Post by Alex Wu
Today, I’m going to emphasise the need for creative pre-production through a relatively specific point of view — it might not make a massive difference to your visual style, but it’s hopefully something that could potentially determine how you shoot from now on.
I want to point out that the following article is mostly for independent videographers and filmmakers with restrictions in time and money. Shooting with digital cameras. Which I guess is most of us.
I don’t speak for every filmmaker out there, but most likely, we abuse the fact that we can shoot digitally — the fact that you might be able to shoot something like five or six cards in a day, which means getting anywhere between 6-12 hours of footage. Yes, there really isn’t anything wrong with getting as much footage as possible if the project demands it – but if you’re getting 12 hours of footage for a video that might only be three minutes long, you might need to consider if you’re overdoing it.
Stating the obvious, the more footage you shoot – unless you’re in the habit of deleting old footage – will probably need to be archived. This might not matter if you have a surplus of cash, but as time goes on, you’ll be buying more and more hard drives to store footage on. Apologies for the numbers, but I’m going to present you with an example to explain specifics: On average, for a 1-2 minute promo video for an event, I might shoot about 3-4 hours of digital footage. That’s about 250GB of data in 1080p. If I’m shooting the same amount in 4K, that’s upwards of about 600-700GB of data. A standard 1TB hard drive usually costs about $70 AUD. So if I’m shooting in 4K and archiving all the footage afterwards, I’ll be needing to buy a hard drive every single time I make a 1-2 minute promo video.
I’m twenty-four years old. $70 is a lot of money to me.
Maybe you’ll never have a use for any of it ever again. But maybe you will! Maybe you’re exceptionally organised and have plenty of storage space for a mountain of hard drives. Maybe you can keep track of everything you’ve ever shot on a spreadsheet in case one day the BBC reaches out to you because you have really stunning footage of a political march you accidentally shot footage of seven years ago. Maybe one day you’ll want to make a personal documentary made from snippets of your career as a filmmaker (I highly recommend watching Kirsten Johnston’s Cameraperson – made me want to cry).
Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you don’t need the talking head interview footage about home loans. Maybe you don’t need that event footage from that EP launch. It’s kind of like clearing out your bedroom when you move house. You can tell yourself you might want to keep that whoopie cushion you bought in the 3rd grade for sentimental value — but do you really need it?
Essentially, the more footage you shoot – while it might have some use to you down the road in some way – can create clutter and cost you money that you might not need to be spending.
With data storage out of the way, I now want to also talk about the ramifications of overshooting on location, and how that can potentially become a hassle in the edit.
Brief history lesson: back in the days of the Hays Code, Alfred Hitchcock was making feature films under heavy scrutiny from studio heads and producers. He feared – justifiably so – that despite his meticulous planning of his film and dedication to his story, his picture could be victim to re-edits done by the studio without his consent, to bend to either censorship regulations, or to even make the film more “audience friendly”. It wasn’t uncommon. It still happens to this day.
His ingenious way around it: shoot his films in ways that they could only exist in their full takes. Don’t shoot coverage. Think about how the film will be structured beforehand and shoot only what you need. Therefore, if the studios were to cut out of a scene too early or too late, the film would lose all sense of continuity. The story would cease to make any sense. It couldn’t be edited in any other way.
Now, what can we learn from this? In most cases, you won’t have these kinds of restrictions staring you in the face, threatening your final cut. But within this story, what’s quite evident in Hitchcock’s approach and most likely the reason he is undoubtedly one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, is his attention to detail. His ruthless discipline and the rigorous amount of thought he put into how every single shot was going to be filmed and presented.
What happens when you’re unsure of what you need to shoot, is that you end up shooting everything. And when you shoot everything, you don’t have the time and space to think how you’re going to shoot it, or how any of these shots are going to cut together. Instead of being able to craft your moment, you become entirely reactionary. Which, again, is totally fine at
the end of the day. You’ll still be able to make something. But is it the most efficient way to do things? Could it be better if you thought more about the final cut before you started shooting?
What’s the point of shooting for an extra two hours if you already know you’ve gotten what you need? 90% of the time, that extra footage stays on the cutting room floor (not a certified statistic, just personal experience). You don’t have to be that person who goes to the supermarket without a shopping list and then spends an hour-and-a-half walking up and down the aisles looking up recipes on their phone trying to think of what to cook for dinner, then buying a bag of onions when they already had a bag of onions at home. Because they did the same thing last time too. And now their partner at home is pissed off. That partner is your editor.
If you’re like me, then you’ll most likely be editing most things you shoot. You’ll probably have memories of what shots you got on the day, and what worked and what didn’t. You might have a whole card with stuff you know you won’t use, except for maybe one or two shots. But if someone else is editing and for whatever reason you can’t recall what you’ve shot, or if you don’t have the time to communicate with them at all, then it becomes their burden to trawl through every single shot that starts shaky and out-of-focus, to maybe find a usable nugget of gold in the middle. Maybe.
The more footage you shoot, the longer it takes to simply organise and review all the footage. It might not matter if you have all the time in the world, but the process is still intensely laborious and time-consuming, not to mention expensive if you’re paying your editor.
So going back — if you take the time to think about your final edit before you shoot, you can avoid wasting the time and money of everyone associated with the project. Have discipline. Imagine you’re shooting on film. Don’t waste a single frame just because you can. Get what you need first. Then you can play.
Again, I just want to reiterate that nothing that I’m saying is a rule of any kind that you must live and breathe by. They’re just things to consider to ideally make you more efficient at what you’re doing, and as a result, make better, more refined work. So wrapping up, the questions you should maybe ask yourself are:
Do I need to shoot this much?
What do I need to get for the edit?
Will I have any use for this footage afterwards?
I want to leave you with a recent quote from Martin Scorsese, talking about the current devaluation of cinema through the rise of “content”:
“It can all be summed up in the word that’s being used now: content. All movie images are lumped together. You’ve got a picture, you’ve got a TV episode, a new trailer, you’ve got a
how-to video on a coffee-maker, you’ve got a Super Bowl commercial, you’ve got Lawrence of Arabia, it’s all the same….[People can] turn a picture off and go straight to the next piece
of content. If there’s no sense of value tied to a given movie, of course, it can be sampled in bits and pieces and just forgotten.”
Don’t make content for the sake of making content. There’s enough of it already.