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simon olsen

Planning out setups in pre.

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Fellow cinematographers, when you sit down with your director, how exactly do you plan out how many setups you need per day? I hear some cinematographers can do as many as 21 setups / or as many as 6-7 pages a day. Do you just sit down with your director and go through the blocking or lighting, or do you create an estimate based on what your estimate of the scene and shots the director wants?

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Hi Simon,


For what is worth here is my opinion.


I think that how many setups you can do per day depends on how many locations you have, how complicated your lighting is and how many people you have available to light your setups.


Now 6-7 pages / day is quite common here in Ireland in low-budget tv series / movies because there is not a lot of time to shoot them and you have to be quick.


My way of seeing my photography is that of being able to light a whole space from the outside and let the director and the actors plan almost whatever they want.


I say almost because I always try to block the scenes for the actors to be either side-lit or upstage-lit so if the director want to do the opposite then I say: Ok, if you want to do that I won't be able to give you 270º of freedom because I have to place a light, a frame, etc, etc and that is going to take 45 minutes to 1 hour for me to light it.


Then they look at me and suddenly realize that it is much better to block the scene the way I want so they can shoot as many setups as they want without me having to relight :D :D :D.


So answering your question. sit down with the director and see what that person wants to do and in what way, then what really helps me a lot is going to the location and seeing the blocking at the location, that way I can estimate how much time I need to light it and how many scenes the director wants to do.. and together with the 1st AD we figure it out!


Hope it helped!


Have a lovely day!

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Thank you. It does help a lot. A follow up; you are also the head of the department? The cinematographer would also be in charge of drafting a list of required equipments and a camera/lighting budget, etc. for a shoot. Would you draft that list together with your gaffer and ACs? or who exactly would the producer expect that from?

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You're more than welcome.


It depends on the kind of cinematographer you are and how much trust you have on your 1st Ac / Gaffer.


The way I work (because I came up through the camera ranks) is I create a list of the camera equipment needed and then I send that list to my 1st AC who completes it with the things that I might have left out or adds some things that are important to him.


With my gaffer I just tell him the way I want to light and the lights and frames I would like to use and then he creates the list with the lights, accessories, metalwork and etc needed.


It is usually either you or your 1st Ac and gaffer who sent the lists, it works both ways.


Have a lovely day!

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