This week we did a pre-shoot for our upcoming feature – a one day production that took place a month ahead of the main schedule.
I’ve never done this before, but it was hugely beneficial from a creative perspective…
Originally I was simply planning to do some camera tests. But after some discussion with the actors and team, we decided to maximize the day by shooting footage we could actually use.
For those of you with short or feature films on the horizon, I highly recommend setting up a pre-shoot of your own.
Having now gone through the process, I’ve seen first hand how it can yield many benefits. Here are just a few of them:
Testing Camera & Lighting Gear
It’s always a good idea to test out your gear and work out any technical issues ahead of production.
A standard camera test will accomplish this to a degree, but it almost always exists within a highly controlled environment – like a studio or rental house.
While this can be helpful, actually taking the gear out into the field will offer a far more holistic point of view.
You don’t really know if a particular gear configuration is going to work until you’re on set. What works in a studio doesn’t often translate to a live environment, as the conditions are vastly different.
Through the process of our pre-shoot, we discovered that zoom lenses (rather than primes) would be best to optimize our speed on set. This is just one of many discoveries made along the way.
Being on a real set changes everything – you are not just looking at technical quality, but also workflow implications in the field.
Experimenting With Coverage Style
During our pre-shoot, we captured roughly 3 – 4 pages of screenplay. That’s less than half of what we will normally shoot on a regular day once in principal photography.
The benefit of shooting fewer pages per day during the test, is that we could experiment a little more with coverage techniques. We got some shots on the jib, dolly, handheld, and sticks – most of which we couldn’t do on a regular day.
Now as we assess the footage (and consider the impact on production workflow), we can determine which coverage styles will bring the best balance to the production.
You can attempt to do this on the fly during your main production, but there is far less room for error and discovery.
Working Out Kinks With The Crew (And Yourself)
On the first day of any multi-day production, you can always feel the kinks being worked out. Things take longer, communication lines are not firmly established, and there is no shorthand between team members.
Conversely, by the final day, the crew often feels like a well oiled machine – moving with ease at rapid pace.
By doing a pre-shoot like we did, you can get a head start by greasing the wheels early, and allowing your team to hit the ground running once you enter the main production window.
Assessing Tone & Performance
When in production for any film, I’m constantly aware of tone, and how it can shift throughout the process.
I might have imagined a scene one way, but everything shifts once the actors are actually reading the lines in front of camera. Sometimes things change for the better, other times for the worse.
In either scenario, it’s infinitely helpful to identify these tonal shifts early on in your process to make adjustments as needed.
For instance, you might be making a horror film, but notice hints of comedy in the performance. If that works well, you may choose to amplify these qualities ahead of production. Or conversely, to work around them if it’s not aligning with your vision.
Establishing Post-Production Workflow
Understanding your post-production workflow up front can save you countless hours in the edit. Your pre-shoot offers yet another opportunity to make these critical choices ahead of schedule.
On our production, we opted to shoot in ProRes 422HQ (as opposed to RAW). This would allow us to work faster on set, dump cards less often, and potentially avoid the need for an off-line workflow in post.
The pre-shoot allowed us to test this method, while also establishing a good file backup / archiving system that can be carried forward.
If there were any technical hiccups along the way (thankfully there were not!), they could easily be addressed before production.
The purpose of all of this tactic – and the rest on this list – is simply to be more prepared by the time you get to set.
There are always unknown variables that can throw you off course, but you can eliminate so many of them by finding solutions ahead of time.
For those interested in scheduling a pre-shoot, I would suggest setting it about a month before your principal photography.
This will give you time to make adjustments and pivot if needed, but is still close enough to your start date to maintain momentum.