Smaller budget features often have a limited number of shoot days for what a higher budget film might have double or triple the time to shoot. On top of that, a shooting schedule with multiple locations may require moving locations during the course of each shoot day.
On One Bird at a Time, we shot a feature length web series over the course of ten days and worked with a schedule that included two locations a day for the majority of our shoot.
A limited shot list is one of the keys to making this kind of schedule feasible. Because One Bird’s scripts emphasized dialogue and character over action, we went for a naturalistic style which helped us save time while remaining true to the scripts.
We often shot only an establishing wide shot, and then focused on close-ups for the rest of each scene. Any extra shots we were considering were usually thrown out the window for the sake of time. Fortunately, in the editing room, we found we probably wouldn’t have used these anyway as they didn’t cohere with the style that worked best aesthetically for the scripts.
Lighting took the bulk of our extra time, but because of our budget and frequent moves, we had only minimal lights at our disposal. This actually forced us to make careful decisions about the lights we did want to bring along, and the ways in which we could use those as well as practical and natural lighting. The lighting — which included an exterior night shot — ended up being simple but effective for the style of the series.
An easy set-up also makes the process more efficient. Access to locations the day before often means choosing locations that are either donated or already owned by the crew, but sometimes this can save hours of time on a shoot day. For locations we did obtain early access to, our crew could go in and set up the night before. Other locations, particularly exteriors and a few public spaces, we chose because they needed minimal to no set-up, and we could begin shooting almost immediately after lighting.
Having the crew on the same page in terms of overall vision, as well as timing and schedule is also crucial. By taking extra time in hiring the right crew, and conducting a series of pre-production meetings one-one-one with key crew (Production Designer, DP, etc), we were able to do minimize discussions on set. While as the director, I always reviewed details of design and lighting for each set-up, there were very few times I felt compelled to make significant comments/changes – the agreements and understandings in both overarching vision and specific detail that we had developed in pre-production really paid off on set.
The actors were a large part of the process as well. They were largely brought in early in the process, and rehearsed a number of times. For One Bird, we used improvisation for rehearsals rather than the script, so that the actors could feel comfortable and naturalistic on set. This also paid off for us, as the actors had the scripts a month or more before shooting, and were largely well memorized and had very few questions as to character and motivation at the time of shooting.
Overall, despite the location moves and an ambitious number of pages we shot per day, we were able to produce a full series that looked and felt high quality both artistically and technically. All while maintaining a happy cast and crew who were all in for season two.
Watch the trailer for One Bird at a Time: