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Chapter Nine. On the Set > Preventing and Troubleshooting Common Problems

Preventing and Troubleshooting Common Problems

We've covered some of these problems already, but here's a handy checklist of what can go wrong on the set— and what to do about it:

  • Don't schedule scenes that are technically or emotionally challenging on the first few days. Give your cast and crew a chance to become a team before you start shooting the tough scenes. Save the longest and most difficult scenes for late in your schedule, if possible. Scheduling software ought to take this sort of thing into account—but it doesn't, so you'll have to.

  • Don't expect to shoot as many pages per day in the first couple of days as you will later on. If the schedule calls for shooting an average of six pages per day, plan to shoot four on day one.

  • To maintain production speed and economy, when setting lights and attempting to control contrast range, try taking light away from highlight areas before you start adding it to shadows.

  • Slate each take with timecode. Avoid replaying takes on the set since this can cause a break in the camcorder timecode—a disaster after which timecode restarts from all zeros. If a break occurs, fast-forward past the end of the take and, to be safe, reset the timecode on the camcorder to about five minutes later than your best estimate of the correct index. (Whenever you insert a new tape, manually setting the hour digits to match the tape number will also help prevent the editing chore of dealing with timecode breaks. If your numbering scheme begins with “01” and for any reason the camera resets the code to “00,” you won't have any duplicate timecodes unless you experience a second break.)

  • Make sure sound levels don't peak above 0 dB. If you expect sound levels to vary widely during a take, split the signal and record the L track at 0 dB and the R track at –20 dB for protection.

  • Designate a PA to watch the field monitor and make sure the boom doesn't dip into the frame during a take. If the boom operator's arms are growing tired, it's time for a break—or a fresh operator.

  • If your camcorder is NTSC or PAL, shoot everything in 4:3 aspect ratio, even if you expect to edit and master in 16:9. If you're shooting with an HD camcorder, shoot everything in 16:9 even if you will eventually go to 4:3. This assures the highest resolution, and you can change those aspect ratios in postproduction.

  • When shooting outside, work in the shade if at all possible. If it rains, shoot interiors that day and rework your production board and shooting schedule that night.

  • Shut off air conditioning during a take to reduce noise levels, but leave it on between takes to keep cast and crew comfortable.

  • If a noisy piece of heavy equipment such as a refrigerator is running near the set, shut it off—but put a driver's car keys inside so you don't forget to turn the unit back on before you leave. (Thawed or spoiled food is a particularly nasty calling card to leave your hosts.)

  • If ambient noise ruins a shot, get some wild takes of the effect on the chance you can incorporate it into the soundtrack of surrounding scenes in the edit.

  • Break for hot meals at lunch and dinner. Don't force a steady diet of junk food on your team. Keep a variety of snacks and beverages handy at all times, and make sure the crew has at least five minutes off every hour. (They'll be happier and you'll get more work done.)

  • Be sure to record 60 seconds of room tone at the end of each setup.

  • Sit down whenever you can.



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