So while things have been a bit quiet on the Megoracle front, it’s been pretty noisy in Meg’s world. On Sunday I finished filming my short film, “Hormones, The Musical” and for the first time in a bit I feel like I can breathe. But given that I’ve been living and breathing this film for the last couple of months, I thought maybe I could give you some first hand insight into what brings a film together. Because hear this – now that I’ve directed a shoot I am instantly an expert and a very important voice in The Industry.
OK BACKGROUND BRIEFING
I got myself a Screen Australia/Wide Angle Tasmania grant on the (questionable) merits of a musical script I pulled together on the prescribed topic of “good date bad date”. With the script I submitted a dodgy recording of the songs I had written that formed the script’s dialogue. Somehow (I’m thinking it was the peculiarity and ambition of the project) and much to my surprise I got the grant.
This meant that I would be given a small cash budget, access to the gear I needed and a heap of support from industry gurus, which is far more than I had for my previous 2 short films. Yipee! Then the real work began. Under contract I was obliged to 1) get on with it, 2) not get grumpy and shove it in a drawer for a few months and 3) direct the bloody thing (eeeeeeek!).
I’ve written, produced and performed in films before but had always felt relieved that I was at arms length from the directing process and the shoulder-straining responsibility that comes with that title. Directing demands a certain level of technical brain activity that may or may not have been somewhere in the deep recesses of my cranium. Directing means that people ask you questions and you have to have the answers (or at least pretend you do, or ask someone else and then pretend you do). Directing means that you should at least know the following…
WHAT ARE THOSE WEIRD ROLES IN THE CREDITS OF MOVIES?
Thank fully my brain problem was (perhaps flagged early and) taken into hand by my superb producer who went about surrounding me with a very amazing crew who would serve my rookie-director bluff very nicely thank you very much. Here are the key roles you may have seen in credits that I will be thrilled to put in mine:
DOP - This means Director of Photography, also known as cinematographer, or (in the case of the shitty commercials I used to make as a
regional TV producer) the cameraman. DOP’s have a combination of technical know-how and creative vision. They know the script inside out and in pieces (shots). Big time DOP’s often don’t handle a camera for an entire shoot. They call the shots (literally) while their camera operators handle the gear. Our (very young and brilliant watch this space) DOP Tom was his own operator, which meant he used a…
CAMERA ASSISTANT – On big productions there would be dedicated people for various aspects of camera operation (focus pullers etc), but in our case the camera assistant did the focus pulling and assisting with various camera movements such as the dolly moves (pushing the camera and DOP from set point 1 to set point 2 on tracks that keep everything smooth and steady).
GRIP – The grip is the fella (never met a female one but I’m sure they are out there) who does all the physical stuff for the DOP – setting up tracks and dollys, jibs (big craney things that swoop the camera over the action to give those sweeping upward/downward moving shots). Grips are most often the best tempered people on set. They love solving problems, pride themselves on smooth camera movements, a safe set and funny pranks. On big productions they form their own department and are managed by the Key Grip. They usually love beer. Our key grip observed an incorrect eyeline (which means an actor was looking at the wrong spot to align with a previous shot) and avoided me stitching myself up in the edit. That’s why we (the director fraternity because clearly I speak for them all) love these boys.
The term ‘grip’ is thought to arise from the early days of crank cameras when men with a ‘good grip’ had to hold onto the camera tripod to avoid movement.
Working closely with the camera and grip departments is the lighting department, with the gaffer as it’s chief. In our production, our gaffer
worked with the DOP as Lighting Director – coming up with the best ways to light the set, actors that will ensure clarity and enhance meaning. This is another extremely technical role and often the gaffer is an electrician. A gaffer (among other things) can spot an otherwise imperceptible shadow or flare from a mile away and knows how to make a shot warm (redder) or cold (bluer). They are also dab hands at folding up reflector (bounce) boards which is a bonus (I have been known to spend hours trying to pack up those bastards).
The name gaffer comes from the old days of lighting a set using natural light controlled by large sails or gaffs.
Best boys can be assigned to assist either grips or gaffers with all the equipment needed for their departments. In our case, our best boy assisted both and shared the clapper-loading role with the camera assistant.
The clapper is that iconic film making bit of gear that is ‘loaded’ with the scene number, shot number and take number and filmed at the beginning (head) of each shot so as to assist with putting them all together in editing (post production). It has a little arm that claps down at the head of the shot to check sound quality.
The first assistant director is the person responsible for keeping order on set, scheduling the shoot and sticking to it so that no one has to work overtime. If there is a stressy person on set it is usually the 1st AD. They are often not very popular poor buggers – having to tell a bunch of creatives ‘in the zone’ to hurry up. I worked with one once who I was sure was going to bust a heart valve any moment. On Hormones, our 1st AD doubled as my directing mentor and was pretty much my saviour.
On big sets the 2nd AD prepares the daily call sheets (the things that tell crew and cast what time to arrive, when they can expect to knock off and which shots are being covered).
Third assistant director is responsible for moving actors on and off set as they are required. Our 2nd AD was also our third and our Unit Manager (responsible for the base used by cast and crew when they are resting or eating) and Runner (the poor bugger sent off set on errands, often emergency ones).
BOOM OPERATOR OR BOOM SWINGER OR SOUND RECORDIST
Is part of the sound department and responsible for capturing sound using an array of microphones. Most common are the long booms that contain the microphone inside a cylinder on its end. If it’s an exterior scene a fluffy covering is used to block out wind (I’ve always called this wind sock Mr Fluffy but I’m thinking is has a proper name. Some people call them blimps or dead cats). Boom swingers pride themselves on getting as close to the sound as possible without getting the boom in shot. They are responsible for capturing lines of spoken dialogue (not many for us as most of it is sung and pre-recorded for lip syncing) and for recording wild tracks of sound – these are key sound moments such as the sound of running feet or something falling or a bell ringing etc. You can also ‘foley‘ these sounds which means recording them off location at a different time, or use file sound effects (SFX). But it is often useful to capture the sound on location so they match their setting.
Continuity or script supervisor records the daily progress of the film, but more importantly ensures that the inherent continuity of the script is never compromised. They ensure that at the end of the day the film will cut together without jumps or errors in continuity despite shooting scenes and shots out of sequence. They oversee the continuity of all departments including make up, wardrobe and art (set design). E.g. “Her hair was neater in the last shot” or “That shirt collar was down in the first shot”. See some continuity errors here.
These are the clever people who design the sets according to the director’s vision and their own interpretation of the script. My designer doubled as props standby who is the person on set immediately available to pop props into correct places before takes and reset them after takes. They are also responsible for continuity of props. I talked to the designer about my vision, gave him a bit of a MOOD BOARD, my ideas for each scene and ‘hero’ (featured) props and then he went out and sourced the necessary gear. He also added bits and pieces for my approval according to his own expertise and thoughts on the script. Mostly these where better ideas than mine – he’s a designer and I don’t know an iconic piece from my arsehole. Standby props will often be sent off on random, impossible missions which they are expected (and usually do) fulfill. Our set designer quickly became known as Can Do Gus. To thank him one day I’d like to ask him to blow up a car. Art departments love that shit.
And the others you probably know – Executive producer (provides the spondoolas, don’t often show up on set); Producer (manages budget, pulls together and supervises production before approaching financiers or distributors); Editor (the poor bugger who has to pull the whole thing together and fix everyone’s mistakes). And…
Me. In this case (in my view) I had a certain advantage because I wrote the script and didn’t have to deal with any pesky writers when devising my ultimate vision. It was there from the get go. Which meant I had to convey the idea (using my own descriptions and where possible previous filmic examples) to my producer, DOP and other key crew. This is a challenge in itself.
Then there’s the question of COVERAGE. This means how am I going to most effectively shoot this thing, taking into account things like budget, time, personnel, equipment and mis-en-scene (vision, mood, style). Once I know what is available to me I can then SHOT LIST the script, which means detailing each shot – perspective, angle, duration, movement -that will most effectively cover each part of the script. This process is assisted greatly by the use of STORYBOARDS which are rough drawings (in my case stick figures and funny looking sets) of each key moment in the script. The shot list storyboard phase takes enormous brain power and time (hence Megoracle being a bit lacking – just to throw in another excuse).
Then it’s casting people who you think might be able to act the way you want your characters (getting casting directors on board helps HEAPS). For this you can either send weirdo facebook messages to Eddie Perfect and Shane Jacobson (this won’t work) or just do a call out and a screen test.
The director – along with LOCATION MANAGER – also has to cast the locations. In my case this was easy. I wrote the thing with my Mum and Dad’s house in mind (not so easy for Mum and Dad…”Hello Darling, well the lights are here and the couch is gone. We can’t see the telly”). Sorry Mum and Dad. And thank you! What a PERFECT location.
Then you rehearse (with a choreographer who will make it look like I came up with some genius action), talk feverishly with your poor producer and DOP, make a terrible cake to quell nerves and call ACTION on the day. Then your brilliant crew will whisper prompts in your ear when things are looking like a big FAIL and help you not look like a complete DURRR BRAIN.
At the end of it you can call WRAP, wait for the adrenaline to lay off, fall in an exhausted heap and feel strange without your crew/cast family.
On feeding breaks, cast and crew eat first. Extras and support people eat last. I find this excruciating. What a silly rule.
If you have to “step off set”, always tell the first AD, or at least the second. Saying for how long (quick ciggy, long poo) is helpful too.
If you’re going to the loo you can correctly say, “I’m 10-100″, which about the same number of syllables as, “I’m going to the loo” but just more cool.
You’re never “on your way” or “coming”, you’re “travelling”. Maybe this is to avoid people saying, “She’s coming”, thereby creating a ripple effect of dirty, potentially distracting thoughts.
Every newcomer – especially on a series or long term shoot – will be treated as second class until they can prove themselves (as hilarious, kind, super intelligent or persistent). When I worked for channel 7 as a medical adviser I was only accepted as part of the family after I lost my temper with the cast and told them that they were to listen to me or face certain humiliation. That and sicking pen torches up my nostrils in the dark scene.
When you hear the soundo say, “Quiet please”, shut up. When you hear the DOP call “Set”, really do shut up, the director is about to call ACTION.
If working for one department, don’t intervene on another department without asking first or being invited. Everyone takes pride in their work and doesn’t always appreciate ‘outsider’s’ perspectives.
If you’re mobile phone rings during a take you have to buy everyone on set a beer.
Don’t wear bright whites or yellows on set as they can bounce light into a scene.
There will not necessarily be a director’s chair, a loudspeaker and a beret on set for rookie directors to feel more like the real deal. If you want these items, you will have to take them yourself, which is frankly quite wanky.
DON’T UNPLUG ANYTHING.
OTHER FILM TERMINOLOGY YOU MIGHT HEAR
Post production – The editing bit that I’m about to enter into. This includes editing vision and sound together, colour grading (making sure colour is uniform or informative) and sound editing. Also includes adding on the all important credits - my goodness I have a lot of those.
Duck’s on the Pond – Means that the producer has entered the set. I guess in some circumstances it should send everyone into their best, I-know-what-I’m-doing behaviour. In my case I felt better when my duck was on the pond. I guess I relied more heavily on her creative input that usual. We also coined, “Big Duck on Pond“, which was when our executive producer popped in. Given that our EP is a small, cheery woman with a lovely sense of humour and a large orange yoghurt cake, big duck on pond was not as scary as it could be.
NG – this means No Good. And can be shouted after a take when the director/lead actress forgets her lines or misses a cue. When a take is just unusable. The script supervisor will take note of NG’s as well as ‘Prints‘, which are the takes that are usable. I performed quite a few NG’s on this shoot, particularly when the word ‘fart’ had to be thrown about. Always brings on a ‘break’ (laughing out of character).
Tight - just means close.
Wide - far away
Cheat - move something to fit the shot that wouldn’t ordinarily be there.
Where’s your 20? - Where are you? over a walkie talkie.
Hot set – this is a set in use where nothing can be touched even if crew and cast are called to break. Mum and Dad’s kitchen was a hot set for pretty much 3 days. They had to get takeaway or eat out.
Hot Points! - if you hear this shouted, get out of the way, there is something pointy being carried into set. They might also call, “Watch your back!”
Final Checks – Called out for wardrobe, set and makeup to say they are happy with their work to go for a take.
Flash! – called out just before you take a photo and make a flash, serving as a warning to lighting and camera operators.
Abby Singer – second last shot of the day.
It’s a Wrap – LAST SHOT, SHOOT IS OVER THANK THE LORD, GOODBYE.