Learn The Terms


We’re losing the light! – welcome to the time honored mad scramble as the sun is setting. We’ve all been there, some call it “magic hour” -  though it rarely lasts that long. I call it “tragic hour” - because it sometimes can be. If the shot or setup is accomplished successfully, it will likely be because you correctly anticipated problems and the concept was communicated to everyone clearly and concisely. “Move the canteen upstage camera right!” “I’ll get the over, you get the 50-50”.  “You take the big slider, you go hand held.” I’ve found that once I give instructions, I get out of the way and quietly observe the progress without micro managing every move. Needless interruptions can doom the entire effort and everyone would rather have a slightly flawed scene than an unfinished one – or worse. So I usually keep quiet once the building process begins.

I rarely take time out for a photo but in this case our camera was ready and we had some time. The above picture was taken in Morocco during production of  “The Way Back”. I’m standing with my hand on the camera, Peter Weir watches patiently as the campfire set is being dressed. We’re preparing for a magic hour scene that will require 5 two camera setups. Fairly ambitious given that we’ll have less than 20 minutes to complete the work. The third camera came off the truck so our DP Russell Boyd, ACS could shoot some inserts while we rolled on the scene.

All cameras were wearing zoom lenses so no time would be lost to lens changes. We completed the scene with a little time to spare due to good planning, time management and clear communication.

I tell this story because there is no guarantee things will go smoothly. Technical glitches, actor issues and all sorts of potential problems might arise. Our job is to move quickly and efficiently so that we bank a little time in case something hits the fan. Believe me, you don’t want to be the reason that we’re not shooting and always be on guard for the dreaded “Murphy’s Law”.

Learning stage directions and compositional terms is a really good way to save time and demonstrate your hard won experience. I respect people that have a command of technical vocabulary. These descriptive words take the place of a phrase or a time consuming sentence. Over explaining is frustrating, distracting and time consuming.  Three very bad things.

Half of the crew on “The Way Back” didn’t speak English including my focus puller, so whenever time was an issue, I insisted that we had an AD standing by camera who was fluent in English and Arabic. Ever the efficient film maker, Peter Weir would wisely simplify some of the setups for expediency’s sake.

Regardless of your department, learn these basic terms and you’ll contribute to the efficiency of the production. Time saved equals more shots and everyone wants more shots.

Return To Musings