Production Lessons from Our Creative Mornings Documentary (Part 2 of 3)

A week or so ago I wrote about the “how and why” we created the Creative Mornings short film documentary “sweet spots & racing saddles,” adapted from the presentation given by Chick-fil-A’s head of innovation Dwain Cox. Today I wanted to briefly talk about three key lessons I learned during the production (i.e. shooting).

1. Think on Your Feet and Adapt as Needed

Unlike a traditional record-the-events-as-they-happen kind of documentary, this film had strong narrative components to it. I was telling three different stories to use as the creative b-roll for most of Dwain’s presentation. I therefore had specific shots all laid out. One of the most complex set of shots I had was for the tennis scenes. I essentially wanted to take the viewer through an entire match (more or less). I had 2.5 hand-written pages of shots to get.

By the time we actually got to the location, much of the list had to change. If you recall from Part 1 of this article series, we had to find an indoor court at the 11th hour. There was no time to see what the lay of the land was like, what lighting was like, etc. So we had to make adjustments on the fly based on the actual situation. To make matters worse, we were beholden to customers who wanted to use the court. So at one point we had to stop filming for about 30 minutes while we waited. As the clock ticked to closing time, I  started making executive decisions about what to cut from the shot list.

On set with actor/AC Clayton Patterson, Danny Williams (one of our “pro” players), and Phil Stevens (actor/co-producer).

The other changes were based on the fact that my two tennis “pros” weren’t.🙂 I had to adjust my composition and focal length at times to add to the illusion that my two tennis players actually knew what they were doing. (Did I pull it off? You have to be the judge.😉 )

2.  Trust Your Crew

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you have a background where most of your work is done by just your (or maybe at most you and one other assistant), it can be hard to let go of the reins when you have a larger crew.  I’m so used to getting all the lenses myself, and checking the camera myself, etc, that when I have a larger crew like I did here (and by larger, I’m talking 4-5 people, not 30!), it’s hard to 1) remember to let the assistant camera take care of changing the lenses, and 2) to trust he’ll do it right (especially when you’re shooting with a $16,000 Canon C300 on loan from LensProToGo). We had a top-notch AC with us on this shoot, and eventually, it was both easy and refreshing to let him do his job.

Clayton was actually one of two ACs we had that day. (The other was Justin Davis). Clayton was also a star in the film. You may recognize him as the “young creative.”

Find the right people for your team, then trust them to do their job. You’ll be happier and saner in the end.

3. Take Advantage of Opportunities

As an indie filmmaker, you’re always on the look out for opportunities to make the production better. While we were filming the scenes at Suwanee Creek Bicycles, we met a mother and daughter who were there getting gear. The daughter was part of the Frazier Cycling team. They asked what we were doing and once they found out, the mom invited us to come check out the team practice runs the following day.

Admittedly, a part of me didn’t want to go. We had already done a LOT of shooting and the thought of adding yet MORE footage to the film seemed daunting. But, the artist in me couldn’t resist the idea of getting some really cool biking shots. In truth, that was what I originally had in mind when I thought about this segment of the film. But at the time, I didn’t know any racing teams. So it was rather fortuitous we bumped into them.

Needless to say, I took the mother up on the offer and showed up the next day to get some great footage. I’m so glad I did.

The Frazier Cycling Team was extremely cooperative and they had a blast shooting.

In the last installment of the series, I’ll cover much of what I learned in the post production process, including color grading, working with multiple formats, and getting feedback. Stay tuned.

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