“Any problem in production could have been fixed in pre-production” – Ang Lee
Chaos is the word of choice when describing what it can be like on a poorly planned film shoot. Nobody knows what to do, tensions are running as high as the stakes, and your coworkers will be at each other’s throats. Luckily, that is rarely the case thanks to good Pre-Production planning. Everything from understanding the project’s tone to putting your crew into motion to duplicate that tone requires a plan and a back up plan. Preferably two.
When you sit down to read your project’s script or treatment, keep an open mind and an open heart. You want to write down your initial thoughts on how the work hits you mentally and emotionally, so keep a journal on hand to record your notes. You want a pair of fresh eyes to examine the work. One thing that I think helps is to sit down and work in a nice and quiet, controlled environment that is separate from all of your life’s stresses. Noise is especially distracting when you want to feel your project, so the quieter the space you can get the better. You can’t become a cinematographer without letting your imagination run wild at this step – don’t think merely practically. Cinematography is an art form.
Communication is key, so keep an open dialogue with your director about where you both want the project to go. Ideally this is better with a director who enjoys collaboration. In case your director doesn’t, however, part of learning to become a cinematographer means being liquid and adapting to the hand you are dealt. You want to make sure you mesh before the project gets underway. If you aren’t on the same page, do what you can to get there because the project will benefit as a whole.
Lastly, draft up a list of the equipment you will need based on your storyboard. If you want to become a cinematographer, you need to be able to express yourself visually. That doesn’t mean you need to be an artist with the pencil – stick figures are fine – but you should be able to convey what you see in your head on paper for others to understand. Your crew and gear list will depend on what you put into the storyboard. For example, will this be an elaborate shoot? Or can it be done with a small crew? What kind of lights, lenses and filters will you need? Will you need a dolly or a steady-cam? It is essential to match up pre-determined equipment with each shot you plan to make (like a fish-eye lens for a peephole angle).
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