"What are we doing and when can we leave (or when's lunch?')": Communication is a collaborative effort.
I remember hearing David Letterman years ago on The Late Show mockingly say this during his opening monologue. I quickly recognized it for what I occasionally hear said (as I'm sure Dave has) on productions run by seasoned crews. Usually, this is what's said when there hasn't been a lot of communication about what's involved with the day's production schedule and expectations.
On the subject of preproduction, I have written a previous article: "Filmmaking: Preproduction - Save Time, Money and Sanity."
The piece was about some of the ways you can plan and what needs to happen on the shoot day.
Now we will look at some simple communication tools, so everyone is on the same page with what is expected of them and their roles on the shoot or production. This will help set the team up to win and minimize as many of the avoidable problems.
If you have ever planned any production project, you probably know that somehow an invitation gets sent to Murphy to show up and mess up our vision of how the day should go. Unfortunately, it's part of the process of trying to create, while contending with limited time, budgets and resources.
Unforeseen events or problems happen.
The best we can do is problem solve what was unforeseen by communicating as much information as possible about the goals and expectations of the production day.
Without good communication, it's like walking into a forest in autumn and trying to describe a beautifully colored leaf on a tree you're looking at, but everyone else is looking at a different leaf thinking that is the one you are talking about.
I will attempt to give some suggestions to help make your shoot day go as smoothly as possible.
1) Defining Roles
It's good for a team to know what their roles are on the project and what the specific expectations are within each role, especially when your crew is small. Be sure everyone knows each other's roles, so you don't duplicate efforts, or worse, something is not in place on the day and now you will have to scramble to overcome the oversight, thereby delaying or changing the end product.
For your less experienced team members, encourage them to speak up regarding any uncertainty, about what is expected, or how it should be done. Have frequent check-ins if they have what they need or are in place and are ready to go for the shoot.
2) Prepping for your Field Production
Have you ever been on a shoot and you forgot to bring that piece of gear that will now result in a delay, until you send someone to get it on set? Or, you realize you don't have what you need and you thought you did? This often happens when rentals are involved or you have someone pull together the gear, but they don't know all of what you need.
Prep your Gear:
Set it up and turn it on.
It's in your best interest to prep your gear the day before or at least before you depart on location to be sure that you have everything and that everything works. If you share equipment with others, it is really important to do this, as things don't always make it back to its "home.” Or, it's put back in inventory, but it no longer works and it's not noted. I've experienced this too many times not fun.
For me, shared gear is tough to determine if it's better to store everything in prebuilt packages like audio kits, camera kits and lighting kits (if it's not a built kit already) or store everything a la carte. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Pre-Built Kits give you the advantage of "grab and go," you just add whatever specialty gear you need in addition, and you're out the door. The disadvantage to this is when someone else uses it and something is missing or broken, you don't know it because you didn't check the case.
A la carte gives you advantages to where it forces you to pull every piece of gear you know that you need and to where you hopefully check it, to be sure it works. The disadvantage is, it takes more time to assemble and when it is not put in its correct place (home), now it's missing, and you have to search for it.
Regardless of how you have your gear stored, I am an advocate for setting up everything you need before your shoot, to make sure it's all there and working. This way when you pack it all back up, you know you are good to go. Don't forget to check batteries and record media!
I like having a checklist method (see slideshow image for checklist example), similar to how rental companies manage their inventories. And studies have been done in the business world that checklists improve productivity and training. This will help you and others know what you're taking into the field and that it all will come back and is working.
Stay on schedule!
Once you have given due diligence to your preproduction prep, now you can set your call times and production schedule for the day. This will keep everyone informed on when and where they are supposed to be, their roles and responsibilities and everyone is on the same page in knowing how the schedule is going throughout the day.
List the roles on each day of the production schedule (see production schedule slideshow image for example)
If things are going well and you get ahead of schedule, you may have some time to get those "extras" you were hoping for. If you're running behind schedule, you can look to your team to help figure out how the economize shot setups, or prep ahead for the next setup or what you can do without, to keep the schedule in reason.
Remember to feed your crew or break them for lunch within a reasonable amount of time. Try not to short lunchtime to make up for lost time or shoot beyond well beyond when you should be wrapped up your time. It will give you diminishing returns. An unhappy crew can make the day go from bad to worse - Lean into your team for help.
Remember: Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.
Production is a team sport of collaboration. You will almost always need to rely on others to help you capture your vision the way you hope it will be seen.
Unless you're a "one person band," you will need to communicate with your staff, co-workers, volunteers, interns, talent, location contacts, anyone that you need to help you with resources.
Hopefully you view them as doing their best and wanting to help you succeed. They want to feel that they contributed to the success of the production. We all want to feel valued and a part of something that makes a difference or at the very least, proud of our work while doing our best for the glory of God.