How To Film Four Scenes In Two Hours:
Behind The Scenes With Andra Day
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. We were in a new city meeting new people for the first time and we were about to do a video in 2 hours that would otherwise be considered unheard of.”
– James Marsh, Camera Operator
Anyone who has ever worked in film or video production knows that the clock is always against our backs whether it’s a hard out at a location, a child actor limited on camera time, or rushing to get the shots in before sundown. We’ve all been in those situations and know how stressful it can be. After the martini, and making your day, there’s one thing we all have in common; the diligence of pre-production and the perseverance of a committed crew.
As a referral, we came into contact with ESPN producer Sharon Matthews to co-produce and shoot a promo video leading up to the network’s special program Rise Up: A SportsCenter Special for Black History Month earlier this year. The centerpiece program that aired on February 28, 2016 included “four segments [featuring] prominent African-Americans in a direct and intimate conversation sharing firsthand accounts of the events in the news cycle that impacted their lives.”
The Grammy nominated singer Andra Day, coming off the success of her 2015 album Cheers to the Fall, not only provided her amazing song “Rise Up” but also her majesty in person and her narration for such a strong piece that touches upon the continual rise and overcoming of racial barriers of African-Americans in the United States.
Time Is Of Essence
Going into pre-production we knew that working with a high profile talent was going to be a logistical challenge. We were allotted two hours to shoot four scenes in late January in Atlanta during a season when weather was inclement; so much so that area public attractions such as museums, zoos, and theaters could be shut down with little prior notice. Our prep discussion revolved around one central question. How can we utilize those two hours to the best of our ability without sacrificing production value?
Location, location, location. That’s the one word that resonated with everyone, and the result was booking access to Atlanta’s The Goat Farm Arts Center that proved to be an ideal spot. Not only did the farm provide a vast amount of character from brick facades to burned remnants of a bygone building, it also afforded us with the convenience we sought out after. We needed the location to allow for us to easily move from set to set without massive company moves.
The Clock Starts Ticking
The production was scheduled for two days, the first for scouting the farm and the second for pre-lighting and filming. The purpose of the scout day was to familiarize ourselves with the location and plan where our scenes would take place. Thanks to our location manager we were able to lock in our scene setups, coordinate driving directions for talent and crew, and allocate parking for production vehicles. Developing a solid relationship with location managers is essential. They can provide guidance as to where to best park the grip truck, be the liaison between landlord and production, and suggest the best places for lunch.
Our filming window was from 4:30pm – 6:30pm. We scheduled a morning call time to prep our cameras, pre-light the scenes, and rehearse as much as possible without talent. The strategy that we employed was to ensure that we were ready for when Andra Day arrived on set and that we best utilized our time with her in the most efficient way possible. Without our anticipation and foresight going into production, those two hours could have easily gone awry making for a chaotic production.
All Hands On Deck
Despite whatever position you’re fulfilling on set, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and be ready to lend a hand where help is needed. Given the time factor, many of us had to embody roles beyond what was required of us. “Our crew was going to wear multiple hats and we would only have a brief window of shooting time,” Deep Singh, production coordinator on the shoot recalls.
From the onset of pre-production and onto production when additional ESPN producers and Andra Day’s management came on board, there was the need to have an open line of communication within the personnel and 100% trust in the process. The expectation that we entrusted people with became the defining matter that ultimately led to us to making our day and succeeding in our shoot. Everyone knew what their role on set was when the camera was rolling, but in between set ups everyone dropped rank and assisted in progressing the production forward.
The people that we met on this production in Atlanta were more than stellar, they were extraordinary. Viet Mac, director, described the set as “upbeat but also incredibly intense moving from scene to scene.” He pointed out how “we were able to make it happen because of the crew.” At its core a production is made up of individuals who are committed to the project and a production can only be successful if those individuals have bought into the process and are trusted with the process.
An Infinite Positive Experience
With the announcement of “that’s a wrap” and taillights on our vehicles we found ourselves on an airplane going back home to California. Reflecting back on the experience, the whole production was extremely rewarding as we got a chance to leave a lasting impression with Andra Day, the Atlanta crew, and Sharon Matthews and her ESPN producing colleagues.