So, now that the script, people, places, money, props, make-up and visual designs of our John Constantine: Hellblazer fan film are all in place (see previous articles) it’s time to start planning the shoot proper.
The first step of this process is securing your shoot days. There are two ways to broach this on an indie film; the first is a matter of availability, like if your locations or actors will only be on hand on certain days, this isn’t so much planning as it is rolling with the circumstances, and there’s a lot of that in filming, so it’s as good a way as any to get the ball rolling. The other way is to set a date way in advance so that all involved can make sure they keep a clear schedule. On a personal level I find it more prudent to have a set shoot date, that way I don’t drag my feet with the necessary work.
Unless you haven’t got very much to shoot in a given location, it isn’t really realistic to expect to shoot more than two locations in a single day, but one is always preferable. Whatever your location situation it’s always best to plan each of the shoot days as a separate entity; sure, keep the entirety in the back of your mind, structurally speaking, but keeping it at the forefront the whole time will give you a nervous breakdown.
For our Hellblazer film the majority of the film takes place in one location with just a few short shots of exteriors. I planned it as two shoot days but the exteriors would be done with minimum crew for shots just a few seconds in length apiece, so really didn’t require much in the way of logistical planning other than making sure we had the lead and an additional actor, a black cab and a make-up artist there on the day. The bulk of the shoot though was another matter entirely.
Due to the fact we only really had the money for one day’s worth of make-up prosthetics, and getting about a dozen people, all working for nothing, to free their schedules up at the same time is a massive pain, we didn’t really have the luxury of two days in the primary location so I had no choice but to plan it as a one day thing.
How I went about planning this day can be applied to each singular day of any shoot, though as with all aspects of indie filmmaking, you’ll find that planning the shoot is a new experience with each film you make. What you’ve learnt on one may carry over to another but each film has its own set of challenges and logistics.
Hellblazer is without doubt the most ambitious short we’ve ever put together, so other than the fact that the script and storyboards dictated that we’d need something in the region of eighty five shots (practically unheard of on a single day’s shoot), we also knew that at least a handful of hours would have to be set to one side for the application of the demons’ make-up, and on top of all of this the film rotated around a chip heavy poker game which would no doubt be a continuity logistics nightmare. All this considered it would have to be the most meticulously planned short we’d ever put together, with every single little detail considered.
With something this complicated it helps to know your script inside and out, to know precisely what shots you want. We’d already dealt with this in the storyboarding phase (see previous article), so the next step for me was to get the script and the storyboards and to precisely divide the script in to the individual shots referred to in the storyboards and assign each shot a number. As a reference tool on the shoot day it can be invaluable to you.
Next, in anticipation of the complications of onscreen poker games, I set up the poker table exactly how it would be at the beginning of the film and ran through the games, taking a reference photo of the whole table after each move, so that on the day I could show the actors exactly where they should be laying their cards or chips in each shot, with the hopes that these definite placements would ease continuity issues in the edit. I then made a document with these images lined up in sequence, applying each move/image a number.
Taking the script breakdown, storyboards and continuity references, I then produced a shooting schedule. For this I had a few other things that I had to factor in, first was that we would be shooting on a wide-angle lens and a 50mm, and various shots would need to be shot either on a tri-pod, shoulder mount or on the stabiliser rig; switching lenses and rigs can eat up time so I would have to group together as many of these combinations within the schedule as I could. Then there was the issue of all the chips getting scattered over the table in one shot, the table takes ages to reset, so this shot would have to be played out in as few times as possible.
I opted to make a number of schedule tables; one for all the wide Constantine solo shots, one for the wide shots that required all the actors at the table, one for the wide shots that needed to be tripoded, one for the inserts of the poker table actions and one each for characters’ 50mm close-up shots, which for ease of continuity would frame out the poker table. This meant that if we shot as close to chronologically as we could we would only have to set the table up twice, once for the wide shots and once for the inserts, following the actions as the shots progressed.
This multiple shot list approached would also give us a certain amount of flexibility for circumstances on the day, for example, if the demons were still getting their make-up done after we’d dressed the set, we could film John’s wide shots, if they were still getting it done after those we had the time to switch lenses and get all John’s 50mm close-ups, if one demon was finished in make-up before another, we could get their close-ups, that kind of thing.
The tables were broken up into five columns, the shot number, its script page reference number, its storyboard reference number, a brief shot description along with important character movements stated (especially how they begin and end each shot, again, for continuity and editing ease) and a poker continuity reference number.
All this would mean that for any given shot I could tell my script supervisor and actors exactly which part of the script we were shooting, I could show my director of photography the board of the shot we were trying to get without constantly flipping through the boards and I could check the poker table was just how it was supposed to be for each given shot.
Getting all this paperwork done took many, many hours of hard concentration, which, as anyone who knows me will tell you, as I am, traditionally, a pretty careless as a person, was quite the amount of brow furrowed effort for me, the end results needing checking and double checking.
Another task required is putting together lists of all the props, shooting equipment and other various materials you’ll need (word of advice, make sure gaffer tape is on this list, you wouldn’t believe some of the problems it solves). This is better to do as an ongoing thing rather than lumping it in just before the shoot day, that way if you think of something else you might require you can just pop it onto the list as you go.
The night before the shoot, go down the lists making sure you have everything ready and prepared.
Now it’s time to shoot this thing! Tune in next time to see how the shoot went down.