Since you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you have a great idea for a scene or a series or something, along with a solid plan as to how you want to shoot it, where and when.
And as Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
It’s not easy, getting the props and costumes and food and performers in the exactly right spot at the right time, with all the best people aiming all the right equipment.
So you plan, and make lists, and plan, and double check, and make another list. It’s human nature to try to visualize every detail. To reassure yourself nothing is forgotten. From how and when to do that one critical tracking shot to not forgetting a backup bottle opener because your good one is also a prop for the sophisticated dinner party shot. When you’d rather be sleeping, all those details do that thing in your brain where Mickey Mouse gets chased by the brooms.
But here’s the good news. Most of all that is not going to happen. Not the way you decided it would. And never was. Chances are, your best laid schemes will immediately fly wildly apart the moment you get there. And now that you can accept that, all you really need to do is take a deep breath.
Because you know that the solution is always very simple: Take the things working against you, think about them for a minute, and call them artistic choices.
We’re mostly talking about the things that make you want to tear your hair out. For instance: You show up at the recreation center you rented for the day to find an immovable painting in the middle of your shot. Painted directly on the wall. And gigantic. Wrong in every way. Wasn’t there last week, but it’s there now. Don’t panic. Mention it. Have a character point and remember how much it looks like their uncle. They’re doing valuable character work and you just applied the magic eraser of conceptual problems. Ta-da!
But this goes for everything. You live in a shitty apartment. An unescapable fact. Do you spend your limited resources on a couple hours shooting your international spy character in a fabulous mansion? Or does your hero live in shitty apartment, where you can shoot until your heart’s content?
Know what? Turns out they do. And it’s those kind of bold choices that really inform their character. Says something about them. See? Do they shop at the dollar store? They do now. Just give them a well-grounded reason. How does that inform their struggle/mission? And so on.
And when you do forget a bottle opener, it WILL be the prop one. So now that backup is the star of the show. Just put a piece of tape over the cartoon shark wearing sunglasses. And the actor’s thumb over that . . . and, done. See?
Film making is the art with all other arts inside it. One of those is the art of compromise. It’s raining? Use it. Actor forgot there was another shoot day and shaved their beard? Go with it. Grip truck backed into the hero car? Left hand turns for the rest of the show.
This is all for the best. Why? Because making stuff is hard. And beyond unpredictable. Which means there’s a better than average chance that anything that randomly happens can end up working even better than the thing you arbitrarily decided in your head. Believe it. It will happen to you. So laugh when life gives you lemons.
All you’re trying to do is capture enough genuine moments to build into a story. And that really happens on the actors’s faces, especially around the eyes. Nothing else matters. Throw it all alway.
(P.S., be patient with those people that get off on pointing out continuity errors. They’re jerks, but their parents love them. Actually, no, everybody hates that.)
The locations at hand, the people you know, the equipment you have, the themes and ideas you’ve been thinking about. They just all need to be in the same place, at the same time. Well fed and in good spirits. Spinning on the head of a pin. Simple, right? No problem at all. Life’s a breeze and you are on a lucky adventure.
What ends up in the can is what’s in the can. No changing that. So go get a good night’s sleep.
Because after this it’s time to worry about post.