Production & Shooting

The theory in this module relates to using your ‘bible’, the script, as your guide to lighting, shooting, directing and budgeting.

Your assignments for Module 3 are:

  1. Shoot and gather footage for a short documentary based on the script developed in Module 2 – ‘Scripting’. To include interviews, B-roll, voice and music selection.
  2. Shoot or source, record voiceover, edit and export visuals to accompany your portfolio ‘radio’ voice script developed in Module 2 – ‘Scripting’

For feedback the results will be reviewed at the beginning of the next weekly session.

Everything in the film ironically hangs around words on a page in a script, because language is the primary way people communicate and because you can’t make a good film out of a bad script, no matter how good the acting or cinematography is. Presuming you’ve worked through planning and scripting modules, before shoot day the script should be transformed into a shooting script with added storyboard, images and shooting sketches, to make sure everyone in the crew knows what they are doing when they arrive on set. The shooting script and storyboards are usually a collaboration between the director and the Cinematographer, sometimes with the aid of the art department.


  • Directing, Eisenstein’s observation fundamentals. Every shot is digested in context of the content, light, angle and composition of the shot following and preceding it.
  • To explain the core process and essence of storytelling in film Eisenstein goes back to early East Asian pictorial languages, such as Chinese, which comprised minimal drawings of nouns, places  and objects. What one ‘image’ alone can convey is limited. The combination of any two ‘characters’ or images in a sequence – pictorial representations – will change the meaning of any one image or character. The stringing together of these icons/images or characters, the montage, Eisenstein argues, is the basis on which film storytelling unfolds.
  • Example: a woman stares out a window alone, her expression is blank. This becomes impacted by the next one, being a POV shot of a child waving walking away from home. Suddenly there is story, a tension or sadness introduced into the narrative.

Career Work ‘Hacks’

  • Working with a really good photographer or cinematographer can be the most useful learning experiences for a filmmaker. Portrait photographers particularly have the most unusual work hacks to bring out the best in their subjects.
  • One experienced portrait photographer passed on a working hack to capture natural images of his subject by getting them to close their eyes and count backwards from ten to zero while thinking only of the colour purple. What happens when the actor is ready for action, opens their eyes and performs, is that they are ‘clear’ at least for a while and the camera or viewer catches a glimpses of the essence of the subject/actor/character.
  • Another tip for portraiture is to get the actor to squint ever so slightly sharpen and increase the shadows and definition of their features in a shot or close up.
  •  Often what you are looking for in subjects/actors/performers is not more emotion but less, a reductive exercise: how can you help the actor clear or empty, to allow the story to tell itself through the eyes of the viewer?
  • In the course you can test the truth of this by replicating Eisenstein’s methods with the ‘woman staring out the window at her son leaving home’. 
  • First have the actor playing the mother act as if she was indeed saying goodbye to a loved child. In alternative takes, have the mother completely empty herself of emotion. In the second shot, the mother’s POV, have the actor wave goodbye to the mother and then edit the emotive and non emotive takes together with the child leaving home.


Light is the uncredited secret ‘player’ in film. What a cinematographer, or lighting cameraman should be playing with primarily is light and framing in relation to the actors, story, action and setting.

Interview with award winning cinematographer, John De Borman – Go to 19 Min for his approach to shooting and lighting but listen and watch the whole podcast/interview in spare or homework time.

What is the ‘stage’ or reality of your story?

If you have a sound stage, a built set, huge HMI or studio lights on a on grid with barn doors, and the lighting director and art department are working hard to create an illusion of reality with the scene, clearly avoid getting the lights, barn doors or boom mic in the shots. Otherwise, if your stage is wider, say for performance videos or EPKs and behind the scenes, include all the kit in the shots as it likely will add to the reality. The idea that you can’t shoot directly into exposed lights relates to shooting drama or news in a studio. I like shooting people emerging out of lights or the sun. The rule, if there is one, is whatever your ‘stage’ is, shoot and edit that.What is the reality or the actual new stage you are shooting?

Ensure you have enough camera coverage for the edit, ideally a wide, medium and close-ups of the main characters, as well as a good selection of cut-aways and reverse, point-of-view shots. Try to capture first takes, they are often the most natural. If you’re having trouble capturing a scene naturally try taking breaks, rehearsing the actors by letting them walk through the scene while unaware the cameras are still rolling.

Directing approaches vary from formal, verbatim script-lead shots and setups, to improvised takes. Every successful production choice, whether formal and scripted or improvised, should flow like tributaries naturally from the storyline and script. What is the goal of the scene, shot or film and where is it going? Based on those criteria, what are the best choices we can make for the shot, scene, location, art-design, camera angles and shot set-ups?