This is a test sequence I shot over the weekend for a feature length movie I wrote. I can’t go into detail about the film, but I wanted to share the experience of making this.
First and foremost I storyboarded every shot I needed to make the finished sequence. I’ll upload those boards later. With the sequence drawn out in storyboard form, you can shoot what you need, then get additional angles/takes and come back to your boards to get you back on track. This really helps with making sure you shot everything. Then it was time for me to pick up the phone and call in a few favors. Once I secured a very very small crew (which consisted of my brother Dan playing the assassin, Amy as my shot manager, and Rob to help me out with basically everything else – my go to guy.) I organized a schedule for the day and emailed it to everyone. This is important so that everyone is on the same page.
I packed up everything, loaded up the car and headed to Philadelphia where my brother lives. His apartment is perfect for this type of sequence and has a few large windows on the far side that would serve as my key. I knew that he also had recessed lighting fixtures in the ceiling very close by to the windows. I picked up some 100watt daylight balanced lightbulbs that would serve in adding some fill light to whatever we were lucky enough to have coming into the windows. The weather was rainy, with some pretty heavy cloud cover. This was great because it would provide nice soft light and give me the grey/grittiness I wanted. Now we just had to wait for the rain to stop long enough for me to get the shots I knew I needed on the rooftop. Amy kept an eye on it for us while my brother and I rehearsed and I blocked shots.
Once rehearsal was completed and I was satisfied with everything we got Dan into costume. I had him wear a grey suit because shooting black is a nightmare in low light. I didn’t want him to be a silhouette. But the grey suit will appear black once it’s graded. We used some dancer’s leggings to black out his face. I cut one leg off the leggings and cut it to length. The lycra material these leggings are made out of is great because it form fits to your actors face, giving them facial features while being see-through enough that they won’t hurt themselves. It makes breathing a little difficult because your nose is smashed down but it gives a really nice look. Dan and I began at the beginning and shot in sequence. He took it really seriously, and gave me some great creative angle ideas and variations in his performance. He’s never acted before and yet has a very good sense of what’s going to look good on camera. Awesome. The tactical pistol he uses in the sequence is a Robs, and is real. Obviously we didn’t use any ammunition but I highly recommend using airsoft weapons in place of real guns unless you have someone with a lot of experience and is qualified to handle them legally on set with you like I did. We were flying through takes. Dan pretty much nailing his mark every time. We were halfway through the storyboard at this point and it had been about an hour and a half.
Midway through our shoot of the reverse angles of Dan moving through the room Amy yelled “The rain stopped!”. I swapped lenses and we hauled ass up to the roof. The rain had indeed stopped and the clouds looked great. The wind was blowing pretty badly and Dan’s fedora blew off during a quick rehearsal take I was shooting. I was happy with the blocking and Dan reset. We shot the roof sequence in 2 takes, plus 2 close ups on his face to cut to during the 360 degree shot. We grabbed a three quick shots of Dan looking over the edge the roof and had Rob run across the street below. Direction was done with cell phones. Amy on the phone with Rob as I was giving direction while operating the camera on the edge of the roof. As soon as we got the third take of Rob running away the rain picked up again. 7 shots in probably as many minutes. Sweet. We all hustled downstairs back into Dan’s apartment. With half the storyboard done we set up and shot the bedroom/desk search sequence. Dan hustled through the bedrooms and searched the desk while I followed him almost documentary style. I wanted the camera work at this point to be frantic so we didn’t rehearse anything. I just told Dan to search the rooms, then the desk and I tried to keep up with him. We got one over the shoulder shot of him searching the desk, and then I got down on the floor beneath him with a 50 mm to cheat the desk out of the upward shot of Dan’s face. Rob held a light to Dan’s back on the right to get his face lit up for that one. We got 4 takes of Dan storming out of the bedroom and living room to exit the apartment and it was a wrap. 58 shots in 3 hours 30 minutes.
I went through all of the footage, set my ins and outs, imported it into PreRes 4:2:2 cut/graded the sequence in one sitting in about 8 hours. 10:30pm – 6:00am. All told I only scrapped 5 takes completely, mostly due to serious focusing errors on my part. The actual sequence is pretty close to the original storyboard. But as usual the film I storyboard, the one I shoot, and the final edit are never the same. Improvisation, happy accidents, and bouncing ideas off of each other during shooting almost always yields some good results. I tend to use them instead of what I planned. You need that kind of creative kinetic energy in your films. Rob came over and we added just about all of the sound you hear in the final sequence in post. The sound we recorded during the shooting basically ended up being our scratch track and ambience sounds. After a few tweaks to the sequence, I exported and it stands as it is at the moment. It would be much much shorter if it were in a trailer as initially intended. But I had the time, so I shot it as it’s own sequence. It’s not final by any means, but I hope it’s enough to make you question what’s going on and want to see more.
I hope this is helpful to you in your own productions. Until next time…