I want to write a post about something I emphasize to my students all of the time: the importance of pre-production. This project was a great example of what is lost without planning.
Some things that help elevate a student film into a more polished video is lighting and audio. Often, students just wish to run around with a camera and are quick to want to edit the footage afterward. However, audio and lighting are two factors that can make a video look either like a student video or like a low-budget independent film. I discuss both of these in my PHT 130 course but what we don’t get to spend enough time on in class is pre-production.
Pre-production is about more than just writing a script…it is about planning for everything and anything. Here are some things that were done in pre-production for this project:
- Shots were planned for each of the seven spoofed videos.
- I hired hair and makeup and discussed designs for each video segment (photos were sent to the artists to plan skin tones and so forth).
- Actors and actresses were recruited around campus.
- Locations were scouted (got permission to use Padrino’s Pizza as diner shot).
- Post-production was already considered since some scenes (“Take On Me” spoof) would require special effects.
- Dry ice was purchased and tested as a ground fog effect for the “Thriller” video (also had to purchase a special cooler, rubber gloves, and a scoop and tongs for the dry ice).
- Ordered matching dresses online for Robert Palmer video.
- Rented wide angle lens for elevator shoot since it would be needed in close quarters.
- Did test shot at night with tungsten lighting. Edited the results with color grading to see if day for night or real night shoot would work best for “Thriller” shoot.
- Recruited dancer to choreograph the zombie dance in “Thriller.”
- Recruited other dancers for “Thriller.”
- Purchased a Micheal Jackson “thriller” jacket along with other 80s clothing and accessories.
- Borrowed 80s clothing from different people.
- Borrowed and tested a small generator from school for the night time shoot.
- Discussed U2 shoot (which we did not end up doing) with campus police to find out the use of the officers (also secured permission to film on the roof of the building).
- Attended rehearsal for the dance choreography.
- Bought bungie cords and ties to be used as a tether system for the car mount (as a back up safety measure).
- Bought a polarizing filter to film inside of a car.
- Found two car owners willing to let us use their vehicles for the Whitesnake shoot.
- Got hair and makeup in line for the Duran Duran shoot.
- Tested the monitor with new cable hookups for the jib to be used on set for “Thriller.”
- Recruited a tutor (Piero Franco) to sketch the pictures to be used on the “Take On Me” shoot.
- Worked with theatre director in the transformation of the theatre.
- Recruited tutors to build the sets to be used in “Take On Me” and “You Can Call Me Al.”
- Worked on the theatre lighting design for the in-house shoots.
- Borrowed and tested smoke machine from theatre department.
- Bought an additional smoke machine.
- Bought materials to transform smoke machines into fog machines for low hanging fog. Constrcuted the machines and tested.
- Constructed gutter trench system to place the dry ice on the “Thriller” shoot.
- Bought headstones and decorated the graveyard setting of “Thriller” and buried the gutter system.
- In anticipation of rain for the “Thriller” shoot, brought protective gear, including trash bags, tarps, hand-held lights, and a pop-up canopy.
- Ensured the band brought additional musical instruments for “You Can Call Me Al” and Palmer video.
- Ensured “zany” costume and prop accessories were brought for the “Love In An Elevator” shoot.
- Secured a skeleton arm for the “Thriller” shoot.
- Ensured there was fake blood and zombie flesh created for the shoot.
- Got extras for many of the scenes that were shot.
There were many other things that had to be planned in advance of these shoots as well but you can see how important it is to get a gameplan before filming and communicate your needs to others. Then, when you expect the worst, you can course-correct later.
For example, we originally planned to shoot the “Thriller” scene on Wednesday, August 1st and we brought about seven dancers, the band members, hair and makeup, and six or seven students from the Filmmaking or Tutors Clubs. Everyone was to meet at 6pm to start setting the scene or getting into hair and makeup. The first complication happened at 3pm when I was informed that the young lady who was to play the “girlfriend” in the “Thriller” shoot was no longer going to be a part of it. With three hours until hair and makeup, I was scrambling around for a replacement (we eventually got a friend of one of the dancers).
Then, we had a delay in securing parking passes on campus and did not get them until almost 5pm.
I transported all of the equipment to campus and we worked to get everything set up for the shoot (about one-quarter of a mile away from the main campus building). We were ready to shoot at 8:30 and waiting for it to get dark at 8:45 but we never got a chance because it started to rain. Everyone quickly took down the cameras, the lights, the fog machines, reflectors, etc. and got it covered up. Yes, we were watching the weather but this was not reported. At 9:30 the rain stopped and we started to set things up all over again. I worked with the police to ensure we could get back into the building up to 11pm. Right as we were about to shoot again at 9:50pm, a HUGE thunderstorm erupted from the sky and we had to, again, take everything down. In fact, the storm was so bad, a few of us got stuck in the storm, huddled under the small space of the canopy, hoping the lighting would not strike the metal poles all around us (jib, light stands, c-stands, etc.). The storm lasted until about 10:15 (again, the weather forecast blew this one) and we were forced to cancel the entire shoot for the evening.
We spent the next 45 minutes cleaning up from all of the wetness and drying each of us out (wringing out our clothing). With the shoot not happening that night AND with all of the planning beforehand, I still lost over $400 in services and goods that were to be used that night that went to waste.
We were able to successfully conduct the shoot two days later but we had to sacrifice some of the planned footage and call in some favors just to get things done before the rain came around 11pm and police and security finally kicked us out of the building (they were wonderful to let us stay that long – truly, the police were great allies in this film project). Even so, we still had two less dancers (we replaced one at the last minute) and we had to have yet a different “girlfriend” for the shoot. The humidity was so bad, we had to wipe the lenses between each take. Also, since I was not happy with the tungsten setup from the original shoot attempt on Wednesday, I rented some daylight-balanced lights for this shoot (another needed planning step but extra time and money). Also, the fog machines were not working as intended but I could not devote my time to troubleshoot, so I had to go without them (again, wasted the time I spent in advance creating the ground fog machines). Dancer Lara Kenney was fabulous in assisting in hair and makeup and everyone hung in until the bitter end to get things cleaned up.
So, why did I feel like writing this long blog post? Simple…I want everyone reading it, especially my students, to realize that the more planning you do, the better the results and the least amount of wasted time and resources because one can only plan for the worstkase scenario and hope to get the best results in the end.