A while back I wrote about some of the “Lessons I’ve Learned On Set.” Today I’d like to share a few more I’ve learned recently, not only while shooting, but from reading several different books, discussing this topic with colleagues, and receiving feedback from the first article.
• If you learn how to shoot like everybody else, you will tell stories like everybody else. Most film schools don’t teach you how to make a project when you have no crew and a tiny budget, which is probably the way you will start working in the real world.
• A larger budget usually means less creative freedom. If you keep your projects cheap you can do whatever you want. Also, having budgetary limitations forces us to think, “How can I better tell this story?”
• If you are someone who is already creative and you become technical, then you are unstoppable.
• Be decisive: know your role, understand your client’s needs, and make decisions based on your strongest instincts while maintaining a Zen-like calm in a sea of chaos.
• Be collaborative: don’t try to wear too many hats and be sure to surround yourself with talented people whose vision you trust. Film, by nature, is best made when talented people bring their individual strengths to the table. Learn to relinquish control and let others be a part of the process.
• Try to learn as many skills as possible. There are extreme benefits in being able to cover different roles. For certain projects it can save a lot of time and money and give the footage a homemade, personal feel.
• If you do your homework in pre-production, more than half of the work is done by the time you start shooting. Learn from previous mistakes but also from positive experiences.
• Having skilled crew members is part of the formula. A key ingredient is matching personalities. You will spend a lot of time working together and it’s great to have other topics to discuss besides work. Also when you are collaborating with friends and you make mistakes, no one is going to judge you or give you a hard time. You simply learn the lesson and move on.
• When everybody (and I mean everybody) understands the day’s schedule and the project’s objectives, it becomes a dance. We can anticipate each other’s needs and provide valuable feedback.
• Safety first. Always. In the middle of a hectic day we tend to overlook this critical aspect. A friend was shooting on a rooftop and the wind took hold of his frame with a silk, essentially turning it into a sail. Due to poor rigging it flew off the roof and came crashing down into the windshield of a parked car. Not a good day.
• If you’re going to work for free, make sure you get your due credit (and hopefully learn something useful).
• Here’s a math mystery: Time after time I’ve witnessed how two people work twice as fast as one. Pretty obvious, right? But four or six people don’t always work faster than a tight crew of two or three. It is actually the opposite. The bigger the crew, the slower we move. Perhaps it is a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
• Time and money are indirectly proportional, and we never have enough of either one. And somehow money runs out faster in the end.
• We are constantly being asked to do more and to do it faster than before. It is therefore essential to clearly understand the client’s expectations to determine how to better distribute the resources available, and offer the best quality within the client’s budget and deadline.
• Consider a wide range of shooting options with minimal gear that is easy to ship and/or carry. Part of the same thought/lesson is “setting up and tearing down must be fast and easy.”
• A highly skilled gaffer is priceless. Likewise with sound technicians.
• You can’t pay people enough to feel passionate about the project you are dreaming about every night.
What about you? Any recent lessons that you’ve learned on set? Feel free to share them.
Eduardo Angel is an independent technology consultant, educator, and Emmy Award-winning visual storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches at The School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography, and mentors the photography program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
He is a co-founder of the idea production company The Digital Distillery, author of popular filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, and regularly shares his thoughts on technology, photography, and cinema on his website eduardoangel.com.