Some shoots are pretty straight forward – one simple script with a manageable number of scenes, a couple of actors and an easy location. Don’t get us wrong, those need proper planning nonetheless, but they normally don’t present a huge challenge to organise and execute. However, those kinds of shoots are also extremely rare and odds are we will more likely find ourselves with a task of managing a complex shoot in an alarmingly short time frame. But no worries, with proper planning anything can be done.
Recently we did a project for a company developing medical devices, which was pretty much the definition of complex. We had to shoot five different scripts with over 50 scenes in only two days. To make it even more challenging, the scenes were very similar to each other and easy to mix up or overlook, with everything shot in a studio on pure white and only set props to make up different rooms. So here are our top tips we’ve learned on this project and many others over the years that help us manage challenging production projects:
1. DELEGATING TASKS
Every member of the production crew should know what their job is and how to do it without us constantly holding their hand. So we always make sure to delegate their tasks thoughtfully and thoroughly early on during pre production which also saves us loads of time and nerves later on set. We also try to make sure there are at least two people on the project, usually the producer and production manager, who are in charge of the full overview and stay on top of everything. We can’t expect everyone to remember everything all of the time, even if we wanted to. In the end, having a great team of people who work like a well oiled machine is a precious asset that makes our life a whole lot easier.
2. SYNCING WITH THE CLIENT
The client is the king, it’s their project after all. And even though we can’t expect them to know everything about video production, it’s very important to get their approval for the main elements: the cast, props, locations, styling etc. Being on the same page from the start and clearing any disagreements as soon as they arise enables us to avoid any potential delays on the shooting day. After all, we can’t afford to spend 3 hours solving a misunderstanding with the client on set, so it’s crucial to have everything worked out beforehand.
3. BREAKING IT DOWN
We break down our script(s) into smaller pieces. And then some more. For this particular project we broke the scripts down according to the cast, props, and rooms for each scene and put it all together into a huge chart. Being on a tight schedule we needed to plan our shooting days meticulously and the breakdowns helped us to optimize our shoots. We were able to group different scenes together depending on the needed cast members or the rooms they were being shot in, which enabled us to save precious time instead of constantly changing the set and the lights, while also optimizing our cast’s shooting days. There are plenty of great production platforms out there, but we swear by Studiobinder. It’s a great online platform designed specifically for film and video production with various useful tools like effortlessly creating shot lists, breakdowns, calendars, and call sheets to name a few. Having a thorough overview of everything we will need for the shoot in one convenient place is essential to effectively stay on top of it and not miss any of the parts.
4. PLAN. CHECK. PLAN AGAIN. CHECK AGAIN.
With our breakdown and shot list in hand, we can confidently proceed to the most important part of managing a complex project: the plan. It’s useful to first make a rough draft of how the shooting day should go and then check it with our team. It’s easy to make mistakes here and miscalculate the time we might need for different stages and scenes, so checking in with our team is essential. Then adjusting the plan accordingly and of course, checking it again. A realistic plan is our most important weapon, so we make sure it’s as bulletproof as possible. We also make sure there’s always at least two people involved in creating the plan and understanding it thoroughly, so there’s always someone on set who knows exactly what’s coming next. This was especially important on the before mentioned project, since we had five scripts with numerous and very similar scenes and we had to be very careful not to mix up or overlook any of them. So we checked the numbered scenes and compared them to our shooting schedule countless times before the shoot. And later on set, the producer and production manager kept a constant eye on all of the scenes and scripts, checking off each one after it was shot. Oldschool with papers and magic markers still works (and basically can’t malfunction).
5. PREP, PREP, PREP
Tight schedules require some major time management, so we always take advantage of everything that can be done in advance. Can we put up the lights a day before the shoot? Can we design the set with props? Or transport and prep the equipment? We do it all! And we’re always thankful we did later on, since it’s always better to have too much time than not enough. We also try to anticipate any potential misfortunes that can occur during the shoot and of course prep for them as well. For instance, on this particular project we started off our first shooting day with a bit of a time delay, which we later managed to catch up, but it still left some of our cast members waiting a bit longer for their turn. Since this is quite a common occurrence on shoots, despite all the planning, we prepared for it by making their wait easier with warm croissants and fresh coffee. You know, everyone is less grumpy with some delicious sustenance! Another misfortune also almost ruined our day, though. Our main actor clumsily spilled that same coffee over his costume, which was of course a sparkling white doctor’s uniform. The lesson? Always have spare costumes and key props ready on set!
6. ACCEPTING THINGS WILL GO WRONG
No matter how many times we check our plan and prep for possible mishaps, we have to accept that unexpected things will happen anyway. A cast member might be stuck in traffic and late on set or a piece of equipment might malfunction or something else messes with our carefully designed schedule. Oh yeah, we’ve been there! We can try as much as we want, but the truth is we can never plan for everything. So we might as well accept it and stay calm, if it happens. There’s always a solution and it’s much easier to find it without panicking. We got this!
7. DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN
It’s serious and responsible work for sure, but we think it should always be fun as well. What’s the point otherwise, right? That’s why we always play great music during set prepping and breaks, which uplifts everyone without exception. And happy people make better projects, it’s a scientific fact! We also never shout at anyone (even if they might deserve it sometimes). Shouting just puts everyone more on edge, which rarely helps in an already stressful enough situation. And most importantly, we always celebrate properly when the best sounding words are finally exclaimed: it’s a wrap!