Planning your video production

Matt Bennett

Discover how professional cinematographers prepare in fine detail for a digital film shoot

Planning  your video production
Cinematographer Peters (left) and pro photographer Jebson (right) explain why it’s always important to plan a shoot in detail, including a thorough location recce

Moving from stills photography into the world of digital film can be a challenge, but in this series pro photographer James Jebson and cinematographer Daniel Peters are on hand to offer their expert advice and knowledge.

In the latest issue of Digital Photographer magazine, the second instalment of our new digital film series, in association with Wex, takes a look at the importance of meticulous planning in pre-production prior to commencing a video shoot.

Establish the brief 

Daniel spends his time shooting everything from music videos to weddings, while James now includes video as part of his product list. Their success depends on detailed preparation, as Peters explains.

“[Sometimes] the client has a good idea of what they want, where they want to shoot, time of shoot, date and what models they want for the shoot etc,” he says. “Then there are clients that like your style, but have no idea about the shoot and want you to write the film’s treatment for them.”

Jebson says you should obtain plenty of information from your client. “Knowledge is power, so gaining as much information [as possible] from the client is integral,” he says. Be aware, too, that you may need to have the confidence to guide your client in a different direction, based on your own expertise and past experience. “There may have to be an element of re-educating the client as you are the professional in this field so it’s important to gain the right dynamic where you can take onboard what the client wants and tweak it depending on what you know,” Jebson advises.

Although this scenario presents challenges aplenty, there will be times when you have to come up with all the details of the shoot from scratch and then present this to the client places pressure considerable on you as the cinematographer.

Detailed notes will help you to ensure that you are on the same page as your client
Detailed notes will help you to ensure that you are on the same page as your client

Consider the budget

Inevitably, money matters first and foremost. “The first thing to ask [about] is budget,” says Peters. “You can’t promise magic until you know what budget you have to work with. Budget covers a lot of things: location, travel, models, you and your work, editing, props, assistants etc.”

Understand the location

The next detail to agree is the location. Of course, this might or not be down to you personally. “Once the budget is agreed you need to know what the location looks like”, Peters explains. “This is either sent by the client sending you pictures, [an] address, or something they booked that provides all [of] this for them – or you have to provide it by pictures, videos etc.”

In an ideal world, the location needs to be scouted in person, but this might not be practically possible. “If none of you can get to the location to scout it, but you know you want something around a location you both have in mind, your next best friend is Google maps.”

James Jebson and Daniel Peters highlight the importance of getting a clear sense of the space that will be available to you for capturing movement
James Jebson and Daniel Peters highlight the importance of getting a clear sense of the space that will be available to you for capturing movement

Although remote location scouting might sound like a recipe for trouble, Peters says it’s usually very successful. “I have booked a shoot with locations and times all mapped out from Google, from getting to the address, finding parking locations, food for breaks (never let your client or talent get hungry, including yourself) and how long it will take from location to location.”

“Don’t promise your shoot will involve six locations if you don’t even know if you can only make two of them. Plan, plan and plan and communicate. Some locations have fees and rules, this is a must know for you and your client. Where you can shoot, what you’re allowed to shoot in the location, how long you’re allowed in the location for, parking for how many cars etc etc.”

You should also give consideration to the light that might be available to you on the day. “Your last best friend is an app called ‘Sun Seeker’,” says Peters. “This will tell you what time the sun will set and where. So this is very important to know, as you don’t want to plan that beach sunset shot if you’re in the wrong place and at the wrong time.”

Sun Scout app
Cinematographers use apps like Sun Seeker and Sun Scout to plan their shoots, just as photographers do

Planning everything in the minutest of detail should ensure a successful shoot. “With all this in mind before you work with clients, you shouldn’t run into any road blocks [but], if you do, don’t panic, think on the spot, communicate and shoot. Sometimes, things that go wrong can turn into a better shoot then you planned – though sometimes not,” laughs Peters. “But panicking won’t solve anything. Sometimes the best thing to do is reschedule, which can happen, but if your client sees you handle this smoothly, you will have returning clients.”

“The planning stages of a shoot cannot be underestimated,” says Jebson. “It would be naive to simply turn up on location and think you’re going to nail an amazing piece that perfectly fits the clients brief and which you are going to be proud of.”

Make sure you check out issue 168 for the second in this essential digital film series, where we’ll find out more from Daniel Peters and James Jebson about preparing for a project.

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