IFH 151: How to Shoot 96 Script Pages in 4 Days

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So after I posted the video below I was slammed by emails and messages from the IFH Tribe asking for details on how I shot 96 pages of a visual effect heavy series in just 4 days. The series is called The S.P.A.A.C.E Program and I was hired to direct and post the series by Legendary Pictures Digital and Nerdist. 

I decide to pump out a podcast detailing my techniques and tips on how to shoot large volumes of script pages fast. We average between 90-110 camera setups a day…CRAZY! I couldn’t have done it without my amazing cast and crew. At the end of this journey, we’ll have eight episodes running about 12 minutes each. I still can’t believe we did it.

One thing I forgot to mention in the podcast is to use the fast gear. We shot on the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k which lived mostly on sticks. This is my camera of choice now as it gives you the biggest bang for your buck. We also use a

script pages, film production, nerdist, The S.P.A.A.C.E Program, Legendary Pictures Digital, Nerdist

Photo Credit: Sivana Milani

We also use a Dana Dolly which made moving the camera a breeze.

Take a listen to this crazy journey and I hope you can pick up some useful knowledge that will help you on your filmmaking journey.

Alex Ferrari 1:30
This episode guys is requested by you, the tribe of many of you might have known if you've been following me on Twitter or Facebook in the last few weeks that I have been busy, busy busy on a new project that I was hired to direct for Legendary Pictures digital, and the Nerdist called the space program. It is a web series that will be on YouTube for a little bit, I think they're gonna put the first episode on YouTube. But the rest will be behind their paywall or their subscription platform called alpha. And then later a few months from now, they'll probably release the rest of it on YouTube. See, all of you can see now doing this project created a tremendous amount of challenges. And one of the challenges is was to shoot 96 97 pages of dialogue in four days. And a bunch of you wanted to know how the heck I did that. And we actually did do it. And we only went into overtime, I think one day and it was for like 15 to 20 minutes. And that's it. So we were pretty much on schedule and on budget, which is pretty insane. I've never shot that much in in all of my life. And I've shot a lot and I've shot very fast, we average about 90 to 95 setups a day, moving to cameras all around this amazing set that we were able to shoot at. Now I'm sure you're asking yourself, Alex, How the hell did you do this? You know, how many people did you have? What were the parameters, what were you trying to achieve, and so on. So I wanted to kind of do this podcast to kind of tell you guys how I did it, what I did, and some tips that I would give you if you're going to shoot or attempt to shoot large volumes of pages a day, you know, an average day on a film set could be anywhere between three to five pages. And that's, that's heavy TV mostly runs around 11 to 15 pages, I think sometimes, depending on the television show. But features usually run much smaller three pages, four pages, like five is a really big day for a feature film, again, depending on how many days you have on the schedule. So some of the parameters of this shoot was that we had basically a set that we had access to, we have three locations within that set. So we were all in the same soundstage the entire time. And we did have a lot of dialogue, but we only had basically two people talking the entire time. Everything else is either visual effects, moving things around or so on. So those were kind of the basic parameters of this shoot. If you were going to try to shoot scenes with four or five, six people, it's a bigger ship to kind of maneuver. We were fast because we were a small ship and we were able to if I use the analogy of a race boat, we were able to go very quickly turn on a dime. But the more people you add, the more that ship becomes bigger, bigger, harder to turn harder to move harder to get started, harder to stop and so on. So when shooting a lot of pages you got to keep everything very, very point. very slim, very just exactly what you need to shoot. So we have a great, great, great crew. But it was a fairly small crew. I think the most people we had total including everybody on set was maybe like 16 people. Total includes clients that includes script supervisor, you know, but on set we probably had about four For five people moving things around, and then we had our grip department that was standing by to move lights, and so on. So and our grip department pretty much was two guys. So we had our gaffer and we had our key grip, and that was basically it. So that's key one is to make sure you have a very small crew and a very good crew, you've got to have a very polished group, my guys were top notch, they were moving at the speed of light. And I couldn't have done this kind of pay chat without an amazing dp. And my amazing DPS name is Austin, nor Dell, who, who moves very quickly, I've shot with Austin, before he helped me on this as Meg is my gaffer. And we shot Julie's comedy special together and done other things as well together. So I knew I would be able to move very quickly with Austin. And I tested him on this project, to say the least, but his crew was moving at the speed of light, we would just be able to move, move, move, and we had a big of a lot of secondhand between me and Austin. So that really helps. So finding a familiar crew, I wouldn't attempt to try to do this with a brand new crew of people that you just don't know, I knew a bunch of the keys. So I felt more comfortable going into this situation, that I had allies that I didn't have to work to get, in many ways. So you know, having Austin and working with me, and I had worked with Cameron, who was our second camera before, you know, having those small relationships. And secondhand really helps the process. So I'm going to give you tip number one really big tip number one is prep, prepping. This was huge, you know, we had a good first ad Dave, who was able to just break down 96 pages, schedule 96 pages. And you know, in the way he scheduled, it was excellent, we were able to move very quickly, very efficiently. So we're not moving back and forth to doing you know, doing a setup, moving back, doing another set, moving back to that same old setup, you know, that takes a lot of time. So prepping on a shoot on a shoot like this was imperative. Having a first ad who's scheduling all of this for you is imperative. Having a good director of photography that moves fast imperative, another big tip, and another big. Without this person we wouldn't have been able to do this was Paul, my, my line producer, he was the one that gathered the troops put everything together. And you know, on paper, it sounded crazy that we were going to attempt to do this in four days, one day of prep, one day of rap, and four days in middle in the middle of actual production. So we on paper, it looks insane. But But Paul had not only faith in me in Austin, but faith that we could do it as a team. And we were able to get it done very quickly. So having that line producer who knows what to get, and when to get it is very, very imperative as well. We also had a lot of gags on the show, meaning that we had a lot of art department props, we had a robot that was constantly being puppeteered. throughout this entire process as well. I'm telling you on paper, this looks insane view, the only thing we were missing the kids and animals to make things more difficult. And by the way, there was kids and animals in the original scripts, which I said, Yeah, no, we're not, we're not bringing in kids or animals in this. So the art department was great, Nate and Adam, they anything I needed. It was done. And again, that goes back to prep. So when we were ready for that prep to come in that prop was ready and willing, I never had to wait for props. We never had to go run out Oh my God, I forgot that. Again, all that preparation really, really helped out a lot. The other big huge thing about trying to shoot so many pages in one day or in a period of four days. And again, you could be as prepared and have the best cruise as possible. on set, you could be the you could be the world's best director. But if those actors don't know their lines, or can't memorize their lines fast enough to continue with your pays, or keep up with your pace, you're done. And we had an amazing lead actor. His name is Kyle Hill, very famous youtuber on Nerdist. And I'll put a link in this in the show notes to his show. Because Science It's awesome, fun show. If you're a geek, he got to watch. It's super, super cool. And Kyle was a rock star, he literally memorize 25 pages a day, if not more, depending on the day. And he was just amazing. He was amazing. Without Kyle moving at the speed of light the way we were moving, this wouldn't have been able to get done. So Kyle, you know was such an integral part because at the end of the day, guys, the actor on a show like that the actor could just halt everything, and we would have been screwed. So if he couldn't do it, or any other reason why couldn't move forward, we would have been done. So Kyle was the utmost professional, worked amazingly well. I mean, literally were like, okay, what's the next setup and I'd go, here's five pages. He's like, Alright, give me like 10 minutes, go and memorize this stuff and come back. Like, you got to be kidding me. You know, I mean, barely ever flubbed. You know, he was always on point. So I was very, very lucky to have an amazing lead actor. Another tip is to keep if you're going to try to do something like this on a feature film, or a web series, or anything like that, keep to a very few locations, do not do company moves do not move to location or location, try to do as much in one location as possible. So you know, the reason why I always use Robert Rodriguez, El Mariachi, he had a town to his disposal, he had an old Mexican town at his disposal. Well, that's a location and he was able to move within that location fairly quickly. So we obviously had a soundstage. And we were able to jump back and forth between different areas of the sets. And that was imperative to us being able to move fast. So if you're going to try to do this with, you know, a film or web series or TV series or anything like this, you've got to keep locations down to a very minimum, if you keep it to one, two locations, within the same area within walking distance, that's the big key within walking distance, you can do something like this, you can shoot 10 pages a day, again, those actors got to be on point. And also a little bit of improv is not a bad thing. So if you're trying to get a script that's going to have to be word by word accurate, then this might not be a good plan to do. If you're a little flexible, and allow some improv from your actors. Within as long as the meaning of what they're trying to say in the script works, then this, this, shooting this many pages in a day might work for you. Another thing I didn't do, and another tip I would say is, don't make a shot list. Or don't make storyboards on a page count as as insane as this. I didn't, I didn't have time, nor did I have dirt, nor would made any sense to try to create a shortlist I kind of you know, me and my dp, me and Austin just kind of went on, on the fly. Now mind you, I've shot a lot of stuff before so is Austin. So I felt comfortable doing something like that. But if you try to create unique different angles and takes and things like that, and you have a big shot list that you're trying to catch, you're not going to be able to cook through 510 1520 pages in a day, it's it's probably not going to happen. If you're a little bit more loosey goosey with your angles a little more loosey goosey with your coverage, I think it'll work a lot better when you guys see the show, you'll see we have plenty of coverage, you know, we have all of our standard shots. And again, because of the kind of show it is, it's a you know, it's a science, geeky science web series, that's kind of half Cosmos meets half Mystery Science Theater. So we can get away with a little bit more if you're trying to do a hardcore drama or something like that, you might be a little bit more hampered. So again, shooting in this kind of style depends also on the material and what you're trying to do with that material. You know, if you're trying to do something really artistic and really, you know, do something really cool with angles and shots, shooting this much coverage in a day, it's probably not going to work. But if you're a little bit more loosey goosey with the way you cover the scenes. And again, always thinking about the Edit, making sure you have what you need for the Edit, then the then shooting this much would make sense. And lastly, you know, for something like this to work, you've got to make sure everybody is on point, everybody on your team is working at full capacity, running full, full steam ahead because you have a couple people dropping off or not, they're not feeling it, or there's some drama on the set, or any of that stuff. It's not gonna happen, guys, you've got to have a cohesive team moving forward trying to achieve a goal. I looked at it as you know, we were all going to war together, we each grabbed the gun, and we were all just you know, shooting, you know, taking sniper fire left and right. And we were all just trying to get to the bunker to get to that goal that whatever we were trying to achieve, and we all move forward on it. And that also starts with leadership. So as a director, you got to set the pace, you've got to set the example to the rest of the crew, when trying to achieve something as kind of crazy as shooting 2025 pages a day. You really got to show that leadership to your crew. So they will follow you into that battle. If you're wishy washy. If you're not like I don't know, what do you think, you know, there's no time for that now mind you, it took me you know, I didn't know all the scripts you know, normally as a director, you read all the scripts and you know the scripts better than the actors but on a on a show like this. This was just insane. So there was no possible way for me to learn all of that dialogue and understand exactly where we were in the schedule. So between every setup, we just tell them I tell Dave my first idea I'm like, what are we shooting next? Okay, give me a few minutes. Let me go through it. And then me and Kyle would just sit there and break down The script breakdown that scene I'm like, okay, you're going to cover this, we're going to block it out this way, once it was blocked out, we would go and set up our angles I talked to awesome. Like, I need this coverage here for the wide to get our flat, and then I need coverage on on the robot AI and we needed coverage on Kyle. And then these are the inserts that the scene is owed. So we need to pump jump in on this, jump in on that. And that was it. And we just work our way out through each scene like that, like a machine. It was very, very machine like and organized. And it worked. You know, and again, I've never done anything like this before, but it worked. We got all our footage, I just finished cutting the first edit of the the first episode, which I don't want to tell you too much about the episode, I don't want to give away any the secrets of what we're doing in the series. I've been, I've been sworn to secrecy. But it's really, really cool. And, you know, you know, in many ways, surprisingly enough, it all works. It all cuts together like butter, I didn't get into any trouble, I have enough coverage to get me out of trouble if I needed to. So it all worked out really well. So I hope that gives you guys a little bit of an idea of how I was able to do this. I know a couple you guys asked me for the budget, I can't reveal the budget. Know that it was probably a little bit more than Meg had more people on the set. But it wasn't, it was under a million dollars, let's just put it that way. But this also can be achieved with a good crew on a really small budget, it can happen. It all depends on what you're trying to do. If you didn't have a set, you know, big set, you know, we're doing sci fi, we're doing visual effects, we're doing a whole bunch of stuff. If you're trying to do something more drama or action, or comedy, this kind of technique really works well and you're able to shoot a tremendous amount of stuff in a few days. Ideally, I would have probably wanted to shoot this in five or six days, which still is a ridiculous 16 page or 1516 page days. But for whatever reason that seems much more reasonable for everybody involved. And we would have been able to take our time a little bit more. But if you guys are going to try to go and shoot a feature film in this kind of time period, I'd say if you're going to try to shoot a standard, you know, 80 minute script, take six to eight days to do it if you're trying to do this kind of race to the finish line. If you could do it in a week, which is basically a six day week be a grueling week, but it's doable again depending on your project. So again, I hope this helped you guys out a little bit. I hope you picked up a few tips on how to shoot a lot of pages in a day. And one other thing guys and this is a little bonus I'm going to toss in here at the end. My post production workflow on this was amazing what I had my di t towel, who is amazing. When I talked to towel, and Brandon my audio guy I was like guys, we're gonna shoot this on the Blackmagic Ursa 4.6k which is one of my new toys. And I'll talk more about that later. But we shot it on that we shot it up at 4k, four two to HQ pro res. So we could have shot Ron all that stuff, but I didn't need that was going to web I knew what I was going to be able to get out of it for two to HQ is perfectly fine at 4k we'd be able to pop in and pop out. No problem get a lot of different coverage. Oh, that's another big tip. If you shoot in 4k at a low, a decent resolution like a pro res four to two HQ, you'll be able to jump in jump out giving yourself much more coverage than you normally would get if you shot it at up to K camera or 1080 P or anything like that. So shooting those that 4k and I've said many times before, don't shoot 4k if you're shooting 4k at a reasonable data rate, which is what I've said, then definitely do it because you'll be able to work it and be able to get many more setups or coverage if you will, in post. So back to the workflow. So when I talked to Brandon tell him like guys, I'm going to be shooting pro res. I asked how old towels you know Da Vinci by any chance he goes, Yeah, I know de Vinci is like, could you set all this up for me individually, he's like, absolutely. So literally on set, as the cards were being dumped to him, he would data wrangle everything and then basically be my assistant editor and start organizing everything by scene by episode in DaVinci. And also by the way, we use the lock box, a lock box, a lock box with what it does is it connects camera a camera B and sound all to the same time code. That's right, all to the same time code and in devinci when you put all of it together in a folder, you just go sync and it automatically syncs everything. It was insane to watch him do it was so wonderful. So he created this entire project for me on set, didn't do any editing, little editing with the bloopers and stuff but nothing major didn't do any of the major editing or didn't create start creating scenes or anything like that. And he export the project. I brought it into my suite on Monday, imported it and guess what? It all was there. I had all my dailies sunk. There's no offline editing. Everything's going be edited online right there, individually. I'm jumping, I'm jumping back and forth between color. It is glorious, the workflow is wonderful. I have all four tracks of audio, my labs, my boom, everything all set up there. So I can choose my audio tracks, all sunk for me already, this could have been a week of work. And it was able to be done by doing a smart workflow. So something else to think about when trying to shoot so many pages in a day. And I will have a video that I shot with towel, I might put it up on YouTube. And the next few weeks, I want to kind of put together a nice little post around it, about how we actually did the workflow because I was so blown away by it. And because we're using DaVinci, not premiere or some other program, it all just stayed in this wonderful ecosystem. And it was just glorious. So So to answer everyone's question that is how I shot 96 plus pages in four days. Now if you want the Show Notes for this episode, go to indie film hustle.com forward slash 151. And guys, if you'd like the episode, if you'd like to show if you'd like the podcast, if you liked the website, tell a friend, tell a couple friends, please I want to get as much of this information out to the world as possible. And at the end of the day, I'm I want to help as much as many filmmakers as possible and hopefully inspire other filmmakers and indie filmmakers to go out and make their movies man. And it's all done. So as as I continue on my path as a director, and as a filmmaker. I'm going to report back to you guys through the podcast through indie film, hustle. However I can and share my experiences with you guys. So hopefully you can learn from my journey and hopefully it helps you on your artistic and filmmaking journey. So as always, keep that hustle going keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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