In a recent blog post, we talked about scripts, storyboards, shot lists and the fundamentals of planning a short film production. These tools can empower you on your filmmaking journey, but there is also an argument to be made that they can stifle your creativity and limit the possibilities on set. That’s why, this week, we’re going to look at what happens when you operate without these documents and shoot with little to no planning at all.
Recently, we produced a short film entitled The Subtle Art of Caring, in which the loving relationship between a brother and sister is challenged by their differing ambitions and the responsibilities of adulthood. The production was carried out with a very limited crew - just myself and Johnny, my director of photography - and two cast members, with no paperwork to hand beyond the script. Leading up to the shoot, the actors rehearsed the script and did a quick run through with each other, but the majority of the development of the script was done on set, in the moment. Myself and Johnny also did a quick test shoot ahead of time, making decisions around cinematography, lenses and lighting before the actual shoot itself.
For this short film, spontaneity was crucial, and an overabundance of rehearsal and script development ahead of time could have been more of a detriment. We wanted to be surprised by what our actors had to offer us, and we wanted to remove any external pressures for the cast as to what was expected of them. That’s why we introduced some physical actions to shift the focus from the dialogue and to something else. Throughout the scene, the two actors were playing a racing video game, competing with each other, as they delivered their dialogue. This not only created an atmosphere where our cast felt that they could be natural, but also created opportunities for some interesting improvisation.
The entire shot film was shot in one take, which removed the need for shot lists, and the scheduling was straightforward too; we spent the first half of the day rehearsing and the second half shooting until we ran a take we were all happy with. The entire production went ahead with very little planning; instead, creativity was in the driver’s seat.
A production of this sort introduced new problems. Being so performance-led, it was important to be able to make adjustments to the performances between every take. For example, I would give new objectives to each character before entering a new take. The sister I would encourage to make her brother smile, whereas the brother I would tell to just focus on winning the game, which created a clear disparity between the two on-screen.
From shot lists to storyboards, paperwork of any kind can introduce all sorts of pressures to the filmmaker and perhaps shift the focus from the reason they wanted to tell their story in the first place. Putting all of this to one side and getting back to basics can help the filmmaker to ensure that they’re putting the story first. The results may surprise you.