We are sometimes asked, “How much drama can one expect to film in a day?”
Forced to answer from the hip I’d say we shoot “between 5 and 20 minutes, an average of 8 minutes per day.” If you have an excellent 2-person cast who know their lines, you’re filming in one good location and in one set-up (e.g. sitting in a meeting room) you might get 20 minutes shot in a day. At the other end of the spectrum might be a multi-character piece with a couple of costume changes and a couple of settings, shot to high production values.
So let’s open that up a bit and look at the factors in play here. Preparation has the biggest impact on the productivity of a shoot, after that the factors break down into: setting, cast and content.
A studio is the most productive setting because it’s quiet and we can control the light. But it usually costs more than a location and more time and money may go to design and build a set. On the other hand, I’ve made some successful workplace dramas in a plain white studio – because fundamentally the learning points really only come from the drama not the setting.
The other logistical element of setting is the amount of set-ups. A set-up is an arrangement of camera, lighting and set that enable filming around a particular locus and set of angles.
So, for example if you were to film someone coming into a building through the lobby, up in the lift, walking along the corridor and into a meeting room, this is immediately 4 set-ups in this single location. For every one of these locations we have to drag our crew with lights and cables and health and safety checks.
Shrink this down a bit, and even when we (for example) film a meeting in a coffee area, and then follow one character as he/she goes to the vending machine, these are two set-ups and will need to be staged and lit separately. Basically, whenever there is a major change of angle it’s a new set-up and it takes time.
When we’re filming on location, little things matter: What’s the access like? Is the space big enough to be able to move around easily with all our equipment and crew in addition to the actors and what’s being filmed? If we’re squashed in it can make life difficult. Is there noise in the corridor that might interfere with dialogue recording?
Casting is a tricky task and I’ll be writing more about it soon. From a productivity standpoint, it’s most important we have actors who can remember lines. And with corporate content they often need a rare skill – to be able to recite what to them (and to me) can sound like gobbledegook and to make it seem sensible. It’s the corporate equivalent of Star Trek’s “re-routing the neutrino flow through the tractor beam”.
There are plenty of other skills an actor needs, the point being that a skilled cast who take their craft seriously will improve productivity, and that’s something worth paying for.
Most other factors come under the heading of content. In other words, what’s in the script? If the script has two actors sitting at a table in one room on a single day we can film it quickly. But whenever these elements grow the job becomes more complex and filming will take longer.
More cast means more angles to film and more time to get cast camera-ready; more locations or set-ups means breaking down all the kit and re-setting; more story days means changes of costume; movement in the scene means more complex lighting, perhaps a change of set-up or moving the cameras on rails?
Finally, don’t forget production values. One might simply describe this as gloss or extra value. You can film any script in a basic, workaday manner, or you can make it look more stylish and appealing. It’s a spectrum from a YouTube selfie to a Hollywood movie.
Content with higher production value, will usually take longer to record – although to some extent one can offset this by having more crew on the job.
On average we can film around 8 minutes of good quality, basic learning drama in a day. But each project varies immensely.
Factors that influence productivity include:
- Thorough preparation
- Quality of cast
- The setting and its logistical challenges
- Script content and its logistical implications