Observations When Producing Under a Tight Deadline

When trying to produce a short film in only 48 hours, or complete a video project with a tight deadline, you learn certain things about how to work more efficiently. When every shot has to count and there's absolutely no time to waste, you have to know (as a director) how to stay on task and how to keep everything focused. Here are a few observations I made while directing a short film for the recent Sidewalk Scramble.

  • When brainstorming, there are no bad ideas. Once my team received our genre and our prop, we went right to work, trying to think of ideas for our short film. In these beginning stages, no one's idea should be censored. I divided up our team into two groups, so each group could flesh out various ideas. That works out a lot better than having one large group trying to talk over one another. After a set period of time, I brought our two groups back together to discuss our various ideas and to vote on our favorites. From there, we started to narrow our focus down to just two or three solid ideas.
  • When shooting, keep your locations to a minimum. If you're up against a tight deadline, the last thing you need to do is waste time driving from one location to another. Understanding our constraints in both production time (48 hours) and the running time of the final film (4 minutes), my Scramble team shot in only one location. It helped us move from scene to scene quickly, with minimal set up time.
  • When you start the day, assign someone to slate every shot and maintain a log. This is extremely valuable when you get into post-production. It will speed up the editing process tremendously. Rather than wasting time sorting through all the raw footage, re-watching each take, you can quickly consult the shot log and know immediately which shot you and your crew liked the best.
  • When working with on-camera talent, shoot dialogue scenes first. In my experience, shooting scenes with dialogue takes the most amount of time. The actors need time to rehearse and block. The timing of the scene needs to be solidified. You as a director need time to cover the scene from various angles. And there will always be multiple takes (actors will stumble over lines, forget lines, or deliver the lines in a manner that isn't quite right). For our Scramble film, I shot the dialogue scenes first. This helped us to get the most challenging part of the shoot out of the way first. Then, we were able to see exactly how much daylight we had left (since our entire film was set in an exterior location) and budget the remainder of our day accordingly.
  • When selecting camera angles, shoot establishing shots first. Once you have covered the scene with your establishing shots, then you can move in for pick-ups. It won't do your film/video project any good if you have a ton of close-ups and pick-ups without any establishing shots to frame the context of the scene.
  • When b-roll is needed, delegate to a 2nd unit. In our Scramble film, I knew that we would need some POV shots of our main character. I also knew that it would be a waste of time to have my actors and crew wait while I ran off with a camera to shoot this footage. So, while I continued to work with the actors on scenes that were most important, I handed a second camera to others on my crew who were able to roam around the woods and get various shots that were eventually incorporated into the film.