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Shooting many pages over multiple days

Jacob Mitchell

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Hello everyone!

I would love to get some opinions on the following. Let’s say you’re shooting a narrative, a 10 page dialogue scene over the course of 2 days. This scene takes place in one location, with blocking all in one vicinity.

Would you rather A) Shoot 5 pages/day, jumping around to all of your camera/light setups for those 5, or B) Shoot 10 pages/day, shooting out half of your setups like wide, two shot, etc.

Theres interesting pros and cons to both; as a DP I jump for the 10 page idea so I can be efficient with setups and time, yet a director might see benefit performance And continuity wise for the 5 page option. 

Worked on a feature recently where this problem arose, and would love to hear everyone’s opinions and logic.

Edited by Jacob Mitchell
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Hmmm.... My first thought is:  How many actors are in the scene?  If only 2 or 3 (or maybe even 4), I'd like to shoot the entire scene in one day, and if possible, have a blocking rehearsal and pre light the day before.  And as a bonus, if the blocking and pre light can be done in half a day, we've just bought half a day for another scene ?

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I'd give yourself the two days, you can always have a short second day if you're ahead.  Think of it this way -- it's a ten page scene either way, so if you're going to shoot a master, it's going to cover 10 pages of script on the first shooting day even if you have coverage spilling into the second day.  Plus rehearsal and blocking for a 10 page scene can take many hours, unless it all takes place around a dinner table.

Now if the amount of coverage is light, then I'd go for getting the 10 page scene done in one day. I shot a 12 page scene on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" -- after a few hours of blocking and then lighting, because the scene moves from the living room to the kitchen to a bedroom to another bedroom and in the hallway connecting them, we shot it as one single Steadicam master but had a camera waiting in the kitchen and in the bedroom to pick up those sections.  So there were three angles covered at the same time.  Once everyone landed in the tiny hallway (three people), we shot a three pieces of coverage.  So there weren't a lot of set-ups but running a 12-page scene a dozen times took up most of the day so there wasn't much time for the last pieces.

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During the summer we shot as short film and if I remember correctly there were about 18 or 20 pages. I think there were 11 scenes. Everything from top to bottom was shot in one night where we shot in the narrow streets down town of my home town from about 11 pm when the streets cleared until 6 pm when it was getting light so about 7 hours total. I think these were 2 scenes. We shot 2 master shots, 1 follow gimbal shot that followed the two actors, 4 coverage shots, 1 vfx shot that was used for compositing, a few close up shots like the actor taking their gun or falling down or the third actor watching the other two and then a bunch of B roll from the locations. 
Then the next day we shot we began to shoot at 8 am and finished at 2 am next day so 17 hours but there were about 5 hours of down time because we had a scene set up but one of the actresses was stuck in traffic 100 miles away. We used that time to shoot some ambient sounds and a few thing we could get away with.
The biggest problem was the last scene that we shot because it was the end of a really long day and everyone was getting really tired so I made the last minute decision to just shoot all the shots with one take since it was a sitting conversation, so if anyone made a mistake they'd just repeat that part of the conversation. We shot the same way all the coverage and just a few B roll shots. I wasn't happy with a lot of it but it was the best way to finish before everyone died of exhaustion.

I did however neglect to mention that shots except three that were shot on a gimbal were shot hand held to save time.

We did it, we shot everything and was able to edit together a whole short film. 

But I'll be the first one to say that I have no idea how long it takes to shoot something. All I do is estimate how long it takes to shoot something and add it up. Usually I decide to shoot something in one go because two day shoots are usually out of the question because getting the crew back together the next day is harder than pushing it the same day three more hours. But we're a small crew and the projects we do get paid the same if we work two days or one and if we don't finish we don't get paid. So my moto has always been keep it simple and if it doesn't work simplify even further and it has worked.

Best of luck.

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