A filmmaker’s check list

Hundreds of filmmakers graduate from the New York Film Academy every year. And funny but true, they all have a similar point of view when it comes to selecting a location for shooting and certain other aspects. Presenting a lighter side behind the psychology of a filmmaker:


Every filmmaking student in NYFA is probably given the following cheat sheet at the start of the year which gives them the 10 most important points to take care of when selecting a location for shooting:


1. The location should NOT be anywhere closer than 8-10 blocks from any Subway station. This point is very important and should never be ignored. You must consider how important and healthy it is to walk a mile before and after shooting.

2. The shooting floor should NEVER be the ground floor. The lowest it can be is 3rd floor. The best of the shots always are taken in apartments on 6th floor and above. It has to do with the magnetic forces of nature that affect the creative thinking process. 

3. There should NOT be any elevators or escalators in the apartment buildings. Elevators hamper creativity to a great extent. They block good ideas and reduce efficiency of the crew. Specially when the equipment is for a thesis which includes dolly and all possible lights, 10 c stands, metal tracks, sandbags etc, it is always beneficial that the building does not have elevators. In fact, try to find narrow and steep staircases. They are always better than those wide comfortable ones. Specially if it is PeeWee or Fisher dolly being taken up.

4. The sound people love challenges. An apartment near a signal and specially if those are the routes for ambulances, fire brigades and police cars, the sound guys feel thrilled (some even feel something which can be compared to orgasm). An apartment in a silent neighborhood without construction or repair work in progress is too easy for sound recordists. They feel useless and probably will quit the shoot halfway. You want to make their dream come true, choose a location which is on a signal as above near the JFK airport!

5. A good temperature is necessary for people to work. Air conditioners in summers and heaters in winters are extremely overrated concepts. In reality, the crew feels much more home without them. So when selecting an apartment, please always choose an apartment which is devoid of those useless fixtures.

6. If the sound guys love challenges, the cinematographer’s are also not going to accept a project which is a piece of cake. If you are shooting night scenes, ensure there are large windows in the entire apartment. Cinematographers always have meters and meters of duvatin that they never bring to set. This will make sure they bring it to the set and use it. DO NOT rent duvetyne in advance if you see large windows in your apartment. Those decisions are meant to be taken on the set during lighting and should be left on the cinematographer. It is NOT your job. The more number of windows, the more difficult it is for the sound guys too. So this one step will take care of the hunger for adventure in your cinematographer as well as your sound recordist.

7. Cinematographers always cry about power. DO NOT listen to them. The apartment you choose should NOT have power outlets that can withstand anything above 10 or at the max. 15amps. Also, there should NOT be many different circuits running in the apartment. Maximum different circuits should be two. If the power trips, it can easily be reset from the breaker box. And there is always time for all those things on the set. The thought of selecting a location based on its power rating is pointless and should be highly avoided.

8. Crew is NEVER in need of good food. They hate to be fed sumptuously. So choosing a location which is away from any good restaurant or food chain is the best thing you can do to yourself and the crew. Most of the people eat anything. Cold cut sandwiches are very healthy and go well with water. Save yourself the pain and expense of getting good food from a nearby good food outlet. Choosing a location away form any reliable, hygienic food outlet will help you all throughout your shoot schedule.

9. One of the things that are highly overrated is space. NOBODY needs extra room. The smaller the apartment, the better it is since the closer the crew remains with each other and to the equipment, the more they bond with each other and this keeps the tempers running low. Specially if you are shooting all across the apartment (living room, kitchen, bedroom, even closet! – all in one day) it is probably a good idea that the apartment is small. Allowing crew to sit idly is worst that can be done to them. If they have to keep moving stuff every hour for the next shot, it keeps them active and very calm. Cinematographers may ask for stupid things like a staging area for equipment (like all the other useless things they always demand, huh!) DENIAL is the best way out. They don’t need it. It is just a place where equipment is kept neatly and organized, out of people’s way (How mainstream and boring right?).

10. Always choose apartments with polished creaky floors, extremely fragile furniture and WHITE walls. This will not only help the crew manage things better while moving C Stands and other sharp metal objects since they have to stay careful not to scratch, but will also help the cinematographer light up. White walls always reflect light and will give you better exposure. So what if the cinematographer has to use extra flags and go crazy with black wrap trying to cover leaks etc. It is their goddamn job. They better do it. The creaky floors will come handy when dollying. The sound of the creaky floors gives the dolly grip a sense of rhythm and helps them gauge their movement. Also, for shots where the camera operator has to walk along with actors, the more sound his feet make, the better it is for the sound guy. (psst…sound guys can remove any extra sound! They don’t tell you but sure they can!). 

 If you choose a location with has all the above qualities, you are going to have a wonderful shoot. Expect results that look very similar to any Stanley Kubrick film. In fact, give out references from those films to your cinematographer. They sure can achieve it.

And always remember the magic words “We are on a tight budget!”

Have a great shoot. 

Readers, if you have any more points, feel free to comment. I would love to add them.

Filmmakers, hope you see the lighter side and don’t take any offence. 

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