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BY LISA (DENSMORE) BALLARD
Call me Type A, but I never go on location without planning my shots first — all of them — or at least most of them depending on the situation. Perhaps the most important part of the pre-production phase of a shoot is figuring out what those shots should be and then how to get them.
It’s a multi-step process. I begin by thoroughly researching the topic, the location, the people who will be interviewed and any other components of the story that need to be included in the final product. This sounds obvious, but many producers are not detailed enough. If you’ve ever tried to edit a piece only to find you didn’t have enough b-roll, you had too many similar shots, or the shots didn’t edit well together, read on.
Let’s say I’m planning a segment on fishing for smallmouth bass with Ben Fishinlots at Catchmee Lake. After learning that we’ll be spin casting with Rapalas from Ben’s bass boat, I delve deeper. How does the sun move during the time we’ll be out? Is it shallow enough for a cameraman to get off the boat, or do we need a second boat to shoot toward the fishing action and to get wide shots of the setting? Or perhaps we can drop off a cameraman on shore? Once I know these details, I also figure out how I want to get my underwater and point-of-view (POV) shots. Then, I contact my cameramen to make sure they’ve got the gear they need, not only the cameras and mics, but also waders, proper footwear, clothing, dry bags and other gear prerequisites for getting the job done.
After I determine the positions from which I can shoot, I contact everyone who will be on-camera with wardrobe recommendations. Most producers cue their talent that white is frightful, black is boring, and busy patterns blister the eyes only to find everyone showing up in a green Columbia Sportwear fishing shirts and khaki-colored pants. To make a segment look its best, you need to closely manage clothing. If you aren’t supplying the shirts, ask each person to bring several different ones so you can prevent the uniform look.
Don’t forget to plan everyone’s hats. A hat with a brim casts a shadow over the face, yet it makes sense for sun protection and to hide a shiny bald pate. If your talent insists on a hat, supply or request one with as short a brim as possible. In addition, check the color and the logo. Often a light brown or pale khaki-colored hat comes across nearly white if there’s a lot of glare off the water. Unless you supply the hats, be sure the logo is not in conflict with the show’s or the network’s sponsors. Some stations, particularly PBS stations, do not allow commercial logos on-air.
Though commonly worn among anglers, sunglasses can be problematic too. In general, it’s best if your talent removes their sunglasses, as viewers tend to have a greater affinity for people on-camera if they can see their eyes. That said, if a person squints so severely that their eyes appear closed, let ‘em wear their sunglasses, but only if they have non-mirrored lenses. When you post the show, the last thing you want to see is your cameraman in your host’s or guest’s glasses.
Make a list.
When planning a shoot, it’s important to make a shot list. Be specific including all of your wide shots, medium shots and close ups that you think you’ll need. Don’t forget your locators — those iconic places and objects that “say” the location. There will be more shots to get once you start rolling on the action and interviews, but the meat of the segment should be on this list.
In general, I instruct my videographers to shoot everything at least three of the following ways. The subject usually determines the three picks:
1. Wide, then zoom in (two shots in one)
4. Close, then zoom wide (two shots in one)
5. Dutch (tilting the camera as it pans close to an object or person)
6. Racking focus (blurry then coming into focus)
7. POV (through the eyes of the person on-camera)
8. Dolly (moving with the action)
Sometimes the shot move is a combination of two of these camera moves, such as panning up while zooming in. The point is I plan these moves as much as possible on my b-roll list to make sure my editor has easy cuts and lots of choices after the shoot.
If you plan your shots before going on location, the shoot and the edit will go more smoothly. You’ll be more efficient during production and have the pieces you need for the segment when you start putting it together. ♦
— A three-time Emmy winning television producer and host, Lisa (Densmore) Ballard is OWAA’s first vice president. To learn more about her television, photography and writing, go to www.LisaDensmore.com