As with most advice I’ll be sharing, it comes from the perspective of a microbudget filmmaker who takes a Do-It-Yourself approach, whether out of preference or necessity.
There are two kinds of Behind The Scenes shooting you can do, and most only think about what they want to see on the blu-ray bonus features. This being the “making of” documentary that delves into how the movie was made. But arguably more valuable are elements for your Electronic Press Kit which will help raise awareness of the movie, telling viewers who’s in it and what it’s about. I’m going to talk about shooting for the latter.
I’ve been cutting pre-release featurettes (see below) for the studios for a few years now and as the saying goes, I’ve learned a thing or two.
There is a base level of information that pieces like this get across. They hook you on the story, they introduce who is involved, and evangelize the appeal of it. Knowing this, you have an opportunity to be a hunter, not a gatherer. You’ll save yourself a fair amount of editing time with a guideline for what you want to capture in advance of cutting it together. I detail some of those here.
Interview your leading cast and director, at a minimum. Save the rest of the cast and crew for the “making of” doc. Put them in a chair away from noise but with some recognizable location or set in the background. Mic them properly and sit just beside the camera so their eye-line presents a flattering angle to the camera.
To have a solid foundation for the piece you’ll cut, you’ll want to ask each interviewee to tell you the story of the movie, to tell you about their character and to comment on working with the lead cast and director. You’ll also want to get them to share what they enjoy about the movie (usually this will be their impressions from reading the screenplay for the first time) and what they hope audiences will get out of it. Keep it conversational and fun, but focused. Encourage them to smile. Your movie likely has a unique thread you’ll want to bring forth with additional questions, but these are the basics.
It’s okay to prep them with what these questions are for, and to ask them to incorporate your question into their answers.
BEHIND THE SCENES FOOTAGE
You won’t use much of this so be selective in what you shoot. Arguably, you want to preserve some of the “magic” by not showing much, if anything, of the cast and crew actually making the thing. But it’s good to have and again, this isn’t the material for the Blu-ray’s “making of” doc, so don’t just point the camera at anything and everything. Keep your eyes peeled for:
The director directing: talking with actors, saying “action” and “cut”, reacting to a take with laughter or an approving, “that was great”. Get him or her describing the blocking to the rest of the team, guiding actors, etc.
The actors acting: don’t be shy about shooting takes. These work well intercut with the final scene you’ll pull from the feature or trailer later. Get footage of the slate/marker at the head of each take. And shoot each take of the same scene from different angles. If the director is going to do a handful of takes, use that opportunity to shoot one wide, one as a CU of your lead actor, a two shot, etc. This way you can use the best of each in the edit.
Very important. While it’s smart to move around and vary your coverage, stay out of all the actors’ eyelines when choosing a position to shoot from. Everytime you set up, this is the first thing you should be checking for.
Tell a story with your shots. Pan the frame from the actors rehearsing to the director watching them on the monitor. Go from the camera dollying to the actor its shooting to the directing call “cut”. Establish where you are with wide location shots and signage. And vary your frame so your editor can do her part in selecting from Mediums and Close-ups of the action on set.
Look at the schedule and target days where key scenes are being shot that advance the plot, scenes that you’d expect to show up in the trailer. You’ll find most of these are Act One scenes.
THE PRE-RELEASE FEATURETTE
To close, here’s a little advice on what to do with this material. The Studios have found some value in using these, releasing them online in tandem with the movie’s trailer to deepen the audiences exposure and understanding of the movie… in three minutes or less.
As you can see from reverse engineering my 2 Guns example above, you’ll want to script out interview bites that setup the premise of the movie from your lead actors or director, using the trailer and feature to expand on, punctuate and illustrate what they are saying. Then segue into their take on the characters they’re playing and the relationships in the movie. And let that lead to good interview bites that offer insight into the actors’ chemistry, working with the director… you get the idea. Finish it off with short bites expressing what they hope an audience will get out of it. End it with a nice little button and a title card with the information your viewer will need to see the movie.
Then get ready to have all your financial and creative dreams met with millions upon millions of tickets sold, digital files downloaded, videos streamed, and blu-rays pirated… I mean, bought… blu-rays bought.
WHAT DID I MISS?
These are just the broad strokes, a starting point, a guide. Each movie has its own unique appeal to bring out (or unappealing qualities to bury). But I’d love to hear from you in the comments… what sort of things did you capture on set that you found useful in creating these materials?