WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE - Scheduling & Locations


Almost halfway through the shoot on Dark Souls, and I’ve come to realise that the biggest headache you can face when making a low/no budget is trying to put together a shooting schedule.

Very early in the planning stages for Dark Souls, I had the extremely naïve thought that we could just work out from week to week what we would be shooting. That idea quickly proved to be unworkable. Because the filming would end up being spread over several months in any case (we’re shooting mainly on weekends), the best way to prevent things from stretching out even further was to try to create a schedule.

I started by getting the principal cast to give me lists of dates when they definitely weren’t available. This included job commitments, commitments to theatre shows, significant celebrations (21st birthdays, etc), concerts for which tickets had already been purchased, and weddings.

Weddings have proven to be one of the banes of working out a schedule for Dark Souls. The shooting dates go through into Spring, and that’s when a lot of people get married. Attendance at weddings, and in one case the wedding of a key cast member, are things that are planned well in advance and have to be considered.

With the unavailable dates collected, I purchased a Year Planner that could be written on with an erasable white board marker. This has proven to be a sanity saver.

After marking the board with the dates of who was unavailable when, I went through the scene breakdowns and assembled a first pass at a workable shooting schedule, making sure we weren’t trying to shoot too many script pages on any given day. At this stage, availability of locations was more of a wish list than anything else.

I emailed this schedule out to the entire cast. This resulted in a new collection of dates for which people weren’t available, either the supporting cast who I hadn’t polled the first time around, or the principal cast discovering more dates they hadn’t remembered at first.

So, a second pass at the schedule ensued. This seemed to lock the cast into place. But now I had to start getting the locations organised for the relevant dates, which didn’t always match up with the cast availability. So, another pass at the schedule.

Locations were another headache altogether. If I ever do this again, I’ll make sure I get someone else to look after this aspect, rather than trying to do everything myself. There were certain aspects to the different locations required by the script, especially the various houses. Finding places that matched these requirements and where the residents were willing to let us shoot there took a bit of asking around.

The couple of businesses required, a bookshop and a café, were another matter. The bookshop ended up being fairly easy. There’s a bookshop in town, Electric Shadows, which specialises in film and other arts. I hoped they’d be sympathetic to our cause, and they proved to be quite easy to deal with. The shoot for there is this coming weekend. The only tricky bit is having to shoot while the store is closed, which means we have to start at 7:00am on Sunday morning, and finish by 10:30am,getting through three short scenes.

The café location proved to be the most problematic. After thinking that we had a place confirmed through a work colleague, I received a phone call the week before the shoot (just as I was heading out of town for one of the aforementioned weddings) telling me that we wouldn’t be able to shoot there due to a policy of the owner of the building where the coffee shop was located.

Once I got back into town, I started trying to work out other possibilities. I ended up calling the owners of a restaurant where I’ve performed in a couple of theatre-restaurant shows. The guys at Teatro Vivaldi’s were happy to have us there, as long as we could switch the shoot from the Sunday to the Saturday. This was do-able, and in return I agreed to film a couple of their cabaret shows at a later date.

One of the house locations, for which I already had a basic agreement to let s shoot there, and for which I had already done the storyboards with that layout in mind, proved problematic as I ended up playing phone tag with the owners when trying to nail down the shooting dates. When this was finally achieved it resulted in another adjustment of the schedule.

The important thing to remember on a feature at this level is that the schedule has to be malleable to a certain degree. Because you’re not paying people (up-front, at least), you have to be willing to make a lot of concessions.

One way of reducing the headaches is to base the schedule around the cast and locations, rather than crew. I have a pool of people I can call on for each of the few crew positions, and put the crew together for each week from this pool. Because I’m doing the camerawork myself, I know the look should at least be consistent.

If you have external scenes, weather can also play a part in schedule disruptions. We’ve already had to reschedule one scene because of rain.

But now, halfway through the shoot, the schedule is looking fairly solid, and I can concentrate on getting things shot.

If you’re embarking on your own feature, good luck with the scheduling. When it comes together it’ll make things run a lot smoother.

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