Corey, on location.
1) You’re going to run out of time.
You have a good sense for how long something should take. A trail-running shoot through morning mist? Two, three hours, tops, right? But when you add in the complexity of creating still images, capturing video and recording sound, inevitably your estimation of time will be way off. What you think will only take one hour will actually take three. By the time you’ve gotten your microphone levels adjusted, it’ll be noon and the opportunity will have evaporated along with the morning mist.
Solution: Multiply time estimates by three: If you think something will take one hour, plan on it taking three.
2) Audio? More like Audi-NO!
Hands down, audio is the single easiest thing to botch. There are a million ways that you will FIU. I know, because I’ve done them all.
/ You will forget to press the record button on the audio recorder.
/ The distant, seemingly imperceptible noise in the background—the dog barking across the street, the refrigerator’s insipid hum, the airplane passing by overhead—will reveal itself to be a port-production nightmare.
/ The levels will be completely off and will require a lot of post-production work to boost it up.
/ You will mistake watching the levels with actually listening to the audio through a set of high-quality headphones, the difference being that levels only tell you how strong a signal is, not its quality.
Though not rocket science, audio is the easiest thing to screw up.
Solution: Budget yourself enough time and pay attention to audio throughout. Otherwise, I recommend hiring an audio expert to help you out. It’ll be one less thing to worry about, allowing you to put your creative energy where you’re most comfortable: looking through the lens.
3) You’ll give assistants jobs way above their skill level.
This is probably more of a universal problem than it is necessarily specific to just shooting motion. But as photographers and directors focused on operating our cameras, we will throw our poor, hapless assistants to the wolves by putting them in charge of, say, the audio (see above). You’ll toss your assistant a set of headphones and say, “Check the audio. It’s easy.” But they don’t know what they’re listening for. And inevitably they don’t hear the incessant crinkling of the subject’s shirt through the laval mic.
Solution: Assistants … love ‘em, hate ‘em, whatever. Either way, you still have to live with them. And if they screw up something tricky like the audio (which you’d also screw up anyway), remember that they are still making your life much easier in the long run.
4) You’re not Oprah.
When you’re conducting that all-important interview with your subject, what he or she says can make or break your film. However, it’s quite challenging to be a focused, attentive camera operator AND an engaging interviewer who can draw out those important, meaningful, storytelling lines from the interview subject. Most of the time, you’ll be so focused on composition, not botching the focus, and fretting about the audio to even hear the words coming out of your subject’s mouth. Formulating that next smart interview question will be challenging, if not impossible.
Solution: Have a list of questions you want to ask your interview subject in advance. Depending on the nature of the interview, you may want to spend a few moments with your subject going over the questions and conducting a mock interview before filming the real one. Otherwise, consider bringing in a journalist/writer to conduct the interview, leaving you free to focus on operating the camera.
5) You won’t have enough extension cords.
You’re doing great so far! You’ve found a sweet location outside for your interview. The backdrop is gorgeous, and you’ve thought ahead about where the sun will be when. Further, you’ve set up two continuous light sources to ensure your subject will be well lit. You’re so smart! One problem: the closest outlet is 100 feet away, and you only have a single 20-foot extension cord.
Solution: Bring more extension cords. However, because extension cords are so heavy and bulky, I never travel with them. When I arrive on location for a shoot, I always hit up the nearest Home Depot and buy 300 feet of industrial, orange power cords. If we can return them after the shoot is over, great. If not, we make our assistant happy by giving him 300 feet of cords, which, in all likelihood, the little bastard will try to rent to us next time we come to town.