As many of you know, earlier this year I launched a newsletter titled Micro-Budget Weekly, in which I share actionable filmmaking tips, advice, and stories from the trenches every Sunday with subscribers. Thousands of you have already signed up, and it’s been such a great experience to connect with so many of you on this new platform.
I rarely post these newsletter articles here on my main blog, but occasionally I will make an exception to ensure readers that have only recently subscribed to my newsletter (or have yet to subscribe) don’t miss out on any key content.
So with that in mind, please enjoy one of the very first Micro-Budget Weekly articles below!
Shooting 12 Hours Worth Of Footage In An 8 Hour Day
I faced one of the biggest challenges in production that I ever have on my recent feature film Shadows on the Road –
Our cast could only work 8 hour days.
Well technically, they could work longer if we had a bigger budget… But since they were SAG-AFTRA members, anything over 8 hours would have been considered overtime, and that was not something we could afford on our shoestring budget.
To add insult to injury, on many days we shot far enough away from Los Angeles that their travel time to set also counted toward those 8 hours. This meant we often only actually had 6 or 7 hours with the actors on set, and needed to shoot an average of 10 pages per day.
Unlike larger productions that routinely shoot 12+ hour days, and only need to shoot 3 – 5 pages per day, we did not have the luxury of time on our side. As such, we had no choice but to develop some techniques for working extremely efficiently in order to ensure we captured all of the material we needed (and then some) in record time.
This ultimately came down to a few key choices –
The first was the most obvious: We trimmed the fat. Anything that could have been a time waster on set was immediately addressed.
For instance, we left our camera package pre-built every single day so that when we arrived on set we wouldn’t need 30 minutes to get it up and running. This allowed us to just pull it out of the case and start rolling. On an 8 hour day (or occasionally a 6 hour day), 30 minutes made a huge difference.
As another rule, we had our actors get into makeup and wardrobe before they even arrived on set (our two female leads did their own makeup), which again allowed us cut another 30 minutes or so off the top of every day.
We had our camera and audio recorder jammed with time-code, so on days where we couldn’t even find enough time to slate our takes, we could lose the slate and just use time-code to sync it in post.
These were just some of the smaller areas where we trimmed the fat, and collectively they all helped quite a bit. That said, there were two bigger choices that we made which helped us save even more time –
One was our shooting style, which relied heavily on natural light and handheld camera operating.
If you’ve ever been on a large film set, you know that much of the day is spent lighting and re-positioning the camera. In fact, more of the day is spent on set up than on actual shooting, by far…
In our case, it was the exact opposite. We shot at times of day where we knew we could use natural light to our advantage, which greatly reduced setup time. This, combined with shooting handheld meant that when we were ready to roll, we could very quickly move from one shot to another in record time. There were no 30 minute or 1 hour breaks in between setups to tweak the lighting. Once the actors were rehearsed and blocked, it was just go, go, go.
The other big factor that came into play was our careful use of coverage. While some coverage was required on all scenes to ensure we had enough material to give us options in the edit, we knew very clearly what we needed and what we didn’t need before we got on set.
Often times, micro-budget filmmakers over shoot their coverage as a means to play it safe (and give them more of an ability to save themselves in the edit), but this also comes with a sacrifice: Less time on set to shoot a wider variety of material.
This was something we desperately wanted to avoid, as we were aiming for as much variety in our shots as possible, while minimizing redundant material. The only way to accomplish this was to carefully plan our coverage so that we captured the essentials, without unnecessarily impeding on other equally important shots or scenes.
So in the end, by trimming the fat, shooting handheld with natural light, and limiting our coverage, we were able to shoot 10 pages per day, in only 8 hours… Or in some cases, in just 6.
Would I have liked to have had more time? Sure. But the truth is, it was just as helpful for me to have shorter days as it was for the production as a whole.
I think that even if I had more of a budget, I would probably opt to spend it on additional days, as opposed to fewer days with longer hours and overtime. I find that after the 8 hour mark, I start to lose steam, and that I am really at my best earlier on in the day.
So while this started as an attempt to meet union regulations, it ended up being a blessing in disguise and allowed me to develop more tools that will certainly come in handy on future productions.
If you’d like to watch the teaser for Shadows on the Road, you can check it out here.
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Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!