What a Concept: Planning Makes Perfect
Posted May 30, 2006

FADE IN
INT. CABIN - EVENING
RACHEL is sitting at a corner desk writing a card to her parents. She is warm and cozy in her flannel pajamas. The only light from the room is a small desk lamp that casts a soft glow. 
                  RACHEL (V.O.)
     Dear Mom and Dad—How are you? I really miss
     you guys. Despite the fact that I was not too
     crazy about coming to this camp, I must say that
     it has been a very rewarding experience. Now on
     the eve of our camp graduation, I can't help but
     reflect back on the past two weeks . . .

So begins the story of a bride and groom sent away to a very unorthodox boot camp. Their mission: learn how to be a good husband and wife. What follows is a sequence of events that puts the unsuspecting groom through the ringer. In the end, they both learn valuable lessons about commitment and marriage. 

For the concept video Bridal Boot Camp, I knew I wanted the production values to be higher than my typical love story videos. I wanted to create an experience that my clients and their friends would never forget. This was my opportunity to either really shine or make a complete fool of myself. For that reason, I knew that the key to the project's success would be planning and preparation. In this install­ment of What a Concept, I'll address the pre-production phase of concept video creation. This includes writing and breaking down the script and planning your shots.  

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to create an authentic movie-making experience. That meant starting with a script written in true screenplay format, where scene headings, action descriptions, and dialogue are all specifically formatted. Not only does this make reading and memorization easier, but it can also give you a general idea of the final film length. The rule of thumb is one minute per page. Bridal Boot Camp was an eight-page script that became an eight-minute video. So the rule held true.

The easiest way to write a script in screenplay format is to use a screenplay word processor such as Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. Final Draft is perhaps the most widely used in Hollywood, but I prefer Screenwriter, which was the official program of HBO's Project Greenlight (as the former VP of the company that pro-duces Screenwriter, I may be biased). The downside to these programs is their price (more than $220 retail, although Screenwriter has a "lite" version for $60). If you're writing a lot of scripts or you're an aspiring film-maker just doing event video until you're discovered, then it may be worth the investment. Your alternative is creat­ing styles in a traditional word processor that will provide the desired formatting. To learn more about screenplay formatting, check out www.screenwriting.info.

After your script is written and formatted and you're ready to roll (tape, that is), planning becomes crucial. At all my concept video shoots I have a detailed shot list. For more complicated shots I may even use a storyboard. Knowing your shots beforehand will not only make your production time more efficient, but it can affect the impression you make on your client. You don't want to find yourself on set, scratching your head like you haven't a clue about what to do next. Your clients are investing good money and they want to proceed with the confidence that comes from working with a professional.

Formatting a shot list is easy. I simply create a table in my word processor with sections for shot type, number of takes, script page, and description. The most important thing to keep in mind when conceiving your shots is mak­ing sure you have enough coverage—that is, enough vary­ing shots from all the necessary angles to ensure that once the video is in postproduction, the editor has enough material with which to work.

The three basic types of shots you'll want to get are master shots (wide-angle shots that have all the actors in the scene running through their lines), over-the-shoulder shots (where you shoot over the shoulder and back of one actor, using her body to frame the actor facing the camera), and closeups. Other shots you'll want to consider for full coverage include medium shots and cutaways (i.e., reaction shots, props in the scene, twiddling thumbs, etc.). If you're interested in story-boarding, two popular programs are Frame Forge 3D and StoryBoard Quick (see Kyle Oliver's November 2005 feature, Storyboards: An Unauthorized Biography). But if you just want to get a sense of camera placement, stick figures on blank sheets have worked for me.

The final pre-production task you should perform is breaking down the script. This involves going through each scene and cataloging props, costumes, makeup, special effects, set design, or any other necessary elements. Both Final Draft and Screenwriter allow you to tag these ele­ments within the program and print accompanying reports. But whether you use these computer-generated reports or write them out by hand, this is an important step in the process to ensure that you have everything you need.

All these are key elements that you will encounter when adapting short-film production for wedding and event videography. However, this article is not an exhaustive list of what goes into producing a short film. Other useful resources include www.2-pop.com and Steven D. Katz's Film Directing Shot by Shot.

Bottom line: you can never be too prepared.