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Shoot for the Edit

Believe it or not, the editing of a movie begins well before you shoot the first frame. Filmmaking is a tedious process of shooting a scene numerous times from many angles using only one camera, and it’s important to consider in pre-production, how these shots will be edited together. In the editing room, the editor assembles shots so the action in the scene appears to have had occurred only once, and was covered by multiple cameras positioned around the set. This can be tricky because the quality of the edit depends heavily on how well the footage was shot on location.

When on set, always shoot for the edit by envisioning how every shot will be cut together. A great way to ensure continuity between shots is for the actors to perform the scene in its entirety and cover as much of the scene as possible from each camera set-up. The more rehearsed the actors, the more consistent their performance from take to take; the more consistent the performance, the better the continuity of the footage.

Although editing is the process of assembling footage shot in the field into a meaningful, logical sequence, smart directors and cinematographers will determine how to edit the shots together before stepping foot on set. Shooting for the edit will help you better achieve your vision, control costs by eliminating extraneous set-ups and streamline the editing process.

Shooting for the edit covers several aspects:

  • Planning camera angles and movements – During pre-production, think about the relationship between each of the shots in the shot list and how they will ultimately cut together. Storyboarding the shots, or using software that allows you to animate each shot will help you visualize the flow the each scene.
  • Plan to maximize the coverage in every camera set-up – If working on a tight budget, shooting each camera set-up from a wide shot, a medium shot and a close-up will instantly triple the options available to the editor.

One technique I employ when planning my camera angles is to place the camera where an observer would be compelled to look during a scene. As I block the actors, I take note of where my natural human tendency is to look. If I feel the need to look at a character’s face in a certain moment, odds are I will need to cover him in a close-up. If I am pulled to stand back and watch an entire action unfold, I will think about covering that part of the scene in a wide shot.

The camera is really an extension of the audience, so treat it as such. Pretend as though you were taking an audience member by the hand as the scene unfolds around you and walking him or her to different parts of the set to experience the action unfolding. What would be the best vantage point to see the action? Where would the audience member stand? How close or how far would he or she be? All these answers can translate directly into the positioning of the camera.

Filmmaking Techniques to Get Proper Coverage

The set is a busy, stressful place to work.  You’ve spent weeks, if not months preparing for each shooting day, and when it arrives you have to create art out of chaos.  There are a thousand things that can go wrong. Crew members call in sick, a breaker pops, location owners get demanding, the camera may not work, or any one of a thousand thousand other problems. The secret to getting the coverage you need is to be prepared. Follow these filmmaking techniques to reduce on set problems, get the coverage you need, and make every scene a winner.

  • Make sure everything is planned out on paper before stepping onto the set. All storyboards should be finalized, actors rehearsed, and camera angles planned. Remember that the production process is about executing the plan that you built in preproduction.
  • Make sure camera angles are concise and camera coverage overlaps so that the editor has options in the editing room. A script supervisor will keep track of which parts of the scene are covered by which camera angle.
  • Make sure the camera follows the actor’s actions and the actor motivates the camera’s movements. Rehearse every camera move to ensure the actor, dolly, focus puller, and boom operator hit their marks before rolling on a take.
  • Do a complete rehearsal with the actors for the crew before setting up equipment so everyone on set understands what is happening in the scene. Go over general camera angles and how the scene is to be shot.
  • Be mindful of the rules of composition when placing the camera and determining angles and movement.
  • Think about how the shots will be edited together while figuring out optimum camera angles on set. A smart director shoots for the edit.
  • The camera operator should always communicate with the boom operator so she knows where the frame edge is BEFORE  rolling. This will minimize the microphone  boom drifting in and out of the shot.
  • When shooting a camera setup, consider shooting another size frame (i.e., a long shot, medium shot, or close-up) of the action from the same angle. While this doesn’t require a repositioning of the camera, it will provide the editor the option of intercutting closer and farther shots of the same action.
  • Before each new camera setup, discuss the details of the shot with the crew. Good communication is always key to a smooth-running set.
  • Be mindful of on-set continuity as the camera positions change. Are props, set dressing, and even actors where they are supposed to be from one shot to the next?
  • Productions always go slower early in the day. As the hours wear on, filming usually has to pick up pace because the production is running behind schedule. Move quickly and efficiently from the beginning of each day to avoid the mad rush at the end.
  • Have a backup plan if exterior scenes are canceled due to weather. Always have a backup interior scene to film so the cast and crew can change locations and continue shooting.
  • Make sure every crew member knows his on-set duties. If a crew member has nothing to do, he should ask his department head if she needs help. There is always work that needs to be done on set.
  • Keep the set clear of equipment. Organize lights, grip gear, and electrical cables. This will make cleanup easier at the end of the day and make getting out new gear easier.
  • Make sure meal breaks are scheduled every six hours.
  • When working on set, practice on-set safety by securing cables and riggings and maintaining an environment that minimizes accidents.
  • Ensure that every crew member has the day’s script, call sheet, and shooting schedule.

As the old adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Think, plan, and prepare for every contingency before you get to the set.