Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Blocking FTW: How to make movies.

So you and your mother and your neighbor's brother want to be a filmmaker?

Here's the single most important practical on-set tip:

Blocking is a crew-member's wet dream.
From indie to commercial (thought I've never seen this messed with on pro studio shoots) too many shoots neglect the single most important thing a filmmaker should do: Proper Blocking.

- a run through of the scene you are about to shoot, in the space you are about to shoot it.
- Blocking is primarily concerned with WHERE PHYSICALLY the performance happens and where bodies and important objects move in the space.

WHEN it is done is of utmost importance:
- BEFORE makeup, costume, lighting, props, or ANYTHING is done by anyone on set
- YOU ALWAYS HAVE TIME FOR BLOCKING.  Even though I'm providing a lot of explanation, it doesn't actually have to take long.  You can do a speed blocking.  Even if it's one actor sitting in a chair, for fark's sake Director - show us where the chair is and how they will sit!  YOU DON'T HAVE TIME FOR doing it the wrong way and having to fix things that are all screwed up.

- AD/Director brings the actors into the space.  Director and Actors talk through the scene.  They run through the whole scene, usually not at full performace.  They figure out where they need to be and what they need to do.  DP is usually nearby in case there are questions about what might be better for the camera.
- KEYS are then invited into the space to watch the scene - either a full run through, or just BY THE NUMBERS (this means talking through position, 1, 2, 3 with the actors in the space).  KEYS are department heads: camera, lighting, sound, art dept (sometimes keys watch the whole thing, but it's often nicer to bring them in once it's all figured out/the director and actors have time to work)
- Actors are sent away into hair, makeup, and costume
- Department heads instruct their departments on what is needed for the scene
- The Set is cleared to make way for lighting
- Art comes in and dresses the space
- Sound plants microphones and wires the actors
- STANDINS are brought in for lighting and for camera/focus marks (often called "2nd Team" - "1st Team" can refer to talent/actors, and the primary shooting crew)
- The camera can be brought into position with a general frame of what's about to be shot, and departments can view the frame as they make adjustments BEFORE shooting
- IT IS NOT "BLOCKING" if it's right before shooting and all the work has been done.  It's too late to make smart/detailed adjustments.  That's technically just a rehearsal.

It's disrespectful to the actor's process and performance if they aren't included in decisions concerning their physical choices in the space.  It's collaborative to get actor input on better thoughts and ideas on how and why someone moves or does what they do.  Actors need a chance to experience the scene with the director in the space, on the day and say things like "I would really do it like THIS, not like THAT"
he loves it!

The Director gets to communicate her needs to her crew/cast in an efficient and clear manner
The Camera can make good decisions about where the camera should be placed and be prepared for focus/future moves - and know exactly how to cover the scene (coverage is knowing what shots will be used in order to see the scene play out, which closeups, where the camera needs to be. the scene is done over and over again in different sizes of shots so that you can edit the damn film)
G and E can more masterfully compose beautiful/appropriate lighting compositions when they know exactly what they are lighting, and can be sure to hit the points where actors/objects are featured.  It's also a safer way to work.
Art department knows which parts of the set will be seen, what areas to dress, and what props must be prepared and needed.  Actors often think of essential props they need during blocking and art needs time to make them good/get them in the first place!
Hair, makeup, and wardrobe need to plan for any special needs of the scene so that the actors are ready to go.
Sound needs to know where the actors deliver their dialogue to prepare for positioning mics, and for the boom operator.  Also if mics will need to be planted/hidden, and JUST BECAUSE an actor is in a scene, they may not need to wear a microphone, or their wardrobe prohibits wearing a microphone.  Sound needs time to plan strategy for grabbing all essential dialogue and on-screen movements of people and objects.  Sometimes Sound dept determines the shot is really MOS and no sound is needed at all!
Needs a chance to properly prepare for any potential problems or issues that may arise in the scene
EXTRAS - production can prepare for what extras are needed and where they should be placed (maybe key extras are brought into blocking, but usually it's easier not to have them)
Script Supervisor can be on hand to answer questions about eyeline, continuity, where the actors should or shouldn't cross camera, and coverage (which parts of the script need to be 'covered' and in which shots)

SEE David Block the Jennifer acting for the crew!  Nice job D.O.R.



IS the best thing you can do as a filmmaker
It's good for your actors AND crew
and makes everyone happy
AND saves money and time!  People do necessary work, as well as they can, and they DON'T do work that isn't needed - because they know what's going on!

One of the biggest struggles in the actual making of a film is for everyone to know what is going on and how it's going to be done.

This is the art of real filmmaking and you can do it too!

EXAMPLE - normal blocking:
AD: "We are ready to block the scene, can I get actors and directors in!?"

- Director and actors walk into the space and work out the scene
- DP and/or Scripty may stay close by to answer any questions
- AD pays attention, notices the moment they are done
AD to Director - "Are we ready? Ok!   
AD to Crew - "All Keys/Department Heads to set - time to watch the blocking"

Actors run through the scene - either they just run it, or they say, Here's my first position, and then I go here and say this, and then I do this, and then I cross here

- AD: "Clear the set for Lighting, Actors to HMU and wardrobe!"

Actors get makeup and dressed
Lighting is placed
All departments prepare

AD watches how much time everything is taking:  lighting, how much time do you need? 20 minutes - ok, wardrobe, can you get the actors dressed in 20?  Hair still needs an extra 5 minutes, ok?  Art, 2 minutes left?

And everything is timed and counted down, and then actors arrive, everyone is ready to go.

AD:  Ok now that everything is in place, lets have a rehearsal
Do you want to shoot the rehearsal?
OK, yes/no?

AD to crew: "LAST LOOKS"  - makeup person watches frame to see that everything looks right, the face isn't shiny ...  all depts, get a last chance to see that everything is ok.
Any adjustments?

Ok - we shoot! 
Sound: Speed
Slate: scene 3 Apple take 1
Camera: Rolling.  Mark it!
Camera adjusts to shoot: "set"
Director: ACTION!

Example: speed blocking (to be done at the top of the day BEFORE lighting and everything)

Director:  Ok so the actor walks like this, says "I want your body" over here, and then picks up their bag over here and walks to that door.  The other actor sits over there and slaps that salami on the desk.  They don't get up or anything.

note that this kind of speed blocking doesn't take into account the actor's thoughts and needs ... also, if you don't have the salami or desk YET that's ok!  just let us know what's what.


Final note:
You may have shot lists, and storyboards, and camera maps - and those are great and helpful.
But ON THE DAY (which means "when we are shooting")
the world comes alive, and things change.  One cannot anticipate every detail of the reality you are about to create.  Shots change.  Space changes, a light maybe does something you didn't expect.

Now you're on set.  Screw everything else you thought you knew and block this bitch.

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