I know it’s been a while but we are back now and expect at least a blog post a week this March. We also had a great time training 30 women on film editing and I’ve had to continue with them via a whatsapp group. That was a great experience. Now back to learning some fun stuff.
This blog is designed not just to teach you filmmaking (you can learn filmmaking anywhere online) but to teach you filmmaking particularly in Nigeria and survival tips.
So what determines how long you should shoot a film?
First, no one has a rule on how many days you should shoot a feature. It always boils down to budget. In developed countries where people get paid per hour and have strict labour laws, their timing will be different from ours but the overall shooting hours might be the same. The second factor is the genre. Action movies would definitely take longer periods to film than comedies largely because of the extra detail and number of shots you need to take to make a convincing action movie. A period drama will take a longer period to shoot that a regular drama largely because of costumes and location.
The actual filming time for most movies is roughly between 10-15 days cumulatively but with Nollywood, we squeeze even harder. We don’t have labour laws and we don’t pay people per hour. We also don’t have to rent film studios or build soundstages. We just find a location that’s close to our story and we shoot. I need to remind you that spending a lot of time shooting a film does not necessarily make a good film. People consider “The Arbitration” as one of my best films. It is also the film I shot in the least number of days. In fact, I shot a film for over 25 days with so much detail in 2012 yet I have refused to release it because I didn’t like the way it turned out (I wee not allow you small children to abuse me again). “Room315”, our beautiful 25-mins short film project was shot in just one day.
If you want to make a career out of this our work in Nigeria, you can’t choose your shoot duration. It will be regarded as shakara. People work with really tight budgets and if you refuse, someone is waiting to do it for half the time. This isn’t meant to be a bad thing. You can make it work to your advantage. You need that opportunity. Don’t throw it away because a fancy film school says you need to shoot in 30 days. THE SMALL JOBS ARE THE BIGGEST DOOR OPENERS IN NOLLYWOOD.
So lets say you have 5-7 days to shoot a film of 90 scenes. This means you have an average of 18 or 12 scenes per day. Lets call this value SPD. You have your actors, you’ve seen all the locations and your crew is ready. What next. Of course, its largely planning, but here are smart tips to consider.
THINK ABOUT THE FIRST 15 MINUTES OF YOUR FILM.
This is a critical part of your film especially in this hurry hurry age. If you do not make your point in the first 15 minutes of the film, people will loose interest quickly. What does this mean? Those first 15 minutes require a lot of attention and thought. For an 18SPD, you might reduce to just 8-10 scenes that day. For a 12 SPD, you might reduce to 6-8. You will add up the carryovers to subsequent days but it will be worth it. Ask yourself, How do I want to introduce my characters? How do I want to establish the premise of this movie? This is a good place to be detailed. People will forgive other lapses going on but you will never have a second chance to make a good first impression. Remember Asa’s fire on the mountain music video, it was so good we found ourselves still liking the lazy ones she did after. Musicians know how to do this a lot.
DIVIDE THE FILM INTO IMPORTANT AND NON-IMPORTANT SCENES
In film, we don’t shoot linearly. What this means is that, depending on location and talent availability, we might have to shoot the Resolution before the start of the film. You might have to shoot the aftermath of a rape scene before the rape scene. This gives everyone a lot of headache especially actors but wetin man go do. In “the Arbitration” the scene where the rape accusation happens is told in three different ways. We had just one day to shoot in the EPs house. He was going to kick us away if we delayed. Now the production manager had planned like 10 scenes for that day but I knew how important those three scenes were, so I made him reduce the number of scenes for that day so I could concentrate on what I had to do. I knew if I got those scenes right, I will have my audience’s attention. I moved the remaining scenes to another day and shot till midnight. Think about this when filming. A scene where the protagonist reveals a big secret is more important than a scene where he’s having lunch with friend in a bar. Most times, directors waste so much time on scenes that are not too important to the story and end up rushing the important ones because the shoot days are almost over. Also plan to put your important scenes in like day 3 and 4. Where everyone is now fully in the production and you are beginning to get a feel of what the movie will be.
LEARN EDITING AND IF YOU ARE TOO LAZY, SPEND SOME TIME WATCHING A MOVIE BEING EDITED
Every director who wants to make good nollywood movies should learn editing. It will drastically affect how you approach a scene before you shoot. I always have the scene edited in my head. Most times when I’m on set, I tell actors and crew, just follow me, you may not understand but I have it edited in my head. This is good for setups like violent scenes, flashback tricks and all. Your crew and actors may not understand it but you do and it makes you look smart…which is a good thing. Another big time waster is camera setups. Do you really have to do that mini jib shot on a scene of a poor boy drinking akamu. Is your fancy camera move adding anything to the story? Do you even need a camera move? Ask yourself. How do I want to open this scene…maybe close up on the akamu, then a reveal to the boys face? Don’t shoot all that setup and then start flying a drone again and later setup a track and dolly. You will only use one in the edit so make that decision before you come on set and let it play well in your head. Storyboarding can also help especially for complex scenes.
BE SMART WITH ACTORS AND LOCATIONS
“There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness” – Frank Capra. Don’t dull. I’m going to share a secret with you. Don’t tell anyone o. Do you know that half of the time we saw the arbitration panel scene in “The Arbitration”, Ireti Doyle wasn’t on set. Yea. Amazing right. So while we were filming, She had an emergency she had to attend to and we had booked the hotel conference room already. Without her, we couldn’t continue shooting and there’s nothing an EP hates in this world than “we cant continue shoot”. So rather than pass the bad news to the EP and give him a heart attack, I came up with a brilliant plan. I got one of the female producers to wear Ireti Doyle’s Costume and we filmed all the wide shots with her cloth on the edge of the frame. We filmed all the cutaways, we filmed all the other actors reactions to her lines. The next day when she was available, we just did all her Close-ups and Medium shots. It worked like magic. It also helped that I’m an editor. The EP was happy and bought me Pizza and Ice cream. Another example was a film I shot early this year. I was spending too much time on a scene I believed was important and we were loosing time. The next location wasn’t going to be available but I knew the scene I was working on couldn’t be rushed so what did I do, I called the Art director and convinced him to convert another part of the location we were into the one we were going. It worked, we converted a corner of an office into a small living room. Plugged a TV. Added a centre piece and a fake DSTV decoder and boom we were done. To me it wasn’t a very important scene so I couldn’t be bothered with too much detail. Never say never. Theres always a way out. Convert locations, use body doubles. You will save yourself and the production time and money and that definitely means you will get more jobs.
DON’T DO A ONE-CAMERA SHOOT
First I need to address this. A lot of people actually consider one-camera shoot to be proper filmmaking. Fa fa fa foul!! Actually that came from the fact that film cameras in Hollywood were quite expensive and they were always rentals so it was a choice made out of a limitation. It doesn’t make a better movie. Its like people who still say driving a manual car is better than an automatic…shior. Can you tell when you see people drive on the road. Also, actors are under a lot of stress in a 12-18 scenes per day shoot. You wan kill them?. They will start throwing tantrums and if you are new, they will intimidate you. It’s hard for them to do the same thing beyond three takes when stressed so you want to get everything while they are giving it to you. You can open a scene on one camera…maybe a pan, a dolly or a jib. But once you cut into dialogue, get two cameras ready. If your movie has a scene like a party or a dinner with plenty extras, rent extra cameras for that day and shoot. Multiple camera shoots allow you to focus on what’s important. The scene where the actor remembers her lover and breaks down can take you 2 hrs to shoot and you might want to get plenty details. But the scene with two people gossiping about egusi soup shouldn’t take you more than 30mins.
FINALLY, WORK WITH YOUR PEOPLE AND MAKE SURE THEY ARE SMART.
I always love to choose my DOP, GAFFER and AD even if it means I have to add to their money from mine incase they are a bit too expensive for the production. This is important because they already know how I work and I can leave a lot of decision making for them. I like to spend time with actors. This is because I’ve done most of the technical planning with the crew early on. This is my approach when I come on set. First I go through the scene with my technical crew. While that is happening, my smart AD will be reading lines with the actors. I would have given her specifics. Then I’ll invite the actors on set and share my vision of the scene with them. Then call action. Even if and in some cases you wont be lucky to have your own people on set, get to know the crew you are given. Before the shoot, sit with them and plan. Buy all of them pizza and coke so they see you as approachable. Let them know to trust you as you go on and take all their advice and suggestions. You will have a smooth shoot. They will also be willing to work late hours with you because they see that you care about them.
All Filmmaking is hard…even Porn. But I have survived the crazy climate of filming in Nigeria and I have made some pretty good movies. You can too if you follow some of the stuff written here. Let me hear your thoughts or share your experience.