10 lessons I learnt from working on film sets

 
careers in film
 

Tips for beginner Filmmakers – 10 lessons I learnt from working on film sets. Working on film sets gives you a the chance to see how others organise and navigate a film set and crew ( I tend to be the judgmental type so I learn more from observing mistakes than successes). Below are Ten tips to heed in mind if you are making your own films these can be applied to both student and professional film sets.

1. Don't go over 12 hours of work a day

12 hours should be the most anyone should have to work per day, creative work does not excuse this. Keep in mind that your job may be less physical than others, your film crew may have just come off from working on another film set. If you have to go over the set wrap time, let it be a one off, apologise and thank everyone  for staying after hours to finish the film.

2. Provide good food

Like an army a film crew also marches on it stomach. I remember on one film set we were shooting outside in the winter snow, when lunch time came all we got was a cold sandwich that we had to eat standing up before carrying on with the next 6hr of work outside. You can see how in this scenario the crew where not too happy with the producers. Try to have warm food as an option, make sure there are snacks and healthy food. Make sure your crew have access to water at all times and stay hydrated. Good food and a Full stomach will make a film crew happy, and happy crew will work harder.

3. Filming on location is hard

Especially in England with our ever changing weather, but I am sure it is the same all over the world rain or shine. I have found myself standing in snowy fields for a few weeks. A night shoot in london destroyed my feet I only had leather boots on, snow boots and a very good waterproof coat was needed. Check the weather in advance get the right clothing for outdoor work. Working outside all day can be exhausting. Especially if it's indoor work you are used to, or cold blooded like me.

4. Health and safety matters

You might want to be like Werner Herzog running In the mountains, shooting carefree. But you do need to care about your crew's health and safety in the real world, you don't want someone to get injured on your own film set. I have heard many stories of guerilla filmmaking gone wrong. Take safety seriously the Key Grip and the 1st AD usually have a keen understanding of safety on set. 

5. Film sets are social places and not always great for introverts

I had several reasons for leaving film set work, and this was one. I could not handle the social aspect of filmmaking. After a 12 hour plus working day it is typical to have end of night drinks with the crew, another hour or so social session before bedtime. I would be fine with this for a few nights, but I remember one night I choose to sit by myself in the hotel foyer and read a book to have some alone time. Only for the 1st AD of that set to inform me it was too weird to sit on my own and that I would have to join the rest of the crew that night. 

 The social aspect of film set work can be diluted with freelance or online work, when off set and of course you can always say no social gatherings. But I felt obliged to take part in far too much social interaction on film sets.

6. Listen to the script supervisor

A personal frustration of mine seeing as I was a Script supervisor for a few years. A Script Supervisor's job is to make sure that the footage cuts together in the editing room. There is no point for an actor to do different actions with every shot giving the editor nothing to cut back to, continuity is making sure the viewers attention is kept on the story and not distracted by mistakes. Actors hair tends to blow in different directions, a black eye appearing and disappearing throughout takes, film is made out of sequence, you don’t have to do everything a Script Supervisor says but listen and see that they are only trying to help makes things easier and not stifling your creativity.

7. There is a strong chain of command

On professional sets there will be a strong chain of command, everyone has a superior, as a camera assistant it's your job to listen to the DOP, you don’t talk to the director during filming hours, atleast not to give input to their job. Its hard at first to get into the flow of how a film's sets hierarchy works, only this can come with practice. Most film schools do not stress on this ladder to climb, but try to be humble.

 8. The more prep, the easier and cheaper everything will be later.

Your pre production time should be the longest segment of the filmmaking process. Its cheaper to plan and requires less crew, the more you prep the easier things will be during the shoot.  Your plan is to make the shoot go as smooth as possible. For example a year of work on a feature film would go as follows - 6 months of pre-production, 2 months production and 4 months post production.

9. You learn how to do your job on the job

No one knows exactly how to do their jobs during every task, every day is different the more experience you have the better you will be at  planning ahead but every day is different. I feel this advice is more for assistants worrying that they dont know how to do their jobs you will learn how to do your on the job. You will only get better with practice. If you feel less confident in your job role work a few low budget sets at first.

10. The script is everything!

It doesn't matter how much money you have, what special visual effects and known actors appear in the film - the money hose can not turn a bad script into a good film. The script is everything to a film,  It is difficult to work on a bad script and have your cast and crew know it  won't be a good film, the moral will starts to sink half way through the film shoot. A good story is all you need.

Location scouting for film. Tips on finding and prepping your film location

 
location scouting for film
 

Location scouting for film , tips on how to find locations for your films and what to keep in mind whilst sourcing them. This post also comes with a free location scouting checklist which you can download below.

I am guilty of limiting myself whilst writing film scripts, deliberately downplaying a scene as I write to make them easier to film later on. In many ways this is good practice for student productions, as tempting as it is to go full out, why not make it easier for yourself, shooting on location (especially exteriors) can be very hard. Location changes take up a lot of time, In my last short film one location change took  3hrs out of the shooting day, Which is why you should ideally shoot one location per day. It takes a lot of time to move people around, it takes time to re-set up equipment, even a short drive from A-B can easily cut hours out of your filming day.

Whether you choose to keep things simple, or be more daring there are still guidelines you should follow when location scouting for film. These guidelines are not there to stifle creativity but to help you make the most out of you pre-production time to make it easier to film later on.

You can download a helpful checklist below with ideas to keep in mind during the location scouting of your next production -

How to find your location

1. Needs vS Wishes

When searching for a location keep in mind your scenes needs. It is unlikely you will find the ‘ideal’ location you have in your minds eye (that is to say don’t shun a location just because the wall is painted the wrong colour you imagined it to be). Consider what is vital for the location to have for the scene to be carried out. Filmmaking especially when the budget is not there to build sets from scratch is about compromise.

2. Where to look

Your local film office might have advice and help for scouring locations, they may also have a list of locations you can use. Google maps is also a simple tool that makes things easier – you can check out your location with a 360 degree view straight from your home. I usually find a few locations online them check them out in person. I found these sites which could also be helpful Creative England Locations , Locations Hub

3. Permission for locations

It can be very expensive to acquire locations. High budgeted productions pay thousands to use locations (as these films are being made for guaranteed profit). For private property a fee may be agreed upon between the producer and owner. For low budgets sets we are lucky to even pay our crew let alone pay for locations. Public land such as streets, beaches, some parks are classed as public property and you will be able to film here for free. With persistence you may get permission - on one of my student short films I had access to the underground train stations in Liverpool – Thanks to my brilliant producer.

3.5 Shooting without permission

If you don’t get permission you will be shooting guerilla style, in which it is best to keep crew minimal. You may be asked to move even on public land (usually by the police, security or busy bodies) – at this point explain that the film is non profit, that no one is getting paid. Saying you are student can also help, claiming the film is a student production or personal project stresses the low budget nature of the film. Be friendly with anyone who challenges your right to film at your location, likely they are just curious. Filmmaking is more accepted in the world these days, people are not as intimidated by a camera as they once where. Its is good to have a friendly, chatty producer or AD with you to explain the situation. 

4. Location Recce

The act of going to a location to see of it is suitable for filming is called a Location recce. The first recce may be done alone by the location manager, The next by the director and DOP. A group recce may also be done with all heads of department so that every dept can foresee any problems that may come up during filming. This will save you time, money and surprises during production.

5. Public Liability Insurance

'Public liability insurance protects you if clients or members of the public suffer personal injury or property damage because of your business. It can pay for the costs of subsequent legal expenses or compensation claims and is an integral cover for businesses that interact regularly with customers.' - I copied that straight from Google, having PLI can also give you peace of mind and it need not cost a lot of money for an business or individual. For the UK I recommend BECTU PLI 

DURING YOUR RECCE

During Location scouting for film there are questions to keep in mind during recce - 

  1. Is there power - Do you need power for your equipment and lights. Are there enough plug sockets for indoor locations will you need to hire out a generator.
  2. How is the ambient sound – Especially if there is dialogue in your scene, is there any distracting noises to be heard such as traffic.  It is best to have a quiet location and place background sounds in later than have unclean dialogue. 
  3. Is there a nearby bathroom – where will the cast and crew go to the bathroom. Is there a nearby, pub, hotel, restaurant, inform the owners - ask nicely if your crew can use the restrooms for the day. Return the favor by ordering food from them, or come up with a deal. 
  4. How is the lighting – consider how the light changes throughout the day. Weather can be unpredictable, shadows can change throughout the day, check to see which way the sun is going down.
  5. Is there a car park – you need a space for the cars and vans to be parked, can you park close to set, do you need to pay for car parking
  6. Is there space for a Green room – Is there a quiet area for actors to wait and for costume and makeup to be carried out
  7. Safety – is the location a safe place to film within and what can be done to ensure that cast and crew are safe during the filming

During the location recce take many photographs to remind yourself of the location later. Also consider taking video footage of the scene.

Resources - How to become a Location Scout

If you have any advice for others on location scouting for film please let us all know below -

Tips for beginner filmmakers , what is the best camera to start filmmaking with?

 
What is the best camera to start filmmaking with
 

Tips for beginner filmmakers , what is the best camera to start filmmaking with? When I first started making films I used a handycam with DV tapes to record on, the slightest knock to the camera body and you would get interference on the screen. Digital grey squares would appear in and out of frames, internal sound recording meant you heard a constant mechanical hum throughout the footage.

It doesn’t matter what camera you use when you first start out. It really doesn’t, use whatever you can get your hands on. Most Mobile cell phones now have high quality cameras, technology is improving every year, HD is not hard to obtain. I have made a list of filmmaking equipment below to guide you if you wish to start spending money on filmmaking equipment.

This is a beginners guide! I am referring to high quality products and brands that do the job well but don’t cost a fortune. I am not techy minded, I figure there are other filmmakers out there which lack a technical care like I do, so I made this guide easy to understand. Feel free to add your own thoughts or reviews of products you have bought in the comments section below. 

Camera

What is the best camera to start filmmaking with ? From the lowest price and easiest to get hold of a DSLR camera with video will give you a great start. The camera quality is high and you get full control of your focus (allowing you to make those blurry background shots). 

A Canon 750D costs from £450 ($570) usually coming with a zoom stock lens so you can start filming straight away. For a lower price any DSLR with video will do, for the lowest price I recommend a second hand Canon 550D (£200 / $250).  

Sound

We often forget about sound when we first begin to make films but bad audio can ruin everything. The DSLR cameras do record internal audio but this will come with internal camera noise. A quick fix is the RØDE VideoMic this fits on top of the camera and is good for close up audio and interview recording (£80 / $100).  It is the cheapest of fixes.
For further improved audio use a Lavalier Microphone (£150 / $190  ) this attaches to the actors shirt allowing you record their dialogue even if far away from the camera -  but you will also need an external recorder with this such as the Zoom H4n (£180 / $230 ). For more versatility a BoomPole , with a Shotgun Microphone and an external recorder (Zoom h4n). A complete Boom pole set up like this will cost you around £450/ $575 so you see sound recording can cost you as much as a camera.  
what is the best camera to start filmmaking with
what is the best camera to start filmmaking with
what is the best camera to start filmmaking with

Lighting

Tips for beginner filmmakers Natural light can go a long way, remember you can use the lights you already have in the room to create atmosphere. Lamps, torches, the light glow from a TV can all be used as a cheap alternative to paid for lighting.

For outdoor lighting a simple Light Reflector (£10/ $15) can reflect light from the sun to light up your actors faces. 
For white natural daylight Photography Soft boxes £60/$100) can fill a room with light. A set of Red Head Lights (£100 / $130) can be used on any student film set, you could also get colourful lighting gels to peg to the front of the lights to change the colour of light in scenes. Remember cinematography is all about creativity.

 

Accessories and packages

For your camera you will also need a tripod, the best company for this is Manfrotto which do a whole range of tripods, ideally you want one will a fluid head allowing you to move freely.

The Manfrotto is rather expensive so I found a cheaper, recommended alternative Magnus (£160 / $200) Your cameras will also need cards to record on to (SD Cards). A recommended camera bag company is Lowepro. Below I have built a list of eqipment packages so you can see the price of a starter filmmaker kit.

Filmmaker Package ONE -  £500 / $640

Canon 550D, (comes with a 18-55mm lens), SD Cards X2 , Magnus tripod , Zoom recorder, light reflector, 

Filmmaker Package TWO –  £1000 / $1275

Canon 750D (comes with a 18-55mm lens), SD Cards X2, Magnus tripod, zoom h4n & lav microphone, 

Filmmaker Package THREE - £1500 / $1900

Canon 750D (comes with a 18-55mm lens), SD Cards X4 , Manfrotto tripod head and legs,zoom h4n, Rode boompole, Rode shotgun Microphone, Set of red head lights and gels, Lowepro DSLR camera bag, Manfrotto tripod camera bag

Of course you could always do what I do and borrow equipment  from others (all universities and colleges will likely have equipment you can borrow).  

You don’t need to splash out money to make your first films, you can very much learn the basics for free, and create high quality content for a low cost. If you have any advice for first time filmmakers, or film equipment recommendations please let everyone know in the comments section below.

How to Line a Film Script

This is something I learnt in my days of Script Supervision – how to line a film script.

It is a technique to show visually what coverage has been shot for each scene. One day you may find yourself on a film set and see someone drawing wiggly lines on a script, no need to be confused it’s a very simple system that has been used in filmmaking since screenwriting began.

To make things easier I have also made a video here

Why should I know how to line a film script?

Because it is easy! If you’re a Screenwriter, Script Supervisor, Director, Editor or Producer you should know this.  Some directors like to line their script during filming so that they know what shots they have filmed in each scene (Ridley Scott does). You don’t need to use it as a director but some directors do like to line their scripts up during filming.

So what do these lines on film scripts mean?

A Straight Perpendicular line on a film script means that coverage for the action it crosses has been shot. That could mean either action or dialogue has been captured on screen. The line begins at the start of a shot and the line ends when the shot ends. In the script example below we see a conversation between Matt and John.

The-marked-up-script-example.jpg

At the top of each line the slate number and the amount of takes are written down. The first line above is slate 23, there were 5 takes for this slate. It is a Close Up of John so the line goes straight through John’s dialogue.

What is the significance of a wiggly line?

Wiggly lines on film scripts indicate action that has been recorded off camera. So in the example above the first line has a wiggly line on Matt’s dialogue because it is a close up of John and only he appeared on camera. The second line is Matt’s close up and so there is a wiggly line through John’s dialogue. These days Lined scripts can also be carried out in digital format. See an example below of a digital lined film script. In this example the green lines are being used to indicate sound files to the editor. The sound files 080 and 009 are wildtracks of the location.

How do lined scripts help the director?

It is hard to remember during a long day on set what you have covered. I have had directors before stand up and announce to the crew that we have finished filming the scene. Only for the Script Supervisor to quickly prompt them that a piece of dialogue has no coverage on camera (we know this because only wiggly lines pass through that dialogue)

If a straight line is not covering a piece of dialogue then you have no coverage of this dialogue on camera. The lines on a script are just a visual way of letting you know what coverage you have per scene.

How do lined scripts help the editor?

The lined script is used by the film editor as a reference to what coverage was shot and to changes made to the script during production. Lined scripts give editors a quick view of all available coverage at a glance, so that he or she can make quick editing decisions without having to sort through all the footage repeatedly.

The Script Supervisor at the end of every day will pass on a Marked Up Script to the editor containing the lined script and any changes to dialogue or action.  I have had editors shun the lined script, then beg to see it when a tough edit comes along, it is an easy visual way of getting your head around a scene and what shots are available for the cut.

Does that sum it up?

I hope this sums up the basis of lined screenplays and now you know how to line a film script. Any questions please ask below. There is hardly any writing on this online but I guarantee you will start to see people drawing wiggly lines on scripts now that you know this. 

Notes

  • You draw your lines left to right in shooting order.

  • Red is the standard colour used for a lined script

  • Sometimes multiply colours are used to indicate different shots i.e. –blue ink for single shots, green ink for cutaways, wild tracks taken by sound etc

  • If a shot continues to another page an arrow is placed below the line and continues onto the next page.

  • Lined scripts are also called Marked Up Scripts or MUS.

If you are interested in learning more about film continuity I highly recommend the book Script Supervising and Film Continuity by Pat P. Miller - https://tinyurl.com/ybsgos9f

I have also written an E-book called ‘ Find Work In Film’ which shows you step by step details on how to work in the Film Industry - Find Here