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Here you are. On set, cast and crew waiting. It takes more than just you and a few actors. You need everyone on set working to achieve a common goal. As the director It's your job to keep production moving efficiently. In this segment, we go over what exactly a director's job is on set, the step by step process of directing a crew, and some of the terminology used by directors while shooting. Follow these tips and you'll keep your crew hard working and happy.
In order to know why a director does what he or she does on set, we must know what is expected of the director by the executive producers, or, the people writing the checks.
The most obvious responsibility of the director is to tell the story brilliantly. That is, a director is being paid to make sure the production, whether it's a film, TV show, web video, or anything else, is one that people want to watch. In order for the marketing to work and to ensure future success, the production needs viewers.
Secondly, the director must complete the production on time and on budget. Basically, a director needs to make sure that time and resources are being utilized efficiently. Sometimes sacrifices need to be made when shooting extra takes or adding extra setups, in order to finish on time.
To accomplish these goals, a director must be adept at steering the boat. That is, a director can't just hop aboard a production for the ride. Decisions need to be made every minute of every day about what's happening now, tomorrow, and long term. To keep the boat moving in the direction it needs to move, the director must make sure every member of the crew is on the same page.
iv. Finally, in order to get the desired results out of the crew, a director must lead by example. The attitude of the crew will reflect the attitude of the director. As the director, if you want your crew to stay positive and excited about the project, the director must express those same emotions. If a director is rude, demanding, and impatient, he or she can expect the same from the crew. When directing, ask yourself in what mindset must my crew be in in order to give me what I need from them.
Now that you know the motivation and mindset of the director, it's time to get to the business of directing the crew. Directing the crew is an entirely different process than directing actors. Directing actors is as much an emotional process as it is a mechanical one. With the crew, your main focus to keep the actions of the crew synchronous and efficient.
We learned about blocking in a previous segment, and now we're moving on to the setup. A setup is the name of a configuration of the camera, lights, and sound. After blocking is complete, have your team mark the locations of the actors and props by placing colored tape on the floor. At this point, it's good to let your actors relax while you bring in stand-ins. A stand-in is a person who's job it is to stand in the location of the actors while the crew sets the lights and camera in position. On large budget movie sets, this work is managed by the AD, or Assistant Director, while the Director takes a break or confers with the DP, or Director of Photography, about how the scene will be shot.
Once everything is in place, actors can come back on set. Before you start shooting, it's good to go through a stop-and-go rehearsal. This where the cast and crew goes through the motions of the take, and stop wherever anyone has a question about what they should be doing. This can be either an actor, a camera operator, dolly grip, even you, the director. The goal is to work out the kinks before you start burning film or memory.
Once everyone is comfortable, it's time to start recording. Ask your camera operator and sound mixer to start recording. The sound mixer will confirm that they are recording by saying "Speeding" and the camera operator will confirm by saying "rolling."
The last step before the take officially begins is the slate. You'll want to have someone, typically someone assisting the camera operator, hold a clapperboard slate in front of the camera with the scene and take number noted on it. Have him or her announce the scene and take number and clap the slate. The reason this is done is because when you are recording audio and picture on different devices, the editor can align the clap sound with the image of the slate clapping and the audio for the rest of the take will align with the picture.
Once everything is taken care of up to this point, you're ready to call "action." Action signals to everyone on crew that the actors have begun their performance and they, as crew, need to be doing what they have been instructed to do. For a camera operator it might be a quick pan left, while a gaffer might be tasked with fading lights up or down. For everyone on set without a responsibility for that take, their job is to remain silent.
When you've decided to end the take, signal to your team by calling "cut." You can call cut for several reasons. The obvious reason is if everything goes as it should and the take is completed smoothly. However, If a light goes out when it shouldn't, an actor reads the wrong lines, or if someone's cell phone rings, it's probably a good time to call "cut." When you do, the sound mixer and camera operator will stop recording, and actors will stop acting. When you call cut, your crew will wait for one of two following orders: "print" or "reset." Print indicates that you have shot all the takes you need and are ready to move to the next setup, while "reset" instructs your crew to reset everything in order to shoot another take.
When you're deciding whether to call "print" or "reset," consider the psychological effects each will have on your cast and crew. Your crew often wants the best possible performance from the actors as you do. Calling "print" too early may may lead them to believe you're unwilling to try for a better performance. Continuing to call "reset" too many times may exhaust the crew and make them think you're impossible to please.
Finally, after you have called cut on a take you're happy with, it's fairly common to ask for a "pickup" shot. A pickup is a shot where you don't shoot the entire take from the top. You may need a single line delivered slightly differently, and a quick pickup will allow you include it in editing without having to capture another near-perfect take.
As you're finish the last few setups of the day, you can let your crew know it's almost quitting time by using a few key words. When you're on the second to last setup, announce that you're on they "Abby" or the "Abby Singer", named after a well known, hard working Assistant Director. On the last setup, announce the "martini" shot, or the last shot of the day. Finally, after you call "Cut, Print" for the last time that day, announce "that's a wrap" to tell your crew to clean up and head home for the night.
As you direct your crew on set, remember that your goal is not only to tell a great story, but to efficiently run a set so that your production is finished on time and on budget. Follow these steps to keep you crew working like a well oiled machine.