The Continuous Day
We’re moving to shorter shooting days. The “continuous day,” or what some call “French hours,” is quite production-friendly. Shooting a continuous day means working ten hours from call to camera wrap, period. There’s no going over, and no companywide break for lunch. The set keeps going. The lunch window is scheduled from five to six- and-a-half hours after call, and somewhere in that time, everyone finds half an hour to eat. Actors, hair and makeup can eat during a lighting setup or changeover. Grips and electrics can break when a scene is being shot. I can hear the naysayers wondering, “But what if someone misses a meal?” Sorry, we’re all adults. We were all capable of getting hired, so we should be capable of remembering to eat. And besides, COVID-19 guidelines require us all to eat at a distance from one another. It would make no sense for everyone to eat at once.
The continuous day also allows for rest: rest for the crew, and rest for the cast, which runs contrary to the let’s-keep-going-until-we-get-it culture of filmmaking past. Once continuous days become the norm, crews will work fewer hours, actors won’t have turn-around issues, and no one will have to drive home after a 16-hour day.
These changes are part of the cultural shift that we’re seeing across the industry. Tony Adler, a producer of Death In Texas, told me: “To get the biggest bang for the buck in the current climate, it is important for all filmmakers to put the well-being of the cast and crew on the same priority plateau as the script they are trying to produce… the cast and crew should hopefully band together with the producers and director and their teams to achieve the best product for the money and the schedule that they can, in order to keep the industry alive and thriving.” The reality of the continuous day is that the director will lose about an hour per day of shooting time, even given the savings of not breaking the whole company. And they will also save time with technology.
If we’re only allowed 10 hours, let’s make them all count.
Commitment to Safety
In addition to testing, daily temperature checks, and wearing PPE, we need clean sets. Here’s how we maintained ours.
First, we let the director and cast have the set to themselves. Then we brought in a camera on a wide lens, the director of photography and the first assistant camera to drop marks. Everyone else watched via QTake. After a scene was marked, the art department or lighting came in next. Then they switched. (Of course everyone wore masks.) When the set was ready, the cast returned, still with masks or face shields. They rehearse on camera. Everyone else remained off set, watching on QTake. When everyone was happy, the cast removed their PPE, and the set was closed.
Usually, on Don’t Fear, the set included just camera ops, dolly grip (if there was a move), boom op and the assistant director. The focus pullers were on wireless and could be physically distant. I often carried a second walkie for when director Deon Taylor needed to speak with the cast.
When we got the shot, we went to the next setup and started over.
The big takeaway from this, for me, was recalibrating how much you can achieve on any given shoot day. Extra prep can help, but shooting is just… slower.
When things go wrong, which will happen, a film will need to address a whole new set of issues, starting with quarantine and contract tracing.
As moviemakers we’ve always had to accept, on any given day, on any given set: This is what we’ve got. Maybe it’s someone else’s fault, or a piece of gear won’t work. It doesn’t matter. Time is ticking. How do we make it work? What can we shoot?
One of the greatest things about filmmaking is that a tiny, disparate band of brothers and sisters comes together in a culture of creativity, support and true esprit de corps. More often than not, we succeed. On time.