A Working Blueprint

Once more:

Everything on the script – well, as much as you can…

But if you’re shooting something over which you have less than total control, you can’t script it fully.

So do as much as you can.

For example, the story might about a local pottery maker who’s just won first prize in a national exhibition. The prize is the ‘peg to hang it on’, if you’ll pardon the grammar.

Consider the possible building blocks:

  • Early BBC interval potters’ wheel
  • Shots of best work
  • Interview with potter
  • Digging up mud
  • Potter at wheel
  • Slab work
  • Hand coiling
  • Loading kiln
  • Unloading kiln
  • ‘Dragon’ kiln
  • Lighting and stoking fire
  • Checking temperature
  • Failures
  • Ceramic auction
  • Painting/glazing
  • Famous potting songs?
  • Interviewer at wheel

And so on and so forth. Mr Google will help; he suggested slab work, for example. Just list everything you can think of, then whittle it down later.

But don’t whittle too much. You may end up shooting many more sequences than you use. But that’s better than shooting too little and finding your story is very thin and two-dimensional.

In particular (at least for this kind of story), try to include the ‘learner tries and fails’ bit. if your film is successful the viewer will want to try a bit of mud shaping. He or she can’t do it right now, but the presenter/interviewer trying (and failing) is a very close second.

Slimming or refining

Meet the potter. Visit her studio. Admire the works of art. Does she dig up her own mud? Or buy clay in plastic bags? Find out as much as you can about how she began this curious hobby. Maybe he/she is experimenting with wood firing instead of an electric kiln.

Is there a good story about a wonderful work of art that fell apart as it was taken from the kiln? Etc, etc. Not facts – they’re best put in commentary – stories that charm the viewer and might make him visit the exhibition or take up the hobby or whatever.

After all the planning, draw up your script

It will probably be a shortened list of building blocks. Maybe;

  • Montage of entries, ending with top exhibit
  • Interview at wheel: played with mud as chiild
  • Interview continues, mostly sound only with sequences:
  • Kneading clay
  • Throwing
  • Glazing
  • Interview ends on ‘take out of fire – only then can you see the finished piece’
  • Finished piece from kiln
  • Gets put on shelf to cool properly
  • Interviewer tries throwing pot. Clay almost certainly flies off wheel.
  • Short comment from potter about that was what happened to her the first time she tried.
  • Finished piece to end.

Next: in what order will you shoot all that? In this case, it’s probably governed by the timing of the kiln firing. Other than that it’s mostly at the wheel – makes life easier for lighting, etc.

If there are exterior scenes involved, it’s best to try them early on, with a fall-back to an interior if there’s rain.

So much to think about, and not one shot completed yet.

But all this preparation is, I guarantee worth it. You should now have a script/schedule on paper that ensures you get everything you need… plus a little bit more just in case. It might look like:

  • 10:00 Opening kiln and extracting piece. Both admire. Walk off. LS (long shot), 2S, MCU potter and CU piece.
  • 10.30 Potter stoking kiln. Note – this is fake. Don’t worry. LS, MS, CU watch, CU thermometer.
  • 11:00 Interview at wheel including failure. 2S, MCU potter, hands. MCU is master.
  • 12:30 Lunch
  • 13:30 Kneading clay. Interviewer tries, maybe. MS, CU clay.
  • 14:15 Slab work. Organise this to be set up by potter earlier. MS and CU hands.
  • 14:30 Hand coiling. MS and CU hands.
  • 15:00 Painting item. CUs only.
  • 15:15 CUs failures.
  • 15:45 Masterpieces. Mostly CUs. Does potter have a turntable or lazy Suzan or similar?
  • 16:15 Anything you’ve missed or extras seen during the shoot!
  • 16:30 Wrap.

And, once more, what will be the first sequence in the edited story is the last to be shot. I don’t know why, but it happens almost all the time!

Now throw away all that careful preparation

The edit. It’s where you put together what you shot. Not what you intended to shoot. Of course, if you’re doing a feature film, the result will be very close to the script, but this could be… Well almost totally different.

What if the new masterpiece falls apart as it’s taken from the kiln? If the potter is a cheery phlegmatic chap, he’ll laugh it off; if not, cheat it: put a different piece into the kiln, then unearth it again. It’s still his work.

And, if the un-kilning sequence is good, you might want to start with it. Then the story might go together in wheel, painting, trial order – and end with the montage of masterpieces.

If it does, then ensure you have a good MCU of the potter towards the front of the story. You know what the potter looks like, but the viewer will want to see him or her early on in the story.

And so on and so forth. Cut the story, then get somebody to view it. Then cut it some more. And more if you have to.

Murder your children!

Be cruel; if a shot or a story doesn’t seem to fit, throw it away regardless. Film makers call it murdering your childdren. It’s not quite that drastic, but it hurts.

I once spent a whole morning choreographing a complex shot involving a chap with a clip board checking rows and rows of short wave transmitters, adjusting this and that, then walking off down the aisle with wafts of steam back lit in foreground. (The transmitter valves were cooled with steam!!!).

It was a beautiful shot, but the editor said he couldn’t make it fit into the sequence which worked perfectly without it.

That’s life.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat

Please don’t think that this is the way to shoot this story. It’s one way. We’re all different, and I hope we’d all find a unique way to cover the potting award. 

I probably wouldn’t do it this way if my research interview with the potter unearthed a different strand of interest.

The pictures are fine. Now what?

The story might be finished visually, but most non-fiction pieces need some voice-over information to complement the pictures.

For instance, the potter’s name can be done with a superimposed caption, but how long he’s been making pots, where in the country he lives, how long his pot has been in the kiln, etc, are probably most neatly done with commentary.