How to Plan a Shoot.

First of all - what’s a smooth shoot? A smooth shoot to me, is when every idea, every element needed, every creative idea has been captured to the best of budgetary and time constraints possible. And - that the client, customer, studio, network, agency is beaming with the success.

And - What do you do when the @#$@$!!! hits the fan on a film set and when your client and crew look at you for answers? You should be able to say “no worries - Let’s do this!”

So let’s start with the P’s. Plan, Priorititze, Punt. (click to tweet)

Plan. You must no matter what your position on set that day is to be prepared. If you are a director - you’ve storyboarded, you’ve got your director’s notes to actors, you’ve got your shot list prepared and you’ve got your head in the game. This is important whether you’re a film lighting technician and forget you gloves or if you’re an A.C. and you’ve forgot your rain jacket for the terrible weather that day - it shows a lack of professionalism and inhibits you doing a stellar job. Psst…you wanna do a stellar job today so you’ll be able to be hired on that stellar job tomorrow.

Prioritize. This means that you should know what’s next at all times. What do we next? What can I be doing? This goes from knowing and planning a shot order to know what important for the scene and what’s gravy. This goes from knowing what light is important to set and which ones are unnecessary. Things change on set and knowing what’s important is…important. I also like to think of shooting as playing pool - you should try focus on the current shot fully but you are already a couple of shots ahead thinking about your next move. If you are a 2nd AC your mind is constantly going to what’s next - slating, lenses, etc - it then becomes second nature and you get a natural rhythm. It's the same with all positions find your rhythm and know where the song goes.

Punt. Because you’ve done your homework and planned and prioritize you know when it’s time to punt. Sometimes you can’t get that amazing long steadicam shot that was designed because the light’s going fast and you don’t have the time to set the lighting equipment to keep the look going - and then you may have to punt and try something different. That something different comes from the knowledge gained from the prep you did because you anticipated this happening and now you know what’s important. So that way you know what to do when the crew look to you - you’ve got the answer.

Communication: It’s so important to know what’s expected of everyone and that everyone is on the same page from the PA’s running around to the head agency guru. You do this by asking questions and following up with people. Repeat back what was said to clarify and reiterate that you are on the same page. And - listen. Listen to the people around you - don’t interrupt, don’t be distracted - focus on what they are saying. This clears up a ton of communication problems b/c sometimes we get too frantic in production that we aren’t listening to valuable information. So listen up.

Sometimes in creative meetings with clients I ask permission to record our conversations - only for personal review. When I do this I am always surprised when I listen back to the conversation how much I missed on my initial conversation and by listening again I can hear a nuance and subtly that they were expressing that I missed on the first go round.

Surround yourself with people who have the same passion and focus you do. Be that person that assists others even if you are the leader - others will do the same and reward you with their hard work and passion.

Eat. Drink....  Eating right’s important. I sometimes suffer from low blood sugar and I get really CRANKY! And - sometimes where just a banana will do wonders for my communication skills and overall happiness. Stay away from sodas that will mess with your sugar levels - avoid the crash. Drink water and your watch your electrolytes. Be hydrated because there’s nothing worse than going to the hospital to get an iv drip after a long day of work. One of my first PA jobs was doing an ESPN commercial in Florida where we had staged a traffic jam on the abandoned part of the Sunshine Skyway bridge. It was in the middle of summer and all I did was run around on asphalt all day. I remember collapsing when I was finally done with the day at my house and having to be brought to the ER b/c of lack of electrolytes. It can be quite dangerous.

....And Be Merry. A good attitude is really important - smile a lot - whatever’s bothering you will soon pass. Things could be worse - you could be stuck in a windowless office at a cube with carpal tunnel syndrome thinking about your next coffee break and how you might take up smoking b/c they smokers are allowed longer breaks.  Have I mentioned how great craft service is?

Anyway - Plan. Priotize. Punt. Eat. Drink. Be Merry. Stay Focused. Smile.

Jon Swindall

Jon Swindall produces, directs, and shoots t.v. shows, commercial, and feature films.