I have always considered being on time and on budget to be the most important reason I should be hired to direct, second only to putting together a good show. If the logistics will allow it, and there are times when they won’t which I will get into in another post, I promise delivery on time and on budget. I mean, if there is only so much money, then going over schedule and over budget is irresponsible.
On a film set, especially for episodic television, every second counts. We are asked to deliver more setups in fewer shooting days as competition for eyeballs intensifies, advertising dollars get spread between more shows, and budgets shrink. Time must not be wasted.
I got into the habit of having a quiet conversation with the continuity person at the start of each shoot. I would explain that I understand axis. I’ve done enough editing to know when a shot will cut with another shot. So if the continuity person thinks I’m crossing the axis, they can quietly tell me about it, and mark it in their notes if they feel they need to do that to cover their butt, but I do not want a discussion. If you allow a discussion of axis, pretty soon you have the camera department weighing in, crew members sketching their idea of the existing shots, and the clock ticks on. I tell the continuity person that if I have crossed the axis, I will eat it. It’s on me. But we don’t discuss it.
That’s just one area where time can be wasted on set. It’s not even the most important. A certain amount of time is required for the crew to rest, eat, sleep, and otherwise have a life. That’s turnaround. You can’t shoot until four in the morning and ask the crew to start again at eight. Not allowed. When Canal was gearing up to make Wiseguy, the pilot not only blew its budget out of the water with spectacular special effects, it piled on so many overtime hours that the unions wouldn’t allow turnaround. Alex Beaton, the line producer, brought me in to do the next show. He told me he wanted the same quality of shots and performance, but on time and on schedule. Right. I’m supposed to produce comparable footage to what the prima donna pilot director delivered, but without the prima donna attitude toward time and money. Okay. I’ll take a run at it.
Needless to say, I was wired down tight for that shoot. Focused. Intense. I told the crew what was expected, and that I intended to deliver. So let’s do it. I had worked with that crew on other shows. They were with me. At one point as we worked toward our evening deadline, a gaffer ran past me with a huge coil of heavy cable on his shoulder. I gave him an encouraging slap on the back as he passed me, and got a spray of sweat. That man was humping. So I talked to the sound man. “This is a great crew. They are really working. What was the problem with the pilot that they went so far over budget and over schedule. Was it that the schedule was unrealistic?” He told me, “No. The problem was they would put the camera down in three different spots before they would take a shot.”
You can’t do that on an episodic budget. When I put the camera down, that’s where the shot is going to be taken from. If it’s a bad choice, I’ll eat it. But I’m not changing the camera position. Of course I hope it isn’t a bad choice. I hope I’ll have the perfect shot. But if the shot is less than perfect, I’ll make sure the editor can work with it anyway. There’s no time for indecision and changes.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to be quick and dirty. It does mean that I’m going to think ahead, plan my shots, and get the coverage I need to make the scenes work. I’m just not going to waste any time doing it.
More on time and budget in later posts.