It’s More Than Just Cracking The Whip!

Posted by Ramzi Abed - in Uncategorized - Comments Off

A View From Behind The Meter:

Set Discipline

When I first began working in this industry in the early seventies, there was a disciplined set organization and procedure that was stringently adhered to. It was designed, because raw stock was expensive and editing time was even more expensive.

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The consistent mantra expressed by all departments was that “Time was Money!” and that wasting anyone’s time was self-destructive to the film’s completion. Everybody was keyed to make sure everything was perfect before the director would call out loud and clear “Roll Camera.” Everyone on the set was anticipating that moment as if it were opening night on Broadway and all their concentrated skills as well as pre-production activities came to the head at that moment. I remember the excitement when a shot was perfect and the disappointment when there was an error causing us all to do it once again. It was truly a team effort with all the closeness that comes with success in any endeavor that is performed as a group.

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When a football team scores a touchdown the elation of the group is pervasive and the feeling of accomplishment is lasting. I felt that closeness with all the crew members over the years and I still look on those people with respect to this day. There was something magical about the process that captured my imagination and set the process of film-making on a different level of life’s accomplishments. The preciseness, the concentration, and of course the artistry was on a higher plane than anything I had ever engaged in prior to my first set experience. I had played football in high school, acted in theater in college and spent ten years as an officer in the air force but none of those experiences gave me such a sense of self accomplishment as working on the set producing a film product. I went home each night sometimes exhausted but always with a sense of self fulfillment. It was a good feeling and certainly one I cherish today.

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As I listen to the camera teams in our prep bays and speak to them at the ASC clubhouse I hear over and over that the set discipline is slowly disappearing. When I went to a seminar at Panavision about using film cameras, instead of digital cameras, one of the elements that kept coming up in the question and answer period was the pleasure everyone experienced by the return to that discipline dictated by the conservative use of film raw stock. It surprised me at the time so I began to ask DP’s and assistant camera techs about this change in set discipline. The response was consistent and pervasive. The fact that capturing the image on digital chips was at relatively no cost allowed the concept that there was no longer a need to make that moment, when camera was turned on, a precious one. I’ve had cameramen tell me that directors have expressed to them to turn on the camera in the morning and don’t worry about shutting it down throughout the day.

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I’ve witnessed on the set shouting, by directors and assistant directors, directions to the actors while the camera is running. This, of course, destroys the possibility of use to the editor and radically disturbs the actor’s concentration on his character. When speaking to editors the overwhelming complaint I hear is the amount of garbage that they have to plow through to find good usable material is pervasive. The artistry is being eroded in favor of the possibility of getting that one shot that might go viral. Just because you can run the camera with disregard to the cost on the set is no excuse to lose that element that made our industry an artistic collaboration of skilled talent. The discipline and procedure that has been practiced over the last hundred years is still a viable as well as efficient way to work. You get more bang for your buck. Because one doesn’t have to be concerned with the cost of raw stock and you can run the camera continuously the cost is just being transferred to the post production. In my estimation the acting suffers and the self-fulfillment by the group is damaged.

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Yes, one can probably get a very candid moment in that process and that candid moment could be precious but why throw the baby out with the bath water. Use the process to get the meat of your production and then work with improvisation letting the camera roll to capture the results as an addition rather than the absence of process.

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

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