Executive Decisions: Pre-pro
Posted Jul 1, 2004

Pre-pro

Just because you're going to shoot a project for a Fortune 100 company—one that theoretically should thrive on efficient operation—doesn't guarantee efficiency on a shoot.

If you've ever gotten a call to interview an executive or "expert in the field," you may know what I mean. Typically, the call comes from a third party charged with finding a crew to acquire the footage. Usually, the only information available is the name of the subject and the date, time, and location of the interview.

The really important information about the shoot is often left out. Is the time on the call sheet "show up time" or "showtime?" Is the room big enough to accommodate a full complement of equipment and crew? Is the subject tall or short, male or female?

This is all critical information if the shoot is going to run as smoothly as possible. How many times have you arrived to find out that the subject matter expert is available now, and that he has 10 minutes before the limo arrives, and that the room is too small for four people and a full load of broadcast production equipment? Not to mention his shirt is red or striped and the walls are paisley. Now what do you do?

The best defense is always a good offense. Never take the producer's word for anything. Persuade her to let you call the contact yourself. If you are close enough, it could be worth some location-scouting to see the space before the actual shoot day. I know, you're not getting paid for it, but scouting will give you better results. Your attention to detail will not go unnoticed by your client. You will become their "go to" for a long time to come, with the prospect of bringing in a lot more money than the scouting trip cost.

"Pre-pro" is about being a prepared professional. If you have all of the information you need before the shoot begins, it will be that much easier. You'll know, for example, where the loading dock is, whether or not you can park on site and exactly where the interview location is. This way, you won't waste valuable time on the shoot day and risk keeping the subject waiting. You pay a high price for being rushed and feeling all flustered on the set. In that frame of mind you might forget some critical part of the shot list and either have to go back on your own time—and dime—to fix the problem. Worse, you might ruin the shoot altogether.

We all know that the only relevant set pieces are those actually in the frame. ("If it's not in the shot, it's not in the movie.") You don't have to shoot the interview in the guy's office even though that's where all of his books, diplomas, or products are. Find the biggest room available (this is usually the conference room, but make sure it hasn't been booked for the time you need it) and just bring a representative sampling into the space to add authenticity. If the interview is to be worth its salt, it will be a composite of shots ranging from close up to medium wide, so all of the "props" in the original space won't be seen anyway.

Stay in control. The person you're interviewing may be a Nobel Laureate, but unless he's Martin Scorsese, he probably has no clue how to do your job. This automatically levels the playing field, leaving you no reason to feel intimidated.

Make sure you're ready before you call "Action!" There is nothing worse than being in post and seeing the boom peeking in from the top of the frame. Make them let you tend to the details, within reason, before you pull the trigger. After all, the interview subject wants the clip to look good too. And it will be way too late when you're digitizing!

Make friends with the office personnel and the maintenance guys. They can be your keys to both access and success. They, and not the public affairs liaison, are the folks who will get the ladder, the laptop, or the coffee. The janitor is the one with the keys. The secretary has the phone numbers. They can get you answers.

Remember, you are the aliens. You are the ones with the Magliners loaded to the hilt with cases and stands. You are about to turn their space upside down. 

Involve them in the process! After all, everyone wants to be "on TV." If you are deferential rather than arrogant, they will knight you and give you—literally—the keys to the kingdom.

One more crucial thing: Be tidy! When you are about to dismantle a room, get permission first. Remember where everything goes even if you have to write it down. When you're done, put any items you moved back exactly where they came from. Take all of the gaffer's tape off of the floor and put all of the furniture back in the dents in the carpet where it has been for the past twenty years.

If you leave the place as you found it, the client will remember your professionalism. If you don't, the footage may be Oscar-worthy, but the client will only remember the mess you left behind.

Make your final impression as positive as it can be, so that when the producer calls to follow up she'll hear how great you were. That way you'll get called back time and again, and you'll actually be working rather than just wishing you were.