How to organise a video shoot...With Derry Shillitto!

December 4, 2023

How do I organise my video shoot, where do I start?

 If it was a small-scale music video or a one or two-day corporate video shoot, the first thing I would do is just ensure that all the crew I need are available. So, how many camera operators am I going to need? What other crew? Would I need a sound operator, production assistant to help out and assistant camera as well? What can we feasibly shoot, in the time we have? If it's a two-day production, how much can I shoot with one camera operator? How much can I shoot with two camera operators? This would give me a better understanding of what is needed crew-wise.

Once I know I could do the job with one or two camera operators, I’ll then start building the crew. Am I going to need sound? If I do need sound, can I get sound directly into the camera or will it need to be recorded separately? Can the the camera operator also operate sound or will I need a different sound op? How many runners will I need? Will I need an assistant director? Directing as well as producing is something I always consider. If I’m directing the shoot as well as producing what allowances do I need to make to take the edge off myself doing 2 roles? If I can't direct who's going to direct? Always assemble a quality crew, and on smaller jobs have it as slimline as possible. If you can double up jobs like if the camera operator can do the audio also, that's great. If not, then that's not too much of a problem.

A shot from Derry's latest!

Next is location. Check out the location yourself first and do a risk assessment on the location you’re working with: if it's a corporate job, and you're working with a client, you might be using their offices/warehouse to film in. Either way, you should definitely go down before filming and check out that location if you can. Basically you’re liable for any risk assessments, and just seeing if it’s suitable for filming in, i.e. is it too noisy or busy - will there be people looking at the camera, when does the sunset and are there any events (a carnival or whatever which might disrupt the shoot)? Also, the more familiar you are with the location, you’ll save about an hour or two hours on the day, at least. 

How long does filming take?

So if you're shooting both sound and video, that's going to take you a little bit longer, anything that has dialogue - such as someone talking into the camera - is going to take you longer because you’re getting the video right and you’re also getting the audio right, so there’s more to think about...  I’d say for like a narrative film/ short film, I would do no more than 20 slates a day (slates are basically different shots which make up the film). That would be quite a long day as if you think 20 slates, that's 20 shots, essentially, totally different camera angles. How many kinds of camera angles do you use in a scene, maybe, like five, potentially? So, you’re looking at shooting four or five scenes a day for a narrative film.

If you're shooting a music video, you could probably shoot five or six, maybe seven scenes a day depending on locations. So, it varies. If you're shooting in one location, you could probably get a lot more done as the time it takes to pack everything up, get it in a van then drive, park up and re-rig at the next location takes hours. So you have to consider location, you have to consider any audio that you might need as we’ve spoken about before. You have to consider props, set dressing, lighting, special effects. There’s a lot to think about. If you put it in layman's terms, if you're shooting a five-page script, you could probably shoot that in a day, but  it’d be a long day. If the locations are within a small area not travelling to and from sets then you can shoot five-page script in one day and if locations are quite far apart, and I mean 30 minutes plus, then just split it into two days. Just don't push yourself too much.

A lot of people think that producers aren't creative, but they are probably the most creative people on set because they have to visualise the work.

What permissions do I need to film, and where?

Say for instance if you’re filming in a local café for a scene, you will need to get permission from the manager of the café. You will also need to get permission from anyone who is in the café at that time that may appear recognisable on the camera; hopefully, the café will be empty. So, you need permission from the owner of each locations if you’re filming inside. For outside it all depends on which council you’re filming within. In somewhere like London, which is spread amongst multiple councils, they can all have different rules, with Westminster - for instance - not allowing even a camera on a tripod without permission. Most other councils are more lax and a smallish crew of perhaps six people will probably be okay. Also anyone that’s in shot including the actors you’re working with, you need permission and you need them to sign a release form.

The weather is terrible, and the video is meant to be outside - what do I do?

Can you incorporate the weather into the video? If you storyboard or if you plan for a scene, which requires sunny skies, then you're going to have to shoot another time. If you can develop the scene to suit the weather. All you need to do is take precautions, if you film with certain cameras, there's plastic sheeting that you can cover the cameras with, if it's wet.

Say you’re going to do a scene where two skateboarders are out, in a park, and they have to be in the sun, they're topless and they're skating together. If it’s raining, then just don't do it. It just changed the whole tone of the scene. However, if it doesn’t change the tone, go ahead just ensure to take extra precautions. Get coats, umbrellas, or any nearby shelter if it’s wet. If it's windy, the sound is going to be a huge problem, so either plan for additional dialogue recording, which is dubbing in the dialogue which can be expensive and time-consuming, it’s always best to get the dialogue on the day. If it's pouring rain and windy and you have a really important bit of dialogue that you need to record, think about capturing it later. 

A screengrab from one of Derry's latest projects

Any organising tips and tricks to make things run smoothly?

I would suggest going out of your way to know everything that could go wrong. Imagine the worst-case scenario and have something that you have a solution for. If you know the worst-case scenario, then anything that's above that you're going to be able to deal with. So, tips and tricks: be vigilant with planning and what can help you ensure that things run smoothly. Be sure to delegate tasks but don’t just do it all by yourself. However, it’s your responsibility if things go wrong so have a backup plan or solution for lots of eventualities. 

Familiarise yourself with what you're shooting on the day, know it back to front. Know exactly what you need, know when you need it. Spend a couple of evenings just going through the script, and just breaking it down. As the producer or producer/director, you need to know the materials you’re working with as well as anybody. A lot of people think that producers aren't creative, but they are probably the most creative people on set because they have to visualise the work, the material they’re working with and see how it plays out to troubleshoot any problems before they emerge. They have to ensure that the director’s viewpoint is being captured by helping the director communicate their ideas with the crew and cast.

So to make it smoother for yourself, get familiar with the material you're working with, whatever that may be, music, video, short film, corporate video, be familiar with the location. What could go wrong, what could go right, because then you could have spare time at the end to film stuff from the next day’s schedule. Don't wait until like a week before the shoot to rush around to get stuff. Once you’re there on the day and if you prepared well, then you’re just there as sort of the conductor. 

Cheers Derry! Check out some of Derry's stuff linked below:





Edited by Esme Johnson.

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