As much as Adam Sandler makes it look like something you can knock out in an afternoon, making a video is actually a lot of work. Preparation is essential, but an often over-looked part of pre-production is test shooting. So here is a little test shoot definition:
A test shoot is exactly what it sounds like – you experiment with filming your project. I recently finished filming some test footage and since I’m feeling charitable, I’m willing to share some of the benefits.
Everything that can possibly go wrong on a shoot, will definitely go wrong. It’s best to get an idea of what those things are before you start. For instance, if you’re planning to suspend someone from some sort of harness, it’s best to test out your equipment lest you destroy the hopes and dreams of a young actor. Oh, and their legs. Obvs.
But it’s not just external problems you could run into. Creative vision is important to establish before the shoot, but some things are difficult to see before the filming actually starts. Even with a storyboard, there’s a chance that one of you was visualising it as American Pie while the other was thinking The Hills Have Eyes.
Since this is a test shoot, you don’t really need actors. If you are using stand-ins, make sure they are appropriate. There’s no point in having a film where the lead actor is to be a 6’ man and in the test shoot you’ve just stuck some googly eyes on a lampshade and balanced it on a recycling bin.
Getting that props list sorted is on your to-do list, I’m sure. On my jolly frolic around London charity shops I learned some important lessons. One would expect access to fake severed dog limbs and a tiny stethoscope would be easy enough to come by.
Keep in mind this shoot is for logistics – you don’t need realistic props. I eventually found a stethoscope in a 99p store as part of some sort of Princess Doctor kit, including microscope, syringe and a conspicuously non-oral thermometer.
Piecing it together
This is where things get more technical. The storyboard may seem fine, but edits in moving pictures are different. There are continuity problems you may confront, as well as the 30° and 180° rules. These rules state you have to move the camera more than 30°, but less than 180° between shots. Also try experimenting with different framing options, since the angle at which you look at a subject will generate a different emotional response. But always keep in mind the shot you planned chronologically before and after the one you’re working on as they need to connect seamlessly.
Then of course you’ve got post-production. An untidy edit isn’t a problem for a test shoot, just as shoddy camera work isn’t. But you do need to get a feel for the video – especially establishing the pace and making sure the shots flow smoothly. Even in the test shoot, the audience should understand the genre and the response should be correct and consistent. Editing video is like a happy marriage: keep working at it while trying not to get frustrated at how little it looks like what you imagined. Eventually it’ll all come together as Stockholm Syndrome sets in.
Should I let the client see the test shoot?
As chronically frustrating it is to use the phrase, ‘There’s no right answer’ I have to put it in here. I usually recommend not showing your test footage to your clients, or indeed anyone who has expectations in the project. As a member of the filmmaker master race, I know how to see a video and mentally interpret it as how the final product may look. Your client cannot do this.
By filming a test shoot, you are experimenting with technical aspects and testing the flow of shots you have planned. It can give a misleading impression of the final product and can make the client want to change direction or even scrap the whole thing.
On the other side of the same coin, you may wish to show your client to be sure that there are no legal issues to consider in the final shooting day.
Equipment isn’t easy to come by
Lastly, since you may not have a proper camera hanging around, you can always use your phone. Just remember not to shoot vertically, or you will be left with large black bars. The importance of this is expanded upon by these guys.