Determining the camera set-ups for the day and its relevant shot list, is extremely important to make sure everything is captured and the team moves in the most logical and speedy order. Unfortunately, most independent filmmakers fly by the seat of their pants instead of preplanning. This causes them to loose numerous hours in shooting time over the duration of a feature film.
Camera set-ups can be drawn on a 3X5 card, or created in an iPad app – I‘ve done both. If the scene requires a lot of movement, I prefer the iPad app so I can demonstrate the camera movement and actor blocking through animation.
The set-up cards are always an aerial view and display camera position and any dolly tracks. It also includes characters, extras and the floor plan – And sometimes action props. All elements include starting and ending positions. Depending on the software app or the amount of room on the paper, the lighting set-up could be added as well.
Arrows and lines are typically used to show camera and actor movement. The shape of the camera movement line reveals if it uses a track or handheld/steadicam shot. Track is always straight or precisely curved, while handheld/steadicam lines move in any shape or follow any contour.
Every camera must be labeled in some fashion that carries over to the shot list. When I use the iPad app, I export the camera information to an excel spreadsheet in the form of a shot list, which takes less than 5 seconds. When I use 3X5 cards, I typically put the shot list on the back of the card or on a second card.
The shot list includes the camera name, the shot type, the lens, camera equipment like dollies or cranes, and any movement, focus or zooming instructions. My experience allows me to rough out the list prior to meeting with the director of photography. Since his expertise is invaluable, I review and update the information as I present my logic for the emotional imagery I need for the scene.
No matter how much I prep during development or preproduction, there are always changes the morning of the shoot, not to mention during creative moments with the actors as we explore variations of the scene. The best way to keep these changes organized is to number every known shot in advance using a numbering system that readily accepts updates and changes.
The numbering system I use gives the DP, editor, script supervisor and me an immediate visual understanding of what scene its from, its shot type and what character it includes. This makes searches quick both manually and online. It also helps the editing team prep the clips for the editor.
By prepping the camera set-ups in advance, the director can save the team a tremendous amount of time during the shoot. It also gives a great foundation for those creative changes that happen on the fly. This allows a more organized freedom that helps the editorial team, rather than the wild creative activities that force the editorial team to suffer through extremely long days.