If It Were Only That Easy
Let me start by saying, I love what I do.
With that said, sometimes what I do is exhausting. It’s in the very nature of the world of Production. Early call times, long days, late nights (or never ending nights) to meet deadlines, heavy equipment cases to schlep around airports, so many details to keep organized… I mean, I’m down to my last ounce of Icy Hot because of shooting with a shoulder mount all day. Okay, it may seem like I’m complaining (okay, I guess I kind of am) but there’s a point.
When people find out what I do, most respond with, “Wow, that seems like so much fun!” And it is. But it’s a lot more than that. To have as much fun as any of us do in production we have to know and do whole lot of stuff. Because making what’s in front of the camera look good requires a whole lot of work behind the camera. A career in production demands a lifetime balancing act between technique and creativity. Most people only give credit to the fun, creative aspect of my job, but they don’t realize much actually goes into getting “the shot”.
It’s easy to make that mistake, to think it’s as simple as “lights, camera, action”. That all we have to do is turn on a light, run the camera, and all the magic is what’s happening in front of the lens. But if I’ve learned anything in the past 13 years I’ve been doing this professionally (dang, I’m getting old) it’s that what’s in front of the camera is only a small part of the magic. To get a good product, your production team has to have a good grasp on every detail behind the scenes.
Take a look at the behind-the-scenes photo displayed above with this blog post. This photo was taken during the filming of an internal video for one of our clients. It was a really fun project actually and this scene specifically was a blast (a complicated blast) to make. So, in order to demonstrate exactly what it takes to pull off a successful production, I will break down all the steps we took just to shoot this specific scene.
Step 1: The Story
At Blu Fable, we have a talented team with quite a diverse range of experience, including writing and messaging. In this instance, our client asked us to film a funny little short about their policies on Privacy and Data Protection. Yes, you read that right, a funny piece about Privacy and Data Protection. When I first read that request, I wanted to reply back with one of those emojis that has a skeptical face (you know, the one with the mouth line slanted off to the side?). But, Team Blu put on their creative storytelling hats and spent days brainstorming, typing, arguing over story lines, agreeing over story lines, and more typing. Finally, we came up with a script that was funny and still conveyed our clients message. If you reference back up to the photo, you’ll see that we’re shooting a Dodgeball scene and yes, we somehow found a way to connect Dodgeball to corporate policies. We’re just that good (insert winking emoji here).
Step 2: Talent
After going through the process of writing and getting a script approved, we have to find the bodies we need to have it play out on film. So, we need to do a very “Hollywood” thing and hold a casting call. For this scene, Team Blu pulled again from our diverse range of experience and called upon our team members that knew how to navigate through L.A.’s network of actors and call them in for auditions. We then found a space to hold the auditions, watched a whole lot of different actors read for the characters and made decisions on who would be cast. Finding the right actor to play a character is a very important skill and Team Blu knows exactly what to look for during auditions. And talent doesn’t just mean the actors. Actors need to be seen and heard, so we also called upon our wide network of production professionals to find the right Director of Photography, Camera Operators, Sound, Gaffers, and Production Assistants.
Step 3: Creating the Scene
Okay, so by this point we had a story, actors, a crew and weeks of work behind us - and we still had yet to press the record button! That’s because we still needed to create our world. And to create our world for this scene we needed an outdoor location, a time, wardrobe for the actors, and props. This is where Team Blu gets on the phone and on their devices of choice and coordinates all of these elements. It’s in this step where we book the location, decide the time we will shoot the scene to best tell the story, and coordinate with the actors so we know what sizes they wear for wardrobe. We also have to make sure we have the right props. This part is fun for me because it fulfills my need to online shop without the guilt! Although, filling my Amazon cart with Dodgeballs, a whistle, a sweatband, and a reflector vest really messed with my product recommendations (no Amazon, I will not be needing 144 practice ping pong balls!).
Step 4: Equipment
This is the step where we thoughtfully create our equipment list, which definitely has more than lights and camera on it. This step doesn’t just involve making a list of high tech toys, but it’s a meticulous process of choosing the right equipment that will allow us to capture the scene the way we envisioned it and within the budget we have for the project. As an example, for the dodgeball scene we shot with two cameras and had to decide what camera support to use. We could have shot with a jib but decided we didn’t need any sweeping shots. We could have also shot with a drone but for this scene it would have been completely unnecessary to have that kind of point of view for the story. We decided to shoot with a shoulder mount to get the voyeur and personal effect and with a tripod to get the steady and reliable shot. These are details that we have to think about for every piece of equipment. Decisions about which cameras, lenses, lighting systems, sound recording devices, grip supplies to pack are so important to the value of the final product.
Step 5: Keeping It All Together
This step finally brings us on-set on the day of the shoot. But wait! Don’t press record just yet. Shoot days are the days that I have to really mentally prepare, because they are the longest and most challenging days on the Blu Fable schedule. I usually need to wake up insanely early (thank you US Army for preparing me for this!) so that I can be one of the first people, if not the very first person, on set. And I have to be ready to go fulfill my roles (yes, not just one but multiple roles) on set. So, I wake up to the inspirational sounds of the Rocky theme (or sometimes Beyonce’s Flawless), and as I’m brushing my teeth I run through everything that needs to happen that day. Before we can even film we have to make sure all the equipment, all the crew, and all the actors are where they are supposed to be, and for the rest of the day I have to know exactly where all these elements are at all times. There’s so much stuff to think about - whether or not we have all the tools we need, what to do if one of our actors is stuck in traffic, where the actors will change, what we will feed the crew, etc. After a hectic couple of hours prepping, we are all finally in place and can finally shoot this dang scene where Tom (the red shirt guy) gets hit in the nuts by a Dodgeball (yes, this still pertains to Data and Privacy). So we give a few notes to the actors, we make sure sound is getting a good signal and we make sure cameras are seeing a good picture. Then finally, it’s time for “Action!” (oh, and make sure you press record).
Well, there you have it. My five-step breakdown of the Dodgeball Scene. Now that you’ve read all that and have visualized everything it takes to shoot this scene, I will tell you this: This scene is only one of the many scenes we shot for this episode. This episode is only one of the many episodes we shot for this series. So those five-steps have to be taken every time we change scenes! Mind blown?
Remember all of those things I complained about earlier? Well, those are things that exhaust me, but I go through it all because I love my work. Because the moments in the world of production that I love - coming back with great footage and having the client love what we’ve put together for them - makes all the hard work, preparation, and body aches worthwhile. And with every new project I get excited because I know it’s another opportunity to grow as a producer, as a creative, as an editor, as a photographer, and as a “whatever role I need to fill that day.”
Oh! And we do a whole lot of stuff here at Blu Fable so if there’s anything else you all would like me to break down, or if you’d like to know more about why Tom gets hit in the nuts, let me know!