The Dos and Don’t of Directing Your Next Project Remotely
From testing your Wi-Fi to prepping your crew, here are a few things to consider on your next—or first-ever—remote shoot.
You’re at home finishing up the last bit of that perfectly toasted everything bagel. Your call time is at 9am, and in a matter of minutes you’ll have to mute the open to Live with Kelly and Ryan and set up. A text comes through alerting you the crew is five minutes away from having the picture up. You log on to direct a two minute package from your laptop.
If you told me a year ago this is how we’d be directing, not only would I have not believed you, I’d have walked away side-eyeing you while texting my bestie that you just lost your whole mind.
Remote directing doesn’t feel as rewarding at first. I directed standups and pretty intimate interviews from my dining room table for four months straight. The good news is you can still achieve fantastic storytelling and great footage this way.
DO Direct Remotely
Offer this up as an option so you can keep working. It’s challenging, but easier than you may think. Many of us are first-timers with no live TV experience. Research the how. You can test it out with a colleague or friend in production on your own time. We won’t abandon this once we’re out of this pandemic. Learn now.
DO Prep Your Crew
If you’re working on a project with a decent budget to hire a crew, make sure the crew is overly informed. Aside from adding the client’s logo on a call sheet, educate the crew about the story and messaging. They are representing you and the company you’re working for. You won’t be there to monitor B-roll or the chit-chat in-between takes. Don’t lose sight of professionalism just because it’s a low-key shoot.
For instance, if you’re shooting with a Coca-Cola corporate rep and your DP, camera assistant, and talent are the only ones on set, you want to make sure Pepsi products don’t end up on set. You may think this is common sense, but believe me, your crew isn’t thinking of it. And, why should they be?
Finally, no, no, and hell no chit-chats about politics. Abort abort! And, if the talent or client starts up, keep it neutral!
DO Prep Your Talent and Client
Explain what should go well and what could possibly be a challenge ahead of shooting. Help build their confidence by letting them know you have backup plans and that you’re testing. Some clients want to be on the feed while you direct. If you have scripts being written by a client, make sure you’ve read through the script and have given feedback to the client a few days ahead of shoot day. Give the client a drop-dead date that gives you enough time to send it to your teleprompter operator ahead of shoot. Lastly, make sure the talent gets a copy ahead of time, too.
DO a Test
Make sure there’s strong Wi-Fi on location when you confirm the venue or location. Ask the location ahead of locking it. Test it on set right away, especially for those who are shooting outside due to COVID-19 restrictions. Ideally, you want your DP to carry the signal if you’re shooting outside with little-to-no proximity to a signal. Carve out time to test, test, test!
DO Have a Plan B, C, and D
For Wi-Fi, send an iPad ahead with data so Zoom or Bluejeans (whatever you use) can run without the hot spot (fingers-crossed). If all hell breaks loose while on set, you can Facetime or WhatsApp to watch the monitor, listen in, and direct. For sound, if you’re outside, carry a $20 bill with you in case you need some landscapers or leaf blower operators to take a break so you can get through the copy. Consider it a tip in your expenses breakout! If you’re inside, have sound blankets in case you’re in a large, echo-y space.
DON’T Direct Without a Rehearsal
It pays to rehearse. Get talent comfortable, warm them up, and iron out the starter kinks—especially if it’s your first time directing remotely. Block out the time in your schedule, have your assistant stand in to frame up the shot or run through the prompter, or talk gibberish just to check levels. You might catch something before you roll.
DON’T Skimp on Quality—Book a Crew
If your client gives you a hard time about it, give them the benefit of hiring a DP, sound op, a second camera for side-angle shots, or even hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Aside from fun company, the coverage obviously ensures top-notch deliverables. Yes, you can send a camera kit but don’t tell them right off the bat. It’s a lot more work on their end, and yours, and it’s not the same quality. I’ve had to reshoot. So, don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no.
If you’re wondering how you go about finding and hiring a film crew, check out these lists and resources.
DON’T Limit Your Vision and Creativity
We’re restricted with COVID guidelines right now but don’t allow this to limit your creativity. Use a green screen if you’re inside and it makes sense to make your shot more dynamic. Use graphics. Shoot with your mobile phone, especially if there’s a social extension. If you don’t have a crew, record the talent directly on Zoom or Skype, with you blocking the shot ahead and recording the meeting.
DON’T Give up
Here’s my mama bear moment . . . remember friends, this is temporary! We’ll be directing in person again. Many folks are shooting on set honoring COVID restrictions right now. In the meantime, if you’re on set, follow COVID rules (Tom Cruise would appreciate it), practice social distancing, and wear masks (have a COVID compliance rep there) no matter the size of the crew.
Have a good attitude, and inject the same fun and professionalism while directing remotely. Let’s all continue to collaborate and daydream about the days when we’re together again. We’ll be more innovative, patient, and willing to never sweat the small stuff again.
Cover image via doomu.
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