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Movies and Film

The Big Production

Okay, this is the part that budding thespians dream about: the moment when the movie is actually filmed. As it turns out, this part can be incredibly boring for actors, who are sometimes surprised to see how exciting their movie can be, when their only memory was of sitting around and waiting. A lot.

Actually, this is the director's big scene. With any luck, her studio and producer have bowed out of the process at this point and remain simply presences who provide material and solve administrative problems.

This is also the shining moment of the location crew, all those people you will be reading about in Film Personnel: Gaffers, Grips, and Gofers."

Behind the camera on location in the Arizona desert filming Universal's comedy Lady in a Jam (1942) is seen Irene Dunne (sitting, center) dressed for a scene in the film.

Behind the camera on location in the Arizona desert filming Universal's comedy Lady in a Jam (1942) is seen Irene Dunne (sitting, center) dressed for a scene in the film.

The Breakdown Script

After the storyboard and shooting script, the breakdown script is probably the most important document the director has on hand. Generally assembled by the assistant director, it lists all the equipment, props, and other paraphernalia necessary for shooting each scene in the film. It helps the director figure out how to schedule the shooting schedule in advance, and to be completely prepared as each scene comes up, so that she can stay within the shooting schedule.

Principal and Other Photography

Really another name for the whole course of production itself, principal photography is the actual process of shooting the major sequences. It is called principal photography because, after the roughly assembled film is examined, the filmmakers may decide that ancillary photography may have to be done.

Before, after, or at the same time the principal action is being filmed, the second unit is filming establishing and other accompanying shots, perhaps with doubles for the principal actors.

This is the moment in which seemingly minor but key decisions are made moment to moment about how to shoot a sequence, scene, or shot. We believe that the tautest drama is behind—not in front of—the camera. Where does the lighting go? How are actors supposed to move in relation to the camera, the set, and each other? How intimate or grand is the set supposed to be? What last-minute additions will not later spoil the continuity?

Production ends when the director says, "That's a wrap. Go home."

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order the e-book book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com.


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