Monday, 1 December 2014

5 Things to Check Before Hitting Record

Whether you’re shooting a feature film or a simple testimonial, there are a lot of moving parts in the production time that takes place between Pre and Post. Sometimes there can be a lot of pressure when you’re struggling with gear, the talent has a limited window of time, and the director is telling you it’s time to roll. When that moment does come it’s important to keep a level head and make sure that when you hit record everything is set appropriately. Delaying the crew and talent another 30 seconds is going to be worth it if it helps you catch an issue that would have made the footage otherwise unusable. Here’s the mental checklist I use to make sure that I don’t wind up with bad footage:

1. Check that Focus! - This is critical. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when filming, but many of those can be corrected in some manner that makes the footage salvageable. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing, that will make your blurry footage not blurry. You may have heard of software that can “enhance” blurry footage but this is really only used in instances of trying to sharpen archival footage and will not produce a clean looking end product. The bottom line is that it takes all of five seconds to double (or even triple) check your focus, ensuring right then and there that you have a crisp and clean looking shot.


2. Check that Histogram! - This one’s another biggie. Your histogram is going to be the best and most accurate way to confirm you have a solid exposure. If you don’t know how to read a histogram, then learn! It’s important to understand this tool because you can never quite trust the LCD screen on the back of the camera. While useful for composing, the camera LCD is not a truly accurate representation of exposure. To make things even more complicated the representation is usually different from camera to camera, meaning your camera’s LCD may run a little hot while a rented camera actually shows you a fairly under-exposed image. The histogram, however, won’t lie!


3. Check that Format! - NTSC or PAL? 1080P or 1080i? 24fps or 30fps? 60fps? It’s important to know what your client needs when you’re establishing the best settings at which to record. A good current staple is NTSC 1920x1080 at 24fps (for the US at least), but this may not always be the case. What if you’re shooting in the US but the destination is Europe? Well you just won yourself a lot of extra transcoding, buddy. If your client wants to incorporate a lot of slow motion you’ll want to get b-roll at at least 60fps (preferably more if possible). It’s also important to point out that shutter speed and frames per second are not the same thing. I could write an entire separate post on shutter speed, but someone else already did! I can’t tell you exactly what to set here because it will vary from client to client, so make sure you’ve discussed this beforehand.

4. Format that Media! - You’re going to be in a real pickle if you forget this one, probably right in the middle of the best take of an interview when all of the sudden you get a dreaded message: “Card Full.” Now you have to sit there while the talent finishes what was almost certainly their best take, knowing you’ve missed it. You can prevent all this though by following the Format First rule! As soon as you pop a new card into your camera go ahead and format that bad boy (after checking what’s on it of course). If you make a habit out of this you’ll never find yourself in this awkward and totally avoidable situation.

When your director finds out you missed a shot for such a silly reason.

5. Swap that Battery! - While similar to the number four, this is arguably more important. While most cameras are smart enough to close a file when a memory card is full, some cameras are unable to close a file when a battery dies. What does this mean? Well my friend, it means that instead of having at least some of the clip, you’ve got none of it. That’s right, that fifteen minute interview with all those golden responses are totally lost. You don’t want to be on the back end of the camera when something like this happens, because there’s not a single person on set who is going to be happy with you. Before you roll make sure your battery has a healthy amount. My rule of thumb is at least three bars before starting to roll on an interview. If I’m shooting action b-roll I’ll let them run down to about one bar before swapping out, but I never let the battery icon get to blinking status. When that battery starts blinking you’re playing a dangerous game.

Now, you don’t have to use the checklist I’ve provided, but please do yourself a favor and establish some sort of mental workflow on set. No matter how talented or experienced you may be these things can happen to anyone. Perhaps the most important tool in your repertoire will be knowing how to react professionally and proactively if and when these sorts of problems do arise. It’s easy to freak out and exclaim that the shot is ruined, but this can put the talent on edge and make them think they did something wrong or that they’re going to have to do everything all over again, putting unnecessary pressure on someone who is likely already stressed. Instead just calmly and discretely communicate with the director so that you can find the best solution.

What are some things you always check before pressing record? How do you keep your calm on set when things go wrong? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter @swagger_media.

1 comment:

  1. I like to also do a white balance check as well. Color correction can sometimes only go so far!