ISBF009 – Time is on your Side… or is it?

Do you know what your shooting ratio is?

It is the ratio between the total duration of the footage shot for possible use in the project, compared to what actually appears in the final cut. A film with a shooting ratio of 2:1 would have shot twice the amount of footage that was used in the film. The other shooting ratio we need to be aware of is how many pages of script can we shoot in an hour.

During the show I mentioned that I never actually did the math to see what my first shooting ratio was, and I found out the hard way that I needed to know how many pages I could shoot per hour so I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time.

When I was a newbie I was sitting at roughly a page per hour. That meant if the script for the short film we were shooting was four pages long, I could plan on at least a four hour day. It also meant I could create a shooting schedule for the actors and extras. If I didn’t need the extras until page 3, but I was shooting pages 2 and 4 first, I knew I had a two hour window before the extras had to be there.

When I finished recording this episode curiosity got the better of me so I went through my backup files and did the math to figure out what shooting ratio was for raw footage to final film.

For the film THE BATTLE WITHIN, my shooting ratio was 7:1, which meant I shot seven times more footage than what actually went into the final film.

There's Something About George movie poster

WINTER’S HUNT has a 9:1 ratio and the short film, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT GEORGE, came in 15:1. That film had more actors and was 7 pages long. The Battle Within was a 3 page script while the last two screenplays came in at 7 pages each.

So why did one have a much higher shooting ratio?

Both were filmed in one location, one had 2 actors and the other had three. Neither had extras. So on paper the ratios should be practically identical – but how it looks on paper isn’t always what happens when the cameras start rolling.

Sometimes there’s just more angles or there’s more action scenes. Maybe more retakes were needed or maybe I just wasn’t happy with the look of the shot even though the performance was great. Whatever the reason, you can’t always go by past performance to guesstimate what the ratio will be on your next film… but you have to start somewhere so the more films you shoot, the better your “guesstimating” will be.

THE INTERROGATION, a 5-page script with only 1 actor in a single location, should of had a low shooting ratio, but that film came in at 22:1 because we had to re-shoot the entire film.

Our first time through we only used one camera but it was riddled with continuity issues – expecting the actor to do the exact same movements exactly as every other take he did for the different angles was expecting too much, and our plan of giving visual clues to when he should be looking left or right proved to be too awkward. So rather than beating a dead horse, Darren and I decided to just re-shoot the entire film from scratch… only this time we used two cameras. Now those cut on the action of looking back and forth were seamless. The ratio for either one of those days is actually lower but we still shot that first day which increased the final ratio to 22:1.

When you’re shooting digitally and not buying or developing film, that type of ratio doesn’t have a huge impact on your budget when you have a volunteer cast and crew, but knowing the ratio of how many pages you can shoot in an hour does have an impact on the time required to shoot your film, and it has a big impact on the morale of your cast and crew.

Longer shoots means more coffee breaks, more craft services, and more money to pay for it all, especially if you are renting equipment or paying by the hour for a location or gear rentals.

During the episode I mentioned about the changing ambient light, although subtle at the time, is very noticeable when you are cutting your scenes together. I forgot to mention that the shadows also change, which is something you should always be aware of when planning your shot list and when filming. Hopefully you will have enough lights or reflected light to hide those shadows so they’re not too distracting to your audience.

Last but not least, even no-budget films should have a 1st Assistant Director and a Script Supervisor to save time… and your sanity. Of course there are other key roles that need to be filled so you’re not trying to do everything yourself, but make sure those jobs are filled during the pre-production stage as early as possible so you’re all on the same page.

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