ImageEvery actor has different techniques and desires. So figure out what you need to give each of them in order for them to be comfortable. If that doesn't work then just smack them.


As a rule we don't storyboard. Unless you have some sort of magical budget wherein you can actually see exact drawings of your sets before you get onto the stage to shoot, you're just not going to be able to use a storyboard very much. We do storyboard for big fight scenes sometimes. But then inevitably we have to do something like invert the entire storyboard because we have to shoot on the opposite side of the street or whatever.
Unless you have complete control of what your sets are going to look like, then you really can't use a storyboard because you can't even make a decent guess at how blocking with a bulky camera can even possibly logistically work until you get to set. And our sets are very — shall we say — dynamic? We never know what they're going to look like 'till we get there. Also, simple scenes where two people walk in and talk don't really need to be 'boarded or 'listed because you just shoot scenes like that — you don't really need to do anything terribly complex. And then there's another huge variable: one or more of your actors may (will) have a vastly better idea about where they'll physically be in a scene than whatever idea you might have had on paper. So for any or all of these reasons you'll just have to throw your shot list or storyboards out the window.

By and large we try to use the rule of "Shoot everybody talking. Shoot all the action. Shoot everything in the scene which anyone refers to (i.e. a gun on the floor, a body on the table). And make sure there's something to cut away to in case you want to alter the scene." Having your gaffer or grip or somebody on set who's also an editor is a great help because at the end of a scene when we ask "Does anybody have any notes?" they can pipe up with suggestions of a shot which may or may not be used but won't take any time at all to just make sure you get.

There's a few exceptions to my "no-storyboarding/no-shotlist" rule, however. Horror, action, and love scenes all have to be thought out. These three kinds of scenes are very similar in that they have to tell a part of the story by using details. Horror and action are not my strongest points as a director. I'm better at making pretty paintings than the deliberate pacing of shots which build up tension in a horror or action scene. I'm getting better at the pacing of shots in a love scene as I've had more experience with them. Horror is very very specialized and difficult to do.
Storyboards are important in commercials. And for films with budgets so large that you know exactly what your sets will be like. But in our world they are mostly a waste of time.

Instead, use the following rules.

What's actually important

There are only two things that are important when shooting a movie

  • Schedule
  • Stills
  • Sound

Got that?
And you read the scheduling section of the Wiki first, right?
Shooting the movie isn't important. That's the fun part of what we do. But in order to sell the movie we absolutely must have good stills. Frequently the producers rep will tell us what they want for stills. Otherwise, we need all the actors in front of a blue screen with their guns or whatever. And then we need pictures of them in character doing the things their character does. Distributors will actually reject a picture that does not have several hundred high-resolution stills.
One of the most important and potentially expensive deliverables on a motion picture is the DM&E tracks. We absolutely must have well recorded dialog in order to deliver those. The dialog quality is more important than the picture. Viewers will presume the picture looks terrible if the sound is terrible.
To recap: the two most important things are stills and sound. Everything else you do to make a movie? Tertiary or... worse...

Photograph by Libby Csulik

What to shoot

  • Shoot all of the action
  • all the entrances
  • all the exits
  • shoot all the dialog
  • shoot everything in the scene that anyone refers to: dead body on the floor, glass of whiskey, baccarat table.

And remember that it's all about the decisions made on-stage. I don't mean the decisions the director makes, I mean the decisions that the characters make. If you have a character come to the end of a hallway and she has the option of going left or right — we want to see her make that decision. Left or right? And then when she's made the decision we want to see her commit to it.

The "Maduka rule"

  • shoot the feet of people walking in and out

I tell ya, we probably use the shot of the actors' feet about one out of five times we shoot it. But when you need to change the pacing, you'll be very happy you have the option of going to the "feet" shot.


If you're not getting that "big shot" then forget about it

I can't tell you how many indy pictures I've worked on that went into extreme overtime trying to get a big shot as a "one-er" (in one take) only to have that scene get edited down (or out of the movie entirely).
The correlated rule is to not get so bend out of shape making sure you have a perfect wide shot. First of all, your sound isn't perfect. Second of all, you'll only use that wide for a few seconds at the top of the scene and a few seconds at the end. Do not waste production's time getting it.

Remember the letterboxing

It's hard to see/guess on the monitor but do try. Although we shoot our pictures in the standard HD 1.77:1, we letterbox the pictures to 2.35:1. So the top and bottom of the image are going to get chopped off.

  • Don't get too close on closeups
  • Don't worry if the boom drops slightly in
Directing the movie Pandora Machine

Keep the camera moving

If the camera is still the movie gets real dead real quick. And the trailer editor will hate us. Make that camera move in each shot. Easiest way to do that? Go handheld with autofocus on.

Lock that camera down!

There will be shots where we have to add effects and we're just not going to want to deal with motion-tracking. Sometimes it's easier to make the camera seem like it was shaking a bit in post-production rather than trying to track the action of an actual handheld camera.
Plus, we do have some issues with the "rolling shutter" effect. Because the frame will tend to "shear", the visual effects will tend to not look right because they aren't shearing with the live action image.
So be very careful when shooting an effects plate with a moving camera.

The general rules for shooting CG

Life is vastly easier if we don't have to motion track and we don't have to rotoscope. So remember that rule about keeping the camera locked? If there's going to be a visual effect added, you gotta think about locking the camera.
But that's not the only thing. You also want to make sure no character crosses in front of a visual effect. The easiest way to deal with this is to put what will be the visual effect — or dinobot or whatever — in-between the camera and the talent.
The short rule for that is "keep the cg on top". If the CG can be the top layer in a composite, you're winning.

The original document is available at

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