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Be Prepared

by on May.18, 2010, under Filmmaking

You can't use the tools if you didn't prep them.

I’m prepping for two video shoots in this week.  (These days, that’s pretty noteworthy in and of itself…but that’s not what I’m writing about.)  One of the shoots I’m prepping has a paid “prep day” one doesn’t.  But the reality is that I’ll probably put similar amounts of prep time into each project.  That’s the deal with directing a film or video production: Sometimes you get paid to prep, sometimes you don’t, but either way you have to do it.  You can’t show up on set without a plan.  That just ain’t gonna go well.  “I didn’t have a paid prep day,” isn’t much of an excuse if everyone’s waiting around while you’re floundering on set.

Prep days are a staple of film and video production.  So much so, that it’s tempting to just figure them into the compensation package like per diem or kit fees…It’s just a way to divvy up your day’s bananas.

It’s tempting, yes, but you can’t do it.  So here’s the deal if we’re working together.  If I’m working for you, I’m going to show up prepared.  If the budget supports it, please pay me for the prep day–those cryptic notes and diagrams scrawled all over the script and schedule don’t just write themselves.  The same goes if you’re working for me…please come to set prepared.  If there’s any way to do so, I’ll fight to get you a paid prep day.  Promise.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But many’s the day that a cast or crew member has shown up on my set unprepared.  I remember very well the day that a crane got built wrong because a grip didn’t go to the rental house to test build it.  That on-set delay was particularly painful because I had specifically fought for his paid prep day.  And the rationale I’d used with the producer?  “We better pay the guy to go learn how to build the crane or we’ll be sitting around on set for an hour while he figures it out there.”  Actually, it turned out to be two hours..first to build it wrong, then take it apart and build it again.

Crews aren’t the only ones who occasionally show up unprepared.  Sometimes, actors do it, too.  My expectation as a director is that if I’ve sent the script, schedule, and call-sheet, that each actor is going to come to set knowing his or her dialogue and have an interpretation of the character’s inner-life that motivates that dialogue.  I know that’s a lot of memorization and work.  I know it’s not easy.  I can’t do it, even when I wrote the script.  But since the majority of actors I work with do manage to pull off this feat every day, I think it’s a reasonable standard.  (The eight-year-old kids who starred in The No-Sit List knew their lines every time, and sometimes that was more than six pages a day.  So what’s the grown-up’s excuse?)

Still, fairly often, someone comes to set with a script fresh off the fax machine.  Actors coming in for “cameos” are often the most predictable offenders.  Actors have a saying that I’m about to butcher: The acting is free, you get paid to sit around all day, waiting. …Well, usually not on my sets.  Any time the stars align so I have a crew, a camera, and something interesting to point it at, I like to shoot a lot.  There’s never enough time or money, which means you have to cram as much as possible into every shooting day.  So good news, my actor friends, you aren’t going to have to sit around much.  We built that schedule so you could act.  …Pretty much as many hours as the Screen Actors Guild will let you.

Our time together is short.  The schedule is going to be “realistically ambitious.”  Cast or crew, anyone who isn’t prepared is going to drag us all down.  It’s not going to be me.


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