nonetheless be improved by exploring them to a fuller extent, and as we all know – filmmaking is all about the details. It’s the small nuggets of information, backstory, visual cues, and symbolism that make up the collective experience of watching a film. The big moments are important, but the little ones can be just as critical too…
I think many micro-budget filmmakers neglect to fully flesh out the details of their film during production (I know in some cases I did), largely due to the challenges associated with working with such limited resources.
Most micro-budget films are extremely limited in terms of crew, production time, and other crucial logistical considerations. This means important details are likely to be overlooked in every respect – including character and story – and without a willingness to shoot some pickups, the essence of the film may never be fully realized.
So for those of you that want to take my advice, I’ll boil it down to one actionable tip –
Shoot your pickups after your assembly cut is complete. This will accomplish two things:
- You will have far more perspective on your film. You won’t only be shooting material that was missed during production, but you will also see opportunities through the edit to capture new material that will help to better realize your vision.
- You will recharge your metaphorical batteries, and will likely have more stamina to get out there and shoot again, as opposed to scheduling pickups immediately after production.
SHOOTING PICKUPS FOR “SHADOWS ON THE ROAD”
This week, we shot one of the most critical pickup days for Shadows On The Road, (we have one more in a couple of weeks, and then we are finally wrapped), and it came together in a very bare bones fashion.
While I can never advise you to shoot guerrilla style, and you need to do so at your own risk, we had little other option for our pickup shoot this week. In part, this meant that we had to keep our cast and crew as small as possible.
I’ve learned from past experience that there are a few things that have really drawn attention to our guerrilla productions, and we generally tried to avoid all of them. These included: Tripod/camera support, visible audio gear, and excess cast and crew.
In the end, we stripped things down to the bare essentials… And when I say bare essentials, I’m not kidding.
For starters, there were two characters in the scene we shot. One of them was one of our lead actresses who of course was there, and the other… was played by me.
The character I played only had a few lines, and I decided to cast myself in that role as doing so allowed me to literally watch the scene come together in the moment, as opposed to having to sit back somewhere with headphones listening in. That meant there would be one less actor to cast and book, and one less headache to deal with logistically. It also meant that I wouldn’t be operating the camera (as I didn’t for most of the film), so that responsibility fell on our one other crew member (Andy Chinn), who shot everything on the day.
He was operating an URSA Mini Pro, which was also ideal for this shoot as we were able to strip it down (removing the top handle, shoulder kit, etc.), to its smallest possible form. We also relied on the internal ND filters to eliminate the need for a matte box. I don’t have any photos of our setup as we were shooting so quickly, but it was really just the camera body with a side handle attached to it. No EVF or any other accessories were used.
With regards to glass, we used the non-cinema versions of the Sigma 18-35mm and 50-100mm lenses. On the main feature, we used the cine versions, but again to keep our kit smaller and draw less attention, we went ahead with the stills versions this time around.
Audio-wise, we mic’d ourselves up with two RODE Link wireless lavs, which were transmitting to receivers (and fed into a Zoom H6 recorder) in my backpack. I specifically chose a backpack that could also be a prop in the scene, so I was able to wear the backpack in the shot and be within a good range to record all of the audio at all times.
After we got all of our shots in the can, we recorded wild lines in the car using a RODE NTG 2 boom mic just to be safe…
In the end, I think we captured some great material and as I see it coming together in the edit, there is no question that the film will be elevated as a result of this scene alone.
Here’s a little sample of what we shot this week –
We have our last pickup day scheduled later this month, and then we will officially be fully wrapped!
Our goal is to have the edited feature completed in August in order to make a number of festival deadlines around the end of the summer, so stay tuned for more on this front soon…
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