How to Set Up a Smooth, Efficient Video Ad Filming Schedule
by Kent Lloyd • December 20, 2017
Making a video ad shoot go smooth is all about one thing: maximizing your time on set.
But, maximizing your time on set takes preparation, work and good follow through. Just ask Peter Jackson.
Your preparation will pay off big time, because if you do it right, you can create a reputation for yourself (like I have) that you always end your shoots early. If you are reading this article, you probably know that most film shoots run late.
Let’s fix that.
To begin with, here’s a link to a filming schedule I put together for an ad we filmed for Disruptive last summer. Feel free to copy and paste the format for your own shoots.
To give you a feel for what sort of an ad we produced with this schedule, here’s the finished product:
Using this filming schedule, we were able to film 14 videos in one day (two long-form video ads and twelve 6-second bumper ads)…and still end early. Not too shabby, eh?
To help you run a similarly tight video ad shoot, I’m going to walk you through everything I think of as I put my filming schedules together. By the end, you should have a very good feel for how to put together a great filming schedule.
Creating a Video Shoot Filming Schedule
First things first. To start getting organized, you need a script. Once you have your script, you’ll need to break it down and create a shot list. Segment the script into scenes and then break those scenes into individual shots. List them in a way that you can tell which scene is which just by the naming convention.
Now that you have a shot list, you can start making your film schedule. There are a ton of things you need to keep in mind when making a schedule, but I’m going to try and keep this as simple as possible:
1. Account for Fatigue
Your crew will have the most energy in the beginning to the middle of the film day. After lunch you are fighting the ticking clock of wear and tear on energy and mental stability.
If you have shots that are going to take more patience out of the crew make sure to plan them in the first half of the day. Your crew will fight against you the later the day goes. The worst thing they can say to you is “we’ll fix it in post.”
2. Get it Right on Set
“We’ll fix it in post” is the worst sentence you can have said to you on set. It generally ends up in you wishing you had just done one more take slightly differently. It also means four times as much time in post to fix the mistake than it did to film it.
Make sure that you have tested out any type of shot that you think you are going to need special effects on. If you are doing a screen replacement, make sure that you do a test shot and edit it before the shoot. If you have explosions, test them too. You usually find out that there is something practical that you can do to make your life in post way easier. This will also give you a better idea of how much time it will take to film that shot.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Film Out of Order
Actors are odd ducks. They would rather work really hard for one extended burst rather than being called back and forth onto and off of set. It keeps their acting momentum and it keeps up their spirits. A happy crew and actor means a happy director.
To account for this, make sure that you try and group each actor’s scenes together as much as possible. This may mean that you film your script out of order, but that’s okay! Most films are filmed out of order because it saves the production team money. If you film all of one actors scenes on one day then you only have to pay them one day rate.
4. Think Through Your Locations
Scheduling filming around locations will save you time and money. Our Tinder Campaign could have been filmed in multiple different locations, but I found one house that had every room and style that we’d need to film it all on one piece of property.
Being thoughtful about where and when scenes need to be filmed is important because travel between locations takes time. Be generous with that travel time too, because someone always gets lost, has car trouble, or forgot a piece of equipment back at the last location.
Furthermore, it will save you more time if you are filming in a house to go from one room to the next closest room if the script allows for it. The further you have to walk with all your gear from one shot to the next the longer your shoot takes. Treat your schedule in a single locale like a tour of the facility. Try and make one seamless path that back tracks on itself as little as possible.
5. Time of Day Matters
Sunlight only lasts so long and inconsistent lighting in your shots makes for consistent headaches in editing (and can often result in a low quality finished product). Make sure your lighting between scenes is consistent to the script that you have.
So, while you’re planning your shoot, take the time to Google when sunrise and sunset is before you set your schedule down on paper.
If changing sunlight is going to be an issue for your shoot, you can control your lighting by using blackout curtains and lighting equipment. If you hire a good gaffer, he’ll handle the whole thing for you. Just make sure that he has all of the equipment that he requests.
6. Make Time for Makeup
Makeup can take 10 minutes or 7 hours. I’ve been that actor in makeup for 7 hours before. It’s not fun. Even when you aren’t trying to turn an actor into the Grinch, make sure that your call times give your actors at least 30-60 minutes of leeway for before they are needed on set. There’s nothing worse than having to delay your shoot because makeup is taking too long to apply.
In general, I treat makeup like a location. I like to take a tour with my makeup needs from scene to scene from the least complicated to the most complicated.
7. Put the Riskiest Shots at the End
Stunts (or even hazardous shots) complicate any shoot. With that in mind, it’s important to get the right stunt coordinator first so that you can be aware of the safety requirements for each stunt. Then, if you have more than one stunt plan them in order accordingly (just like locations and make up) from the least intensive to the most. Stunts are dangerous, so it’s important that you get the main content for your ad first.
If your actor gets injured to the point that he can’t act anymore then, there goes your entire day if you filmed the riskiest stunts first. Personally I’d rather schedule a couple hours of pick up shots than an entire day to reshoot the whole commercial.
8. Put Together Your Crew
The size of your crew usually equates to how fast you can go. Big crews move slower between shots. Small crews move faster but may not have enough manpower to do everything that they need to. Make sure that the size of your crew is equal to the task at hand.
If you ever anticipate having to do two jobs on set at the exact same time, then you need more people. Make sure that you are hiring professionals, though. The more someone knows their craft, the faster and better quality they are at their jobs.
Finally, if you are having a speed problem because of communication, invest in a walkie talkie radio system that each vital crew member is patched into.
9. Keep an Eye on the Weather
Weather is a beast. You can make tentative plans to film out a month in advance, but unless you know that everything will be indoors you are still gambling with your schedule. You can start looking up the weather for a location on Google up to two weeks in advance.
If the weather is vital to your shoot, then plan out multiple possible shoot dates and go with the one that best fits the weather. Plan them anywhere from a couple of days to a week apart. Just make sure the last day that you could possibly shoot will still give you enough time in post to deliver the video ad on time. Plan on shooting on the first date possible and then move back in order according to how soon the weather lets up.
10. Assemble Your Props Early
Props can be a hassle. When it comes to props, the devil is in the details. The more details the better, but the more details, the more time it takes to create. Make sure that you have sufficient pre-production time to nail it the way you want.
For our Tinder campaign I had 18 box heads to create. Had I planned more time in I could have made the kids heads more like their dad’s where it looked seamless and less like a painted cardboard box.
Putting it All Together
These guidelines will serve you well, but just like the pirate’s code, they are still guidelines. You will find that in any given shoot some of these criteria will start to conflict with each other. That happens, but there’s usually an easy fix, even though it’s stressful to figure out.
When things start conflicting, start by thinking about your time frame. Next, fill in the schedule according to factors that you can’t control like the weather, natural sunlight, actors schedules, props that are only available for a short time, etc. Then, work in reverse to factors that you can control.
When you are adding in each specific shot, write down how long you think that it will take to film it. Factor in how fast your crew can move, how many takes that you want/can try and how long it will take to reset. It’s critical to be honest with yourself and remember it’s always better to give yourself too much time than too little, because then you’re playing catch up all day.
After you are done listing how much time it will take to film each shot, list what time that you want to start filming each shot and remember to add a minimum of 5-10 minutes between shots. This is your setup time…and your buffer time.
Knowing what time each shot is scheduled to start helps you know how hard you need to keep pushing at any given moment. I’ve had shoots where I’ve gotten behind by 5 hours because of makeup and still ended on time. Other times, I’ve been behind by an hour and a half and ended 1.75 hours early.
I can end early or on time because I set the right expectations with my cast and crew throughout the schedule. Between shots I will tell my crew how far ahead or behind we are in the schedule and it motivates them. I see the urgency in their bodies. They want more than anything to end on time.
The best feeling that I ever had was handing my crew their checks for our Tinder campaign after clean up and handing out that last check almost a half an hour earlier than I had scheduled. Considering that we shot 4 extra commercials that day, I’d say that we did really well.
Scheduling a video ad shoot sounds easy in theory, but then when you start doing it yourself it gets a little overwhelming. Trust me, it’s what I do for a living. When you are finished it feels like looking at completed puzzle. It’s majorly satisfying. It’s also your lifeline to making sure that you have a smooth sailing shoot.
If you are finding it hard to organize your shoot feel free to call us at Disruptive Advertising and we can help you out with your video needs.