Prep Work Pays Off
Mise en place – “everything in its place.” If you’ve spent much time in a kitchen, you may have heard this phrase before. Any good chef knows the importance of planning ahead and being fully prepared. It starts with a recipe. From there, a plan evolves. Are the necessary ingredients available? Which pans and utensils are required? Are additional staff needed? What is the timing to provide the perfect dish at the perfect moment? For an experienced chef, that’s straightforward enough to do in their own kitchen, but what if that same chef had to use someone else’s kitchen to prepare that meal? You can bet they would figure out a way to find out as much information about that kitchen as possible. Otherwise it might result in a disaster!
Filming a video–especially at a new location–is no different, other than the fact we’re not usually in a kitchen. The prep work done ahead of time determines the final outcome. We could load up all of our gear, including the kitchen sink, and bring it to a location for filming. We could plan for every scenario, and fill our heads with what if’s. We could…but we don’t, because there’s actually a much easier way that ends up saving time and money. Just like Lewis and Clark did, we send a scout ahead.
The most obvious first impression is the general layout of the location. It’s amazing how many little details are hidden if you look a little closer. The location scout will map out the size and condition of the space, including all areas that will be used on and off camera. Is the parking lot gravel? Will people track mud? Which way does the wind tend to blow? Are there steep areas where gear may need to be unloaded? If so, is there another option that might involve a little more work but that will be safer for crew and equipment in the end?
Being realistic is important. Will the gear that is needed fit in the space? Can the jib fit down that hall? If we’re outdoors, with the potential for rain, is there a safe place to store items and keep them dry? If it’s hot out, is there a cool place to store batteries and other sensitive equipment? Without scouting ahead, there are many unknowns. We want to be aware and prepared so that we can do necessary problem solving beforehand.
A good meal will fuel a body, but it won’t light the lights. An important detail to add to location notes is power. What if lights are needed or batteries need to be recharged? Marking the location of power sources and their capacity will smooth out the day. Making sure those sources are accessible is equally important. Depending on what’s available, we may need to bring a generator. That’s good to know ahead of time. One too many production lights can trip a circuit! The location scout will note the location of the circuit breaker box, the circuits, and their amperage. Who wants to stumble around in the dark looking for the breaker box?
Can you imagine the horror if a rogue spice spilled into a dish that was completely ready to be served? Sound can be that mischievous spice. No amount of post-production work can make up for lack of pre-production planning when it comes to sound. The location scout will listen and take notes, which allows the sound tech to plan accordingly. Air conditioning units, refrigerators, trains, and even ticking clocks become part of a video’s sound. For example, on location the other day, we turned down a thermostat so that the heating system wouldn’t hum in the background. Often we can work around sounds, but there is a chance that the scout may discover that a certain location just won’t work due to the soundscape, which would require a mandatory change of location. While that may sound bad (pun intended), it’s better than discovering the problem once everyone is on site and ready to film.
Sample the Light
A glossy photo of an amazing meal in a magazine doesn’t just pop off the page and onto a plate. The same is true of video. The real life images we see with our eyes don’t just magically transfer to film. The location scout will pre-shoot photos, and sometimes video, as a trial run. What a passerby may not notice in the background–i.e. an outdoor swimming pool with greenish water, or stark white walls in a room–may be an eyesore once filmed. No one wants a huge whole peppercorn in their smooth, sweet potato soup.
The scout’s photos will also show important lighting factors such as light intensity, shadows, quality (harsh vs soft), direction, and color (daylight blue, yellow, or even flickery fluorescent). The scout can look for control options…Are the lights all on one switch or multiple switches? Can the drapes be closed if needed? Seeing photos of the various lighting choices allows the DP to plan ahead. The DP will then bring the most appropriate lighting equipment, lenses and support gear for that specific location. We’ve created beauty out of situations that could have turned out ugly, all because the scout sampled the location ahead of time through the lens of a camera.
Like a fine meal, a successful video is the result of preparation. Location scouting allows us to see and understand the location prior to the day of the shoot. Photos, diagrams, and notes allow us to perfectly prepare for the day of filming. Not only does this create a smooth flow throughout the day, it also provides efficiency that can make a big difference in the cost and final result. We want to provide the heavenly taste of a lobster frittata, without breaking the bank.
While we prefer to physically scout a location, there are some locations that are simply inaccessible prior to the day of the shoot. If that’s the case, we will gather as much information as possible through emails, phone calls, and meetings. From there, we can plan ahead and be as prepared as possible. Mise en place may seem as basic as dicing carrots, but it allows a chef, otherwise known as the director, to create the most brilliant masterpiece. We look forward to serving you!