5 Things Gary King Does in Pre-Production (Weekly Series) – Part 3
5 THINGS I LIKE TO DO DURING PRE-PRODUCTION
When heading into a film shoot, there are a million decisions to be made, from all levels and positions of a production. So I thought about some of the things I like to think about. It’s definitely not the right way or the only way. Hell, it could even be the wrong way for some of you. I’m by no means an authority on the matter as everyone has their own methods to the madness known as filmmaking. Nevertheless, these are some things that I have come across in my past films and now like to consider whenever going in to the next shoot. And please leave some comments below on what you like to do. I’d love to hear from your learning lessons.
#1 – SHOT LIST
My usual M.O. is to shot list the entire script, then share it with my DP for feedback….then make another version after we’ve discussed what shots to add/change/get rid of. (I don’t like to storyboard my films. I only use them for very elaborate, visual sequences to make sure everyone’s on the same page.)
However when I shot HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG, it was the only time I went in each day without a shot list. I simply allotted for time to walk into the location a few hours ahead of shooting, soak in the space, review the script, then block it with the actors. From that I’d find the angles I’d want to film. I had just listened to Soderbergh’s THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE commentary in which he’d mentioned using a similar approach. I found it fascinating, liberating and scary as hell, but I wanted to use the filming experience to gain a better understanding of cinematography (particularly lenses) so I adopted his mantra. It taught me a lot. Particularly, that I love working with a DP and so I collaborated with Chad McClarnon on UNNERVED – and the shot list returned.
#2 – REHEARSALS
I always like to gauge the interest (and need for) rehearsals on a case by case with the actors I work with. Depending on a performer’s working style, my rehearsals can consist of working through actual scenes from the script, or creating backstory and other experiences as the characters (outside from the screenplay). I always try to avoid overdoing a scene to death before the camera rolls, however it’s a great opportunity to learn about how an actor likes to work and communicate.
Another unique reason for rehearsals is when shooting guerrilla style in a public area. I had to do this with WHAT’S UP LOVELY when we wanted to film a scene in Grand Central station. I scouted the location and knew its nooks and crannies and had the actors block out the action in another “safe zone” so they knew what to do in the actual spot. This way no one was wasting time in the shooting area trying to figure out what to do and how to shoot it. The DP/crew also knew what to expect in order to move the scene along efficiently. That way we were in and out in less than 15 minutes.
#3 – WATCH FILMS
I love taking a stack of movies I dig and viewing them again before a shoot. Some of them can be in the same genre as the film I’m about to direct, while others can be films that contain favorite moments or sequences. And then I borrow from them as much as I can.
I also sometimes like to give a list of films for my cast and DP to watch if there is something similar in tone (or visually) I’m going for with our project. I’ve never had time to sit down and watch films with the actors or crew, which in the future I’d love to try. I think it’d be great to be able to spend a few days watching films that I want people to have in mind as we roll the camera.
Here was my main list for my UNNERVED team:
#4 – PLANS B AND C
When planning for a film I have all these grand ideas. Some of them can be pulled off with the budget I have, while others most certainly cannot. So I like to plan, plan, plan in pre-production. Actually, I overplan. Most of the time, I’ll have a Plan A in mind, but then reality forces me to go with Plan B – in which I then prepare for a Plan C if Plan B doesn’t work either. This applies to anything and everything from actors, locations…even down to a single shot.
#5 – ASK FOR ADVICE
Before jumping onto set, I always have a million questions: some are about equipment, others about technology and workflow, while others are about aesthetics and techniques. I also wonder about crewing up with the right people…casting the right actors…rewriting certain scenes. So I ask my friends about all of them and then some. Thankfully I have buddies who have experience in the various fields, so I can reach out to different ones depending on the question. I consider a lot of my friends my mentors.
Before filming UNNERVED, I caught a screening of SORCERER (an awesome film by the way) at BAM with William Friedkin doing a Q&A afterwards. I was lucky enough to ask him what would his one piece of advice be as I was about to direct a horror film. He looked at me and said, “make the characters as real as possible. Make us care. And no BULLSHIT SCARES.” Having loved and studied THE EXORCIST (and like #3 above, I watched it a few times in prepping for my film since it inspires me so much), his philosophy made perfect sense and was aligned with his film (which doesn’t really get into the “real deal” until about 50 minutes – if you’ve seen the film you know what I’m talking about). Meeting him was an inspiring moment for me.
As a side note, I’ve been using the same lucky binder (since my first film in 2007) for the script, schedule, shot list and other paperwork I need on the set. I always pull it out a few days before heading to the set and stare at it to remind me where I’ve been and where I hope to be with the next one. But I’m not superstitious….not at all.
Bio: Gary King is an award-winning filmmaker whose work is known for powerful performances with an emphasis on a strong, visual style. He has written, directed and produced several critically acclaimed feature films.
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