We have a lot of people out there who are shooting a short format project (commercial, short film, wrap-arounds, interstitials, etc.) and decide to go to the set without a firm storyboard because they supposedly have it all mapped out in their head. Cool. But even if you think you have it all mapped out, PLEASE use tape on the floor for the actors’ marks. I just came off of a short film project where everything on the set was perfect: amazing locations, superlative actors, very strong script, good production value all around. But the crew forgot one little thing… to mark the actors’ places on the floor with tape. Of course, that seems like a trivial issue, but it is kind of like saying the O-rings on the solid rocket booster of the space shuttle are just little rubber things that don’t need to be thoroughly tested or inspected. Does the Challenger ring any bells?
If it weren’t for the magic of post production and lots and lots of coffee, this short film would have been the film version of the Challenger accident.
Now, why is it so important to mark the actors’ spots with tape?
Let’s say you’re at the end of the shooting day and the script supervisor points out that some critical lines weren’t covered and you have to go back to an earlier set up to pick up the lines again.
As smart and self-assured as everyone is on the set, there is always a discussion about where the actor was actually standing and exactly what was in the background. Also, and most importantly, which way was the actor looking in relation to the camera? In the case of the short film I was working on, they argued on the set for a while about where the actress was looking and then committed to shooting it… the wrong way!! On all the crucial pick up shots, the actress was looking the wrong way in relation to the camera. In other words, it looked like she had “crossed the line” of screen direction and appeared to be speaking to the back of the other character’s head. Crap. So after hours and hours of elaborate compositing and flopping backgrounds, i was able to make it look somewhat passable. This was a totally unnecessary problem.
So in the future here are a couple steps to take to avoid driving your post team absolutely insane:
1) Mark each actor’s spot with tape.
2) Write an identifiying number on the tape that has a corresponding number in a log book. Then write all the scene numbers and takes that were shot at that mark.
2) Mark the camera locations and do the same logging system.
3) Avoid the first two steps and shoot everything the camera sees with a still camera.
In short, save an editor. Use actor marks.