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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Military Style - Order On The Set

Keeping order on the set takes a certain level of discipline for you and your army of talent and helpers

Let Me Tell You Why I've Asked You All Here Today

“Everyone on the set exists for the vision of the director.” That's a quote from James Skotchdopole. And it's true. As a photographer, you have to come to terms with the fact that you've been hired for your visual abilities, not because you know what end of the camera to put a CompactFlash card in.

With that in mind, you need to also understand that you're paying everyone on your set to aid you in executing your vision. That's the only reason anyone showed up at the designated call time. It's a mindset and a responsibility that you need to get used to. Confidence in your own abilities and position in the hierarchy is paramount in garnering respect. Even if you find yourself shooting a gig that's way over your head, no one else needs to know that.

Hire Good Captains

Skotchdopole had great people working for him. They respected and supported him and his decisions. When you're working with a producer, they should have the same respect and loyalty for you. But by the same token, you should harbor an environment where your producer can raise a question if he or she thinks you're making a mistake. All of the producers with whom I've worked had the freedom to do this—but they did it quietly. They would always take me aside out of earshot of everyone else. Even their body language was subdued. There was nothing audible or visual that ever conveyed the fact that we were trying to sort out a problem or that one of my decisions may not have been the smartest.

Hire Good Lieutenants

An advertising shoot is the culmination of a lot of different types of talent: production staff, makeup, wardrobe, props. These are departments. Your first assistant handles production issues and should be allowed to hire his or her people. If a second assistant perceives a problem or has a suggestion, it should be brought to your first assistant and then if he or she thinks it's worth your time, he or she will bring it to you. Trusting your people is an important part of setting up a chain of command that will shield you from ridiculous questions like, “Have you seen the left-handed cable release?”

The same goes for the other departments on your set. Makeup, props, wardrobe—all these areas should have smart, experienced people in charge. They'll handle the little stuff, leaving you to focus on the overall vision of the shoot. Your demeanor should be one that offers the people working for you the latitude to make suggestions (you never know where the next great idea is coming from), but ultimately, the final decision is yours and should be enacted without question.

One Voice To Rule Them All

When I was on the set of the movie with Skotchdopole, the director was trying to get a complicated shot in the can. The shot involved the movement of traffic, extras walking on the street and a myriad of other elements. Skotchdopole had to coordinate all this at the same time. He was doing so brilliantly until a wardrobe stylist with nothing to do decided to lend a hand.

A group of extras who were set to walk into the frame when they were cued couldn't hear their cue when Skotchdopole yelled it. To compensate for the problem, he had arranged for a PA with a walkie-talkie to stand near the group and flag them on when the PA heard the cue in his earpiece.

The “helpful” stylist was in position between Skotchdopole and the extras and decided that she would flag the group on at the appropriate time. She totally screwed the shot. Skotchdopole sternly and directly told her to back off and leave the job to him. He made his point quickly and effectively without resorting to a tantrum of swearing. He was focused on one thing—shooting the scene.

On your own set, when directing talent, lighting or executing any element of the shot, there should be one voice and one voice only yelling directions. Personally, I like to tell my First AD what I want from the production people. He usually knows the fastest way to get things accomplished because he knows his crew and their assets.

I'm the only one who directs the talent. Even if the client starts to chime in, I usually stop shooting and ask them not to yell direction from behind me. I ask the client what they want and then translate that to the models. In one or two cases, I've threatened to stop shooting altogether if the extraneous dialogue didn't subside. A cacophony of voices only serves to disrupt and confuse things and should be discouraged.


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