In the last article, I discussed the undertaking and pre-production of this documentary project for a local non-profit agency: Agape Villages. After location scouting we were quickly coming up on principal photography with 3 separate interviews.
Our first interview ended up being with one of the agency’s directors who manages the branch we were working with and conducting it at the Manteca office. Thankfully I’ve been a part of enough productions to know the essentials: a Call Sheet with maps, and prepping a production shot list document for easily rolling into Post and taking notes on set.
It was a simple enough shoot, but it was also this team’s very first time collaborating together. Rafael, who was also co-director on this project was unable to make it that day and this left Christian asking the questions with me supervising and running sound. The interview itself ran rather smooth and we were in and out in ahead of my scheduled plan for the day.
The next interview was to be conducted at Picasso’s Deli in Modesto with our first foster interviewee, who as it turns out came all the way out from the Bay Area. Rafael’s expertise normally lay in the realm of video editing and post production and candidly has great ideas for direction. However this time – his first on set, he revealed to me that he had little to no experience with interviewing and felt a little pressured. So I helped question with him while running sound. From the production point of view the only down-side to this location ended up being that we couldn’t get it quiet enough to capture pristine dialog as the refrigeration units and equipment was a constant noise in the background as well as the busy streets of Downtown Modesto which provided even more challenging sound obstacles in post-production, and this is where another lesson came into play.
Caught in the technicalities, technically Speaking…
The reason behind location scouting isn’t just to see if you like a place for filming. There are two “types” of scouting sessions, and usually the initial scout might be to see if a location will be a potential pick for the production, trying to hit as many of the criteria needed for the scene as possible. Then, there is a Tech scout; usually involving all of the production unit leads (or someone else qualified to make technical merit judgments).
During a tech scout, the location is observed and considered for all of the technical merits and constraints of what it would take to make the production feasible there, and what – if any, obstacles would prevent shooting smoothly. Everything from parking and accessibility to noise ordinance and beyond all help planning and scheduling. In this case, I had overlooked the fact that the machinery at the deli would be running after hours and unable to be turned off; and the fact that our other locations had fallen through had left us with little choice but to use the deli as our next location.
Our 3rd and final interview shoot was at Crossroads, after quite a few scheduling delays and re-schedules to get access to the room we wanted to film in. Up until the 3rd interview we had been doing all of our shooting with Spencer whom was shooting with his Black Magic Cinema Camera. The benefits of being able to get Pro-Res HD was enough to boost the production value and allow for the flexibility in post. However, he had an issue with the camera and sent it back, which for the 3rd and final interview left us with a different camera solution. The first two interviews were conducted single-cam with the B.M.C.C. and just moved around and got the angle changes and camera moves we wanted sequentially. Nikon DSLR’s subbed in for the B.M.C.C. and we ended up shooting 2-cam with Rafael’s camera getting the off-angle. This time I ended up conducting most of the interview questions and had Troy running sound.
Thankfully, out of the hour or so worth of footage from each of the interviews, we only have to select the key moments we want to use. The biggest tip to save on workflow and time: let the edit do the work. When we finally started getting to initial editing, I organized, labelled, and synced all of our footage and audio and linked all the external audio clips to the video to keep editing quick and easy. As Rafael would be editing mostly later I let him know about the process and to ignore the quality of the sound he was listening to while editing as it would be changed later once audio post started.
With all three interviews shot, synced, organized and labelled in Premiere Pro by mid-April, I had to set about scheduling some edit time with Rafael to get an initial concept together. The plan was to build a rough narrative from the interviews to build the 3 segments of the “story” of this company, and take away keywords or phrases throughout the interviews that we could use to develop B-footage shots to go out and film from that either emphasize and/or provide a brief window into the lives of these fosters, and the program.
While I had managed to stay on top of the principal photography with call sheets, maps and scheduling for the three interviews; editing, B-footage shooting, and post production had slumped into a constant series of delays as everyone was going through work and living changes - especially with the editor, which often left him without a computer and unable to spend time editing.
It All Nearly Fell Apart
I’ve seen big productions and small productions. When people let their tempers flare this usually just causes more problems than it solves. Personally, running into delays and roadblocks toward the end of this project was very frustrating. Perhaps the hardest lesson is keeping calm and working toward solutions. Always trying to keep forward momentum can be tough when your emotions are trying to take control, but keeping a level head and clearing out the negative thoughts only helps things run smoother.
The editor had apologized later once we were in the final editing sessions about the delays and all of his life situations he was dealing with, and of course it’s no big deal in hind-sight. His lesson was that just being open and communicating what’s going on could save time as opposed to avoiding the situation and putting it off.
While I had so much free time to review and put together ideas for B-Roll, time was passing by and the client had started asking to see the project. Without understanding fully about production and the process that’s involved, and Spencer no longer available to help with B-roll, things got challenging.
Our first scheduled B-roll shoot was clear at the end of June, and just based on a rough concept Rafael and I had discussed a handful of times. With only rough ideas of where we would be intercutting these B-roll concepts into the interviews I figured I’d just focus on compartmentalizing the production, and building this narrative in production on it’s own and then worry about overlapping it with the interviews in editing later. This park location scene ended up being shot on a Nikon DSLR.
I ended up filming what little we could with the crew, and even went out to film a scene on my own at the client’s office. I had outlined close to 30 shots of different B-roll scenes but due to the collapsing time and availability we had to make do with the main key-narrative B-roll that Rafael had conceptualized (the boy in the park and basketball scenes). The next day I was scheduled to shoot a quick "donation" sequence at Agape's office so I ended up shooting it alone with a Canon Rebel series DSLR.
Editorial, while a bit drawn out, actually went quick as it should have with just a couple of sessions to build the completed narrative. I wouldn’t worry about color grading and conforming until last after all the motion graphics and audio elements were in the sequence. Heading into post for me spelled Audio and music production.
Check out the next article for the final audio post, VFX, motion graphics, color grade, and delivery!