Friday, January 12, 2007

Creativity on set

I just spent a couple very long days on a popular television drama this week, so my blog entries have been kept to zilch at night (sorry to those of you who checked in). However, the shoot was a great opportunity to see some A-list actors and an Emmy-award winning director work out scenes on the fly.

You might think that a lot of shoots are thought out ahead of time in story boards before the camera rolls, but often they aren't. There is a great deal of last-minute creativity on the set, and if you're lucky enough to be standing around for twelve hours, you'll get a taste for it.

Now in my case this was because I was featured backgrounder matching a shot we had done outdoors on location last month - this was the inside shoot on a stage recreating the inside of a house. There's always a nice feeling when you walk onto the stage and look around for other backgrounders, only to be told, "Oh yeah, the other guy is coming this afternoon. It's just you until lunch."

(BTW, at this point, you are not really so much of a backgrounder as a voiceless actor - cast and crew will introduce themselves to you, chat with you between takes, and so on. The experience of working with only a handful of background in a scene is very different than what BG are usually called upon to do - "busy" the scene with crosses and stationary people. And, of course, the AD's actually expect you to ACT in the scene.)

So, in one take, the lead actress needed to do some highly emotional reaction shots to another actor who had been injured. While setting up the shot, the A camera op kept asking, "Are you going to standing up, kneeling down by him, or what?" Answer, "I don't know. I'll just do it." He asked the same question and got the same answer repeatedly; it was the clash of two cultural frames on set. As camera op, he needed to know what action was going to transpire so he could capture it, but the A-list actress wanted to let the "moment" dictate what her emotions were going to be. Eventually, it took some planning a head of time, and then several takes before we worked it all out (including crosses for shadow effects, people in the corner of the room, etc.)

At another point in the day, as the crew was setting up a shot, the director said, "You know, I once saw this in a movie - it was really neat" and proceeded to move props around himself, making a bit of a mess to show the aftermaths of a lot action. "Yeah, more of that...No, less of that" and so on.

Imagine this kind of banter and give-and-take on set all hours of the day, between all the different departments on the call sheet, and you'll get a better appreciation of the organized chaos that generally characterizes working on set.

Got a busy day of errands, then off to two days of a weekend shoot.

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