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Do Not “Shoot and Ask Questions Later”

A five-minute conversation can save five thousand dollars.

“We’ll fix it in post,” is something people say a lot in the film industry. Translate this phrase into producer language and it comes out as, “We’ll have to find more money later.”

Small decisions on set can have huge cost implications in post-production, like shooting with a sign in the background. Reasons for removing signage vary, but often it involves the legal department not clearing a brand logo or a modern sign that doesn't fit in a period story. Even stories based on a news event five or 10 years ago require careful background attention when on location, especially in busy cities.

In general, having to remove or replace anything in post is made more difficult if actors are moving in front of the object. It's also much easier to replace or remove a sign in post if the camera is not moving. (If desired, adding some camera motion is relatively inexpensive in post.)  

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Green screens have become such a part of shooting production that VFX studios sometimes have to temper a client’s enthusiasm for them. Filming an actor who is standing directly on a green screen will most likely result in a hefty visual effects bill. It often takes three times the work to make it appear as if the person’s feet are grounded, which requires matching angles of the ground and shadowing. One simple solution is to shoot “cowboy” which is framed just above the knees.

It's in everybody’s interest, including the visual effects studio, to help reduce costs — as counterintuitive as that sounds from a business perspective. Good artists have more than enough on their plates and would prefer to be working on exciting effects that enhance the shot — as opposed to hours of rotoscoping someone's blurry hand because it's crossing in front of an unwanted element that needs to be changed.

The key to reducing costs is to speak with a visual effects studio before principal photography. I never get tired of working with filmmakers to brainstorm different approaches to shooting a scene. Even before my team is formally hired on a project, we want to know if it's a right fit for us and the filmmakers also get to learn what the VFX studio can bring to the table. We love our craft.

Originally published: 11/30/2021

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