Stage Two: 3, 2, 1 ... Action!

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Last week, we introduced you to our 3-part blog series on the main stages of production, discussing the high-level phases that encompass video production.

This week, we will concentrate on production, including the primary crew roles and responsibilities. Generally speaking, if you dedicate the necessary time and effort to pre-production, you — and, more importantly — your client, will have an exciting, rewarding, and relatively smooth day in the field.

Key personnel on set typically will be a producer, who will sometimes act simultaneously as a director, a camera operator, an audio technician, and a production assistant. Depending on the scope of the project, you might additional crew members.

A producer/ director is the voice that brings the set to life. They call “action” to get the camera rolling, audio “speeding,” actors acting, etc. They’re considered the conductor, making sure everyone is on task, coaching interviewees, explaining the shots they want the camera operator to capture, and being the main client relationship manager.

A great “eye” separates special camera operators from mediocre ones. The job of the cam op is to capture the vision of the producer/ director. Basically, there are two parts to any story: a-roll (interviews) and b-roll (support video). Cam ops are always looking for opportunities to add visual interest, when shooting b-roll, with an assortment of shots using equipment like tripods, monopods, dollies, and Steadicam-like rigs. A good rule of thumb is the more coverage you have, the better. When you think you’ve shot enough, shoot more! Your editor will love you.

Golden ears are the sign of a solid audio technician. The audio tech is tasked with recording live audio of interviews and natural sound of your shooting environment. On smaller budget projects, the audio tech could be replaced by simply putting up a boom mic on C-stand or placing a lav mic on an interviewee. Capturing audio is no easy task though, and while staged equipment may be cheaper, having an audio tech on set is incredibly valuable. They're able to work through the myriad challenges that can arise, from background noise to rustling clothing. It should be said that audiences are rarely forgiving of bad audio, and always notice it. Besides, 50% of video is audio.

A stellar production assistant seems to have more than two hands. Among a PA's most important tasks are taking thorough timecode notes. An alert PA will mark the best takes and which shot types (wide, medium, tight) are filmed. Those details will be extremely beneficial when the editor begins cutting. Detailed timecode notes can greatly expedite the post-production process! PAs will also need to jump in and be a grip. They’ll carry equipment, set up and break down cameras, lights, etc. PAs occasionally need to play the role of makeup artist and be sure interviewees look good on-camera (no bunched-up shirts, fly-away hairs, or shiny skin).

Every crew member plays a vital role in making sure shoots run as smoothly as possible.

Determining whether a shoot was successful should revolve around the following questions:

  1. Did you execute the client’s vision?
  2. Did you meet the expectations outlined in the scope of the project?
  3. Did you capture all the shots?

If you answered yes to all three, then you are prepared to produce the final piece!

Next time, we will cover the post-production stage. Until then...