The filming stage will be a lot easier if you’ve followed the planning guidelines first.
Shooting simple films
If you’re just shooting a record of a place or event you might not need to follow a storyboard or script. But you must have an idea of what you’re going to film, even if it’s just a simple shot list. Make sure you get a variety of shot sizes: extreme long shots to show the place, long shots and mid shots of people, and plenty of closeups of people and things.
Are you ready to start filming?
You need to set up each shot carefully. You may need to move the camera to a different position to get the framing, the light and the background right.
- Check the framing. Make sure you don’t cut out anything important, and that you don’t include anything distracting or confusing.
- Check the light. Look at the shot in your viewfinder or on the screen. Does it look right? If it looks too bright or too dark, can you change the exposure? (set it manually or use exposure compensation).
- Check the focus. Is the shot sharp? If it’s a shallow focus shot, is the right part of the scene in focus?
- Check the sound. Get everyone to be quiet, then listen for half a minute. Can you hear anything that will come out on your film? Is there anything you can do about it? If you can, check the sound on headphones.
- Check that everyone’s ready. Say ‘Standby’ or just tell people that you’re about to start filming.
Getting everything you need
Coverage means making sure you’ve got all the shots you need for your scene, so there won’t be any awkward jumps or gaps when you try and edit it together.
For short factual items, you can follow a rule of thumb: if you’re showing a person doing something, film a couple of long shots or very long shots to introduce the setting, then make sure you get shots of the person, the thing, and the person with the thing. Always film a couple more shots than you think you need.
One way to make sure you’ve got coverage is to film a master shot: a long shot or very long shot of all the action. You should also shoot cutaways – details of other parts of the setting. You can then cut back to these shots to cover any problems or gaps when you edit.
If you’ve only got one camera and you’re shooting a drama scene, set up the camera for a master shot in a position that will cover the whole action, then film the actors doing the whole scene, before you film the mid shots and closeups.
If it’s a live event or performance, you’ll need a second camera for this. Set it up on a tripod where it can cover the whole action, start it and leave it running. Remember that SLR cameras can’t record very long clips, so if the event lasts longer than the maximum clip length you’ll need to use a camcorder instead.
If you’re cutting between closeups of two actors talking to each other, film the whole scene with the camera on actor 1, then move the camera round to face actor 2 and film the whole scene again. You can then cut between these two shots, and the cutaways and master shots, when you edit. You can use exactly the same technique for interviews. Remember to follow the rules of continuity so that the shots will work together
With actors or presenters, you’ll need to rehearse the scene a couple of times before you film it. Get them to run through the scene a couple of times, making any changes to their positions and performances. Then start to work out where to put the camera for each shot. This process is called blocking.
How much to film
For things that don’t move, or general shots of scenes or people, shoot at least ten seconds of each shot.
For scenes with people talking or acting, you need to ‘top and tail’ your shots. Start the camera a few seconds before the action starts, and leave it running for a few seconds after it ends. If you’re working on your own, the best thing to do is to start the camera and check it’s recording, count slowly to five, and then give the actors a hand signal or shout ‘Action’. Then when they’ve finished, count another five seconds before you stop.
If you’re working as a team, you can follow some version of this drill:
- Get your shot set up and your actors in place.
- The camera operator says ‘Camera set’ when they’re ready.
- Then the director says ‘Quiet please’.
- Once everyone’s quiet, they say ‘Standby’ and then ‘Turn over’.
- The camera operator starts the camera and checks that it’s recording, then they say ‘Camera rolling’.
- The director counts to five and then says ‘Action’ (or they can count the actors in with a hand signal).
- The actors or presenters do their thing, and then the director counts to five again and says ‘Cut’.
- The camera operator stops the camera and the production assistant makes a note of the shot and take on the shot list.
Get the location sound
You should always record at least half a minute of background sound from the location, without dialogue. This is called atmos, wild track or room tone. It can be really useful when you edit.
Ask everyone to be quiet, then leave your camera or audio recorder running for thirty seconds.
If you’re filming at a location with interesting or distinctive sounds that might help tell your story, record them separately as well.
Before you leave
Check what you’ve filmed before you leave the setting or location, if you can. Otherwise, at least check that you’ve filmed everything on your storyboard or shot list.
The next stage: Editing and sharing
I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and Editshots.