Now is when the hard work you (hopefully) did in pre-production will pay off, and you’ll be grateful for all of those 4 AM work nights and the stressing and binge drinking and hair loss and everything else that went with it.
Here’s some tips from my personal experience to help you during the first day of your web series production:
1.) Get some sleep the night before.
With proper planning and a little luck, you’ll be in a good place the day before your shoot. You might have some last minute errands to attend to, but hopefully everything’s in place with your cast and crew and you’ve stomped out all your fires the week prior.
You can’t prepare for everything, however, and sometimes surprises do pop up. Like your production designer needing to drop out at 9 PM the night before your shoot, sending you on a panicked late-night trip to Target to buy set pieces, props, and décor, causing you to stay up all night dressing the set yourself before a 14-hour work day. Don’t you love surprises?
Thank God Target’s open ‘til eleven.
Barring any disasters, get a few hours of shut-eye, so you can...
2) Be the first person on set in the morning.
As the Producer and/or Director of your project, you need to demonstrate leadership. The cast and crew need to know that you’re competent and can be trusted. You’ll inspire them to do their best work if they see you doing yours. So set that alarm clock (or two) and wake up early.
An extreme example of what not to do: I worked at a job once where most days the owner of the company either didn’t come in to work, or came in very late, and would no-show to her own appointments. Many of the clients she stood up were movie stars and celebrities, which was more than a little embarrassing. I had never witnessed anything like this before, and I found myself wondering: “If the owner of this company doesn’t even care about this place, then why the heck should I?”
Be the Captain of your ship and lead by example.
3) Make sure there’s good food and plenty of it.
Working on set can be fun but it’s also un-glamorous, grueling, hard labor. The one beacon of light in the darkness is...you guessed it...LUNCH! This is why you hear stories of production assistants in Hollywood getting fired for messing up the lunch order. Lunchtime is sacred time. Lunchtime is the half-hour or hour you feel like a human being again when you’ve been holding a heavy boom mic or moving horrendously hot lights for six hours straight.
Make sure everyone gets a nice meal and keep the bottled water, pop (yes, I’m from the Midwest), coffee, and snacks at craft services flowing throughout the day. On my last film, we also had a courtesy breakfast of bagels, pastries, and fruit since our call times tended to be quite early at 6 or 7 AM.
I like to go the extra mile and ask everyone their dietary preferences in advance of the shoot so I can have special meals ordered for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free folks and the like. It’s a great way to show your cast and crew that you care.
4) Get everybody together for a first day pow-wow.
Right at your call time, gather everyone in the cast and crew together and have them introduce themselves and say their position on set. It helps encourage bonding if everyone knows each other’s names right off the bat. Enthusiastically thank everyone for committing to your production and helping make this dream of yours a reality. A little inspiration goes a long way toward making your long workdays happy and productive.
You can also add a quick safety briefing, especially if there will be stunts done on set. A couple of things I personally like to emphasize: no open-toed shoes, and no running. Particularly if you don’t have worker’s comp insurance, there is, in my opinion, nothing so important that someone needs to run to go get it. Remember my article about Production Insurance? Don’t have your life turned upside down because someone’s running for a bottled water, trips, breaks their leg, and sues you. Not worth it.
5) Get your first shot off in the first hour.
Get the ball rolling quickly after your pow-wow. Twelve hours sounds like a long time until you realize how fast time flies on a film set. It’s easy to waste precious minutes gabbing with the gregarious makeup artist or the charming lead actor. Don’t do it; get down to business ASAP.
The reason is this—not because you’re rude or un-personable—but because it’s important to set the precedence on the first day that you will be using your time efficiently. Right at call time, the equipment needs to have been set up and the actors called to set for blocking. Then you light the scene, then you shoot it. Block, light, shoot. If you can get that first shot recorded at or before the end of the first hour, you’re showing everyone that you mean business and they need to arrive early to be ready to work at call time.
As the saying goes, “Fifteen minutes early is on time, on time is late, late is you’re fired.”
Now, of course, sometime’s there are accidents and the freeway closes down, or sometimes that tire really does go flat, or sometimes there’s a true family emergency that must be handled. However, if you’ve shown your trustworthiness throughout the shoot, and this goes for anyone on set from the producers and director down to the production assistants, those rare snafus can be more easily forgiven.
Don’t be like the P.A. we unfortunately had to let go from our last shoot, who came an hour late to set because she “had to get gas.”
For those of you self-producing your writing right now, I hope these tips have helped you and you have productive and happy shoot days!
FYI: I'm moderating the Web Series Panel at the Screenwriters World Conference in Los Angeles on August 17th! I'll be speaking with some amazing guests from the web world, and would love to see you there!