Unlike, say, photography, filmmaking is a massively collaborative art form. Oh, you can do it all, but you definitely can’t do it all well. Nor can you do it all easily. You start with your bad self, a couple, three actors (God forbid some horse-drawn chariots), and suddenly you find you really need someone for sound, someone to shoot (after all, you’ll be busy directing), maybe someone to help you light, oh, man, snacks! Somebody’s got to get the snacks.
Even on a project with a budget of $50 (Dude, I told you about the snacks. You can get people to do all kind of things for no money, but you MUST feed them. It’s the eleventh commandment), you’re going to be working with other human beings: your cast and crew.
If you’ve ever sat through the credits on a Hollywood movie, you note that those hundreds of people who worked on it all seemed to have very particular jobs. On a big set, roles not only are set in stone, but also guarded jealously. I made the mistake of moving a makeup artist’s bag without permission once. Let’s just say I’ll never do that again. But even on your little set, there are roles and protocols that have evolved over decades. Ignore these at your peril; grab hold and use them to your benefit.
Start with something as simple as turning on the camera. It’s the whole reason you’re all there, and something important for everyone on set to know. So you get your 1st AD to yell, no, who are we kidding? You don’t have a 1st AD. Well, then, you yell, “Rolling!” You, or your camera person, hits the big button and allows a few moments for the camera to begin operating. When they confirm this with the red light and rolling counter, they’ll say, “Camera rolls.” Immediately your sound person (you do have one, we talked about this and will talk about it more, so find yourself a sound person) blurts, “Sound speeding,” which is also a nod to the old days of tape decks that took a few seconds to get going. It’s just a fancy way of confirming to you that the sound equipment is on and recording.
Then you’ll slate. You can use a static slate, which you write on with a grease pencil, a dedicated electronic slate or, most likely, an app on your iPad. A slate is a way of recording all your info that you or your editor will need later in the process. You’ll record what the project is, who’s working on it, etc., but most importantly, what shot this is. You’re most likely shooting this movie out of order, so the slate will allow you or your editor to determine what goes where weeks or months later.
Then, the reason we’ve all come: You get to yell (or whisper, make everyone strain to hear you, like Elizabeth Taylor) Action! And all your work culminates in this simple moment of humans telling a story while you get to watch. Bam!
Photographer and filmmaker Chris X Carroll has been fired upon by Norwegian whalers north of the Arctic Circle, swum naked with REM, taught Viscount Charles Spencer to sail, and turned to ask Elizabeth Taylor if the melon he was holding was ripe at a grocery store before realizing who she was and nearly passing out. Visit Chris at www.chriscarrollphoto.com, and follow him on Instagram @chrisxcarroll and on Facebook at chrisxcarroll
In case you missed Chris’ last installment of his first foray into filmmaking, get caught up now: We’ll Do It Live!—Fixing Sound Mistakes