Who Shot Lenny? We Did. Reflecting on the Production of ‘Lenny – The Drop’

Lenny – Reflection On

‘The Drop’

It was just before Easter Weekend, almost a month ago (at the time of writing) when we formed our production groups and received our scenes, briefings and tasks. Our production group were assigned with ‘The Drop’, a scene with some great visual potential (I remember being immediately drawn towards the shot of SHARON peering down from the balcony and the potential for nice, birds-eye views and OTS shots). This was our first project working as a production team (other than a few practice exercises in class). I remember being particularly intimidated by ‘Calling the Shots’ (it all seemed very official and beyond my level, where I’m still figuring out how to set the correct aperture). In addition, the idea of responsibility from the rest of the group was a little daunting (ie. dependency on me to direct a scene well, capture good audio, or frame a nice shot etc. depending on the assigned role.) I also remember being constantly aware of my own educational values, which are to constantly remind myself that I am in education and academia to

In addition, the idea of responsibility from the rest of the group was a little daunting (ie. dependency on me to direct a scene well, capture good audio, or frame a nice shot, depending on the assigned role.) I also remember being constantly aware of my own educational values, which are to always remind myself that I am in education and academia to learn, not to showcase my current skills. This influenced the assigning of roles and my navigation of the project. My comfort, at the time, lay mainly in ‘direction’ and in basic audio and/or camera operation (this may seem contradictory to the former statement, yet, the key term: basic). Each of these aspects will be discussed, through the lens of the three production stages, throughout this post.

Pre-Production

Our Pre-Production was off to a rocky start. Or rather, it was off to a smooth start, then once we reached Easter Break, the road had a few potholes. At the time of being assigned tasks for the mid-semester break, I remember that I felt optimistic, it seemed as though we had a great deal of time. Yet this, clearly, had lulled us into a false sense of security. We returned from the break having done (almost) none of the tasks assigned to us (except for, I believe, some work from Norah, who then, fittingly, became our Producer).

So we started on a back foot. We quickly recognised our position, however, and as a group got ourselves in gear. This was a valuable learning curve, yet is also a lesson we could’ve easily predicted, and had we have predicted it, we surely could have been more organised and had more time to be sure about our production. Regardless, we now know that the future can be deceiving.
Time is not as it seems.
Spare time for filmmakers doesn’t exist.
Deadlines are never distant.

So, after realising our ‘flakiness’ as a group, we assigned roles and formed a Facebook group for further communication and assignment of tasks. In hindsight, the Facebook group worked well, but something like Slack probably would’ve been more efficient. Using a separate platform from your general (and semi-ignorable/lower priority) social media helps to reinforce the importance of the project by increasing the level of professionalism and separating both communications and notifications from the mess of social networking services. This might avoid ‘avoidance’ and encourage promptness. We had used the group to discuss some tasks which were completed:

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And others which were not:
Shot schedule
Backup location (properly considered)

Those ‘which were not’ are important to note. Entering the day without a Shot Schedule meant that we would, for example, come to the end of shooting a scene and the director believe we are ready to move on, only to be reminded that maybe we should get ‘this’ while we’re here, or ‘that’ before we go, and so on. For example, once we finished shooting scene 1 on the park bench, we packed up before remember that we should shoot part of Scene 1 (SHARON on the balcony) from the point-of-view of LENNY in Scene 2. The Shot List has these separated, as it should, but a Shot Schedule would have avoided this bump in the road. We also never shot a specific ‘ambience’ take, which again, could be traced back to the lack of schedule. We kept putting this off until the very end, and, when we decided to do the take, a leaf-blower started up and showed no sign of slowing any time soon. As a result, these recordings never happened.

In regards to a backup location, we had decided on a backup but hadn’t vetted the idea as deeply as our intended location, treating it as an unimportant ‘Plan B’. We arrived under heavy rain. Paul Ritchard, our ‘Executive Producer’, disapproved of our backup location as it was very heavy traffic. This highlights two areas we could improve on.

One is to pay closer attention to ‘backups’ and consider them with equal attention, equivalent to the ‘Plan A’ location. This way, utilising the backup doesn’t become a ‘spanner in the works’, just another cog.

The other is a lesson in prompt communication, The Executive Producer had requested information regarding our intended location days before the shoot. Our group posted about and discussed this email in the Facebook group, figured out our response, but never followed through with it until a last minute panic on the morning of the shoot. If we had have sent this email earlier, we could have received disapproval earlier and developed a new plan prior to the shoot.

All of this led to a semi-organised day on set. We knew our roles, we knew the shots we wanted, we had a catered-for crew who knew the script and the acting direction well. We could have planned our schedule more efficiently, and certainly should have communicated a little better, re: backup location.

Production

Once over these few speedhumps, the Production ran fairly smoothly. Each role was involved in every shot. Even the ‘Safety Officer’ was kept busy, protecting crew and equipment from the occasional, sporadic downpour. We set ourselves impromptu schedules at each location, ie. “We’ll aim to have this scene completed by 10:50, then break for 5 minutes and meet at the new location, ready to commence at 11:00.” This worked well, though, as mentioned earlier, we had some misreadings about actually being finished at the first location.

Some of the major challenges were the outdoors audio (nearby construction, heavy traffic etc.), the changing of lighting conditions on a semi-overcast day (some shots almost look like a completely different season) and some backlight issues in an alleyway (great for experiments with masking in ‘Post’, though).

Finally, we all need to review our ‘Crew Roles’ and the film set hierarchy. It was interesting observing how different Directors and ADs work together, and this will be a change in dynamic true of any different crew, but in some instances it seemed that the Director was doing the job and a 1st AD, and the 1st AD that of the 2nd AD, while in some way, the Camera Operator became a de facto Director. We even had some Camera Operators calling “action!” As a group, we had a great dynamic, we worked off of one another and rolled with the direction of the group, however any further practice in ‘Calling the Shots’ would not be detrimental at all!

Log sheet
Logsheet

Post-Production


‘Post’ has been a dynamic experience, too. ‘The boring stuff’, ie.naming the shots, merging clips and setting up the project made some of our mistakes in Production become apparent. For example, there were discrepancies with our Log Sheet. At some point (perhaps when we switched roles) the logging became out-of-sync. Meaning that some on the sheet were correct, others weren’t, so manual monitoring of each shot became necessary.

Then, once that was done, Premiere struggled to merge some of the footage and audio. Perhaps this points to the need for a stronger focus on the use of slate, or perhaps we just need to be prepared to manually touch-up the syncing.

Most of the shots were great to work with and beautifully shot, some were overexposed and not White Balanced correctly. It was good to experiment with ‘Lumetri Color’ effects in Premiere to try and match, for example, the overexposed footage with the correctly exposed footage, and to try and White Balance in Post.

The Post-Production experience also exposed the advantages of ‘shooting to edit’, the regrets of not shooting more (ie. foley, walking closeups), and the power an editor holds in creating the final Production.

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Conclusion

This exercise developed my understanding of the entire production process and the importance of every step and stage. Certainly, the importance of concise communication was reiterated, as well as the importance of both knowing and taking ownership of roles. The first role to be assigned in any project should, perhaps, be a Producer. This immediately establishes a hierarchy and allows for the delegation of further roles and tasks, contributing to the efficiency of the entire project. The Producer must hold people accountable, and individuals should hold themselves accountable, too. This would avoid tasks ‘slipping through the cracks’, such as our email to the Executive Producer.

In Production, roles and the ‘turning of the machine’ are crucial to a productive shoot. ‘Calling the Shots’ seems arbitrary, but getting it right equates to efficiency and further eradicates te risk of problems that may arise, both on set and in ‘Post’

Organisation is key to successful Post-Production. Sure, it takes time, but without naming the shots, setting up the project, sequences and bins, the entire editing process can unravel at the seams. I’m keen to develop my skills in ‘Post’, particularly with Colour Grading and the timing of edits to create a specific effect.

There are some very beautiful shots that came out of this Lenny shoot. One thing that became apparent to me in ‘Post’ was Autumn. The time of year was extremely apparent. The season could not hide. How could we, in each stage of production, accentuate the beauty of autumn leaves and incorporate them into our shoot? How can we work with the colours of autumn when constructing our shots, and how do we either amplify or be activated by them in our edits? Then, how does this translate to any visual stimulus? These questions pave my path to discovery!

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

*Featured Image Credit:
Lenny Group 2 – ‘The Drop’, edit by me. 2017.

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