Slight Adjustments / by Chris Weigl

Anyone who’s ever gone on a film shoot knows that you never get it right the first time.  Even if, by some miracle, you did get your perfect shot executed during the first go around chances are that the director is going to want to see it from another angle or with an actor saying a different line.  Maybe if you blocked the actors a little differently you could have a little more soft light on your subject even if that actor has already moved onto the next scene.  Hollywood is that rare place on Earth where perfection is frowned upon.  Through a producers eyes you probably missed something inconsequential or better yet something that even they know can be cleaned up in the editing room.  Everyone has problems in life, but just because they exist does not mean they need to be fatal.  If there is an issue with a camera where there isn’t a clean shot and you failed to pick it up when reviewing your dailies you’re going to have to reshoot.  Nothing in film is perfect and film shoots are about the furthest thing from perfect that you’ll find.  Finding ways to adjust to your imperfections can mean the difference between a successful shoot and a world full of problems for the filmmaker and this is where the magic lies.

You have to make adjustments before, during and after a film shoot.  It’s just the way life is.  We work in a subjective field and whenever you work in a subjective field no one is wrong because everyone can be right.  How about that for a juxtaposition?  When you find yourself in such a situation everything turns into a cost/benefit analysis.  Whether it’s asking a crew member to change a lens or making a suggestion to enhance a scene, someone can always second guess you and if you let them they can slow your production to a halt.  It’s a major problem.  What we do to avoid this kind of thing is cut down on the size of our crew.  We don’t work with crews bigger than five or six people.  We don’t need anything more than that.  If we need more than six people I’ll break things down into teams so that I don’t have too many people trying to over-correct every shot.  Some directors move people out of the room and just talk to their principals.  That’s fine, but those other crew members feel like something is going on behind closed doors (usually because the doors are literally closed to them) and then the gossip starts.

You can’t win on a film set.  If you’re aiming for the perfect shot then you’ve doomed your shoot already.  The perfect shot to you is not the perfect shot to someone else.  The perfect is the enemy of the good on film sets.  This is why some people ban writers from their sets.  I find it annoying, but I understand why some people do it.  You don’t want someone interrupting to tell you that this isn’t their “vision” for the shot.  The director has a schedule that they know they’re going to run over, the producer has a budget that they know they’re going to run over and the crew is already exhausted from the set-up of the damn thing.  You’ll always find small problems looming on a film shoot.  Lighting is usually problem number one and going through the shot by shot rotation of how you’re going to film a sequence will usually prove too taxing to the technical folks on your set who survive because they know something about the electrical that you don’t.  The single biggest problem on a film set however is boredom.  No matter what you’re doing in life; if it involves repetition people will get bored.  That’s the way life is and film is very repetitious.  Good directors know how to get people involved in things they know certain people are interested in.  Others will try to change things up and make small adjustments to make sure that everyone is still awake through most of the shoot.  It’s a challenge.  Balance is the key to a good shoot though and if you don’t have it you’re going to have a lousy shoot. 

If you know what you're doing then you can usually overcome your production issues and make it to post, but post-production presents it's own set of unique problems.  We don’t have a huge team of highly skilled editors who can put everything together perfectly.  Most of the smaller production companies don’t have a huge post-production team that can fix every little problem.  As a production company we work with what we have.  If we had someone with the potential to be a great editor I’d sit them down on set and have them work with the boom mic operator because the number one thing that your editor needs to look for is fluid continuity and you know who needs to understand continuity like the science it is?  The boom operator.  If you want to get a director real riled up find someone who has no idea what they’re doing and put them in charge of the boom mic.  There is nothing more devastating – save maybe a fire that destroys all of your cameras and equipment – than sound that doesn’t work in post.  If you’re going to skimp on a set don’t do it at the boom operator position.  That person will save your life someday. 

I used to keep a lot of money left over from my budgets for post-production because there is always some little problem that needs to be dealt with.  What I’ve been doing lately is monitoring the situation and re-shooting when necessary.  It’s not the end of the world on a cash-strapped shoot to have to re-shoot ten or fifteen seconds of footage.  It is the end of the world if you can’t get your video released because of a ten second sound gap in the middle of your footage.  Sure, you could cut it down so that gap isn’t there and deal with a video that is nothing like what you were attempting to film, but do you want to sacrifice the integrity of your script because someone screwed up the audio on a couple shots?  If you’re on my crew the answer better be: no.  This is where people get antsy though.  No one wants to re-shoot anything.  When you wrap filming everyone thinks: “great, we’re done!”  Usually you’ve got to go back at some point and fix the little things that go wrong because no matter how good a film shoot goes it never goes perfectly.  It's all part of the process.  No one loves the process, but those who understand what's required to get to the endgame are willing to endure a little pain if it means a superior product.  This is what makes us professionals.